Plague Inc. game adds ‘save the world’ mode in response to coronavirus

A screenshot from the video game Plague Inc. shows a user named "coronavirus," based on a generic virus. Plague Inc/Ndemic Creations

The creators behind the Plague Inc. video game have seen sales explode for all the wrong reasons during the novel coronavirus pandemic, so they’re channelling their profits back into the fight with a hefty donation and a new mode that lets players stop — rather than encourage — the spread of a deadly outbreak.

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The mobile game has been a top seller on the App Store and Google Play for many years, but its popularity has soared amid the threat of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The game puts users in charge of spreading a pandemic and killing off the world’s population through various methods inspired by real-world diseases. Players typically nudge the disease into mutating to have deadly symptoms and vectors for transmission until humanity is wiped out.

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It was a dark but seemingly fantastical virus simulator for many years — until it wasn’t.

“Eight years ago, I never imagined the real world would come to resemble a game of Plague Inc. or that so many players would be using Plague Inc. to help them get through an actual pandemic,” game creator James Vaughan said in a statement.

Vaughan says his team is working as quickly as possible to introduce a “save the world” mode for the game at the request of officials with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network.

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“Players will have to balance managing disease progression and boosting health-care systems as well as controlling real-world actions such as triaging, quarantining, social distancing and closing of public services,” the game’s developer, Ndemic Creations, said in its statement.

Ndemic Creations has also donated US$250,000 to fight the real-world coronavirus pandemic, according to its statement. The funds will be split between the WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

Plague Inc. was the second most-popular paid game on the App Store as of Wednesday, behind only Minecraft.

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The game has inspired a flood of coronavirus-related memes online, and its popularity has gotten it banned in China.

Ndemic Creations issued a warning in late January that the game is not meant to model the spread of the novel coronavirus, despite its attempts to simulate the spread of real diseases.

No release date has been set for the “save the world” mode, but Ndemic says it’s working on the project as quickly as possible.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

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For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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