The Great Flu, and Killer Flu

The Porcine Pandemic

As reports came in of the spread of the H1N1 virus via PAX, my thoughts immediately turned to playing what may now be my family's favorite new board game, Pandemic, in which players work together to combat the spread of various disease outbreaks across the globe.

Of course, thinking of that wonderful little co-operative title brings me to think about the Flash series of the same name, which we featured almost a year ago. While both Pandemics use a narrative conceit that makes the games into both a commentary and exploration of epidemics, there are also games specifically created with the goal of helping players better understand flu outbreaks.

The Great Flu

The Great Flu functions on a Risk-esque world map and in many regards is similar to both the Pandemic titles. Given a set budget, the player purchases and deploys anti-pandemic tactics by dragging the appropriate icon from a side menu onto the target region.

In many respects, The Great Flu is a game about patience and acceptable losses. There are many different tactics to choose from, representing the large array of options that disease-control groups have, but most of them only help if the disease is caught in very early stages. At that point, the game is about watching the disease take its course and determining what counts as "winning." Some of the containment options are also less than popular with local governments and populations, and the game offers feedback via bits of newspaper clippings, TV reports and messages from disease-control employees.

The game ends after a vaccine is found and the virus slowly stops spreading, at which point the final "score" is displayed, telling the player how many were infected and how many succumbed to the virus. But the score does not explicitly rate your performance--It's up for you to decide if 200 deaths are acceptable, given the severity of the outbreak you chose to combat.

Killer Flu

Persuasuve Games built a game that takes another route, much more like the Flash Pandemic, in which players direct the spread of a disease in a cute world reminiscent of something Will Wright might design. Killer Flu has players select infected individuals (either a person or a truck) and direct that person toward the building associated (students go to school, tourists go to airports, etc.). As the player begins to abstract the already somewhat abstract characters into their mechanical components, the individuals on the screen become mere vectors for the spread of disease. Infect over half the world's population and you win! (PS: Humanity loses.)

Why You Should Check These Out: It's been hypothesized that games train players to better comprehend and respond to high-stress situations, but it's also been put forward (by a designer of Killer Flu, among others) that the models of reality in games and elsewhere can both educate and persuade audiences as to the reality of the topic modeled. Given the popularity of pandemic flu in the news and in games, we are presented with the opportunity to compare and contrast, all while learning and having fun. If it helps, one of the difficulty levels in The Great Flu is called "Gamer Flu," which spreads from a gamer conference.

[size=20]Play The Great Flu[/size]

[size=20]Play Killer Flu[/size]

Comments

I spent far too much time drawing that.

Man, and here I was hoping for games about fireplace apertures.

Switchbreak wrote:

Man, and here I was hoping for games about fireplace apertures.

I think you've probably opened up a new area for games narratives. I'm sure it's positively clogged with potential just ready to catch fire and explode.

Is Madagascar as timid as they are in the web-based Pandemic?

Rat Boy wrote:

Is Madagascar as timid as they are in the web-based Pandemic?

I only played twice in Great Flu (Kai Virus in SE Asia and Gamers Flu from South Korea), but neither made it to Madagascar.

A friend of mine (Chris Hyde) mentioned on Twitter that The Great Flu was funded by GlaxoSmithKline, which calls into question the motives of that game. It's an interesting point, and something I'd run into when writing this piece, but I wasn't sure exactly what the game argues that I could tie back to Big Pharma's agenda.

wordsmythe wrote:

A friend of mine (Chris Hyde) mentioned on Twitter that The Great Flu was funded by GlaxoSmithKline, which calls into question the motives of that game. It's an interesting point, and something I'd run into when writing this piece, but I wasn't sure exactly what the game argues that I could tie back to Big Pharma's agenda.

I did notice that "vaccinations" seemed to be a little powerful. Like there are three different kinds you can use starting out, and then they develop a silver bullet and distribute it worldwide in about... two weeks? Yeah, that's totally realistic.

it's also been put forward (by a designer of Killer Flu, among others) that the models of reality in games and elsewhere can both educate and persuade audiences as to the reality of the topic modeled.

