How to destroy the world

The assigned task is actually going to be easiest with microorganisms. I came across Plague, Inc; a game designed for both iPad/iPhone and Android platforms that aims to be a simulator of how a disease could develop to destroy humanity.  Created by Ndemic Creations, it is very approachable and lends itself to experimentation. You start off the game by choosing a type of pathogen (bacterium, virus, fungus, prion, nano-particle) and inflict it on Patient Zero in a country also of your choice. First world countries would allow your pathogen to quickly spread to other countries, however the public infrastructure would also allow a more rapid medical response to the outbreak.

Uh oh; all of the Western hemisphere except Canada looks like it is in trouble!

Your task at that point is to try to stay ahead of the effort to cure the disease. This is accomplished by increasing the rate of transmission, the symptoms, and virulence of the pathogen. Increasing transmissibility early allows the pathogen to gain a toehold in many countries quickly, however many millions of infected people with no deaths is not a useful strategy. A balance between infectious potential and lethality is essential, and the balance depends upon the class of pathogen played. For instance, an outbreak of a pathogen that is more lethal than it is transmissible will quickly be eliminated, as victims die before they can pass it on to healthy individuals.

The object of the game is to kill all life on Earth. During the endgame as seaports and airports are shutting down, you find yourself hoping that you’ve managed to introduce the pathogen into all countries. In one game I found myself with a pocket of healthy people in a lone country, while the rest of the world population quietly died off. Ultimately, I had no way to introduce the disease into that pocket of survivors.

The games simulates some aspects of a disease outbreak very well, showing that transmission rates can be increased by allowing the pathogen to be spread via airborne, waterborne, and by various vector methods of transfer. The game does make one assumption with the host/pathogen interaction that does greatly simplify things, but also is not particularly realistic. The game assumes that once infection occurs in an individual, the individual is permanently infected at that point unless one of two things occurs: the patient is “cured” during the endgame, or the patient dies of the infection. There is a third alternative, which is that the patient’s immune system combats the infection and eliminates it. What the immune system would enter into the equation is that the pool of infected individuals would constantly be in flux, as was described in my posting about Bieber Fever from earlier in the summer. While this doesn’t detract from the central premise of the game that the interaction between host and pathogen is complex, playing this game should NOT be taken as a substitute for reading Chapter 14 from Microbiology by Bauman.

All in all, I give this game 4.5 BIOHAZARD symbols out of 5; it is a fun, quick way to see how virulence of a microorganism can affect how it might spread through a population. For 99 cents from iTunes, it is definitely a good deal. And a special BONUS for Lynn B. from last semester: one of the powerups for symptoms is “Walking Dead.”  There’s your Zombie Apocalypse right there!


About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on October 1, 2012, in Braaaains!, Danger danger danger!, Meta and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I am so excited to give this game a try…especially with the mention of the “Walking Dead” symptom! Dr. S you never cease to amaze me with all of the interesting things you find and share from the web.

    • I am currently stumped with my inability to kill off humanity using a fungal pathogen. I keep on making more and more spores, dispersing them via airborne and waterborne transmission, and getting the population of Homo sapiens up to about 99% infected, and then they develop a cure just in time. I’m never going to unlock the Nano-bot plague at this rate!

  2. Hannah Ritzman

    Thank-you for sharing! This game reminds me of the board game Pandemic, I have just recently been introduced. The main difference between the app and the board game is in the board game the players are trying to defeat the disease (instead of being the disease itself). Pandemic is a very unique game in that all the players work together and either all win or all lose. If ever given the opportunity to play, it is definitely worth the time!

    • Still can’t kill of the stupid humans with a fungus. After today’s posting about Histoplasmosis and the bonus opportunity about fungi, maybe we will have a clue!

  3. Finally beat Fungus level, and the Nano-virus level too. Now am stumped with the Bio-Weapon level. It seems that it increases in virulence far too quickly to allow it to infect everyone on the planet.

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