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 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.
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]