First of all, the title makes it sound worse than it really is. Actually this is just a little follow-up to Thomas’ and Adam’s posts about medical