Seeing as Killer Flu teaches us that all pandemics can be stopped dead by not going to work, I'm not so sure.

LobsterMobster wrote:
it's also been put forward (by a designer of Killer Flu, among others) that the models of reality in games and elsewhere can both educate and persuade audiences as to the reality of the topic modeled.

Seeing as Killer Flu teaches us that all pandemics can be stopped dead by not going to work, I'm not so sure.

Inasmuch as it models how disease spreads, it makes sense to me.

Unless I've already been brainwashed by Ian Bogost, which is more than possible.

Played Pandemic at Smythe's reception. That game was a lot of fun. We lost and everyone died.

Grenn wrote:

Played Pandemic at Smythe's reception. That game was a lot of fun. We lost and everyone died.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. You can play board games at wedding receptions?

Rat Boy wrote:
Grenn wrote:

Played Pandemic at Smythe's reception. That game was a lot of fun. We lost and everyone died.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. You can play board games at wedding receptions?

The whole reception was one giant boardgame party.

Rat Boy wrote:
Grenn wrote:

Played Pandemic at Smythe's reception. That game was a lot of fun. We lost and everyone died.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. You can play board games at wedding receptions?

We did that a bit at my reception, too! Munchkin and Donkey-Kong Jenga were favorites : )

Whups! Double post.

I hate to be a downer, but isn't this article a little...tasteless? Maybe I'm wrong, but some part of me just can't segue into virus games without feeling bad about all the people who caught the flu at pax.

Killer Flu was OK, interesting but not much more. Great Flu was more fun. The agenda I felt coming out of the game was an overimportance of any kind of World Health Organization. With my relatively tiny budget (what, $2billion or so?) I was the difference between 2000 deaths (broadway virus, hardest difficulty, bankrupting myself on preventative measure somehow pre-aware that India and the eastern US were the first two major outbreaks) and 275,000,000 deaths (not doing anything other than trying to close all the airports in the world before any outbreak and then laughing while they all died after turning me down. I TRIED TO WARN YOU.). Still, somewhat educational in preventative measure and ultimate inability to protect everyone. Did not see any overt medical references, other than the vaccine ending the game. The stockpiling of 'wild guess' vaccines seemed pretty ineffective to me.

mousepad42 wrote:

I hate to be a downer, but isn't this article a little...tasteless? Maybe I'm wrong, but some part of me just can't segue into virus games without feeling bad about all the people who caught the flu at pax.

Eh, we'll live. Most of us.

mousepad42 wrote:

I hate to be a downer, but isn't this article a little...tasteless? Maybe I'm wrong, but some part of me just can't segue into virus games without feeling bad about all the people who caught the flu at pax.

Maybe I don't see it because I felt the original Swine Flu coverage (back in spring when I was bedridden with the virus) was seriously overblown. I'm sorry if I offended anyone, but I do appreciate these games as attempts to better educate players about pandemics and how they're spread.

Jolly Bill wrote:

Killer Flu was OK, interesting but not much more. Great Flu was more fun. The agenda I felt coming out of the game was an overimportance of any kind of World Health Organization. With my relatively tiny budget (what, $2billion or so?) I was the difference between 2000 deaths (broadway virus, hardest difficulty, bankrupting myself on preventative measure somehow pre-aware that India and the eastern US were the first two major outbreaks) and 275,000,000 deaths (not doing anything other than trying to close all the airports in the world before any outbreak and then laughing while they all died after turning me down. I TRIED TO WARN YOU.). Still, somewhat educational in preventative measure and ultimate inability to protect everyone. Did not see any overt medical references, other than the vaccine ending the game. The stockpiling of 'wild guess' vaccines seemed pretty ineffective to me.

If I were to sum it up, I'd say Great Flu generally teaches that you can't effectively prepare for a flu outbreak besides by building up medical care research facilities. Once an outbreak occurs, you need to respect the CDC (even if it violates civil liberties) and survive while researchers save the day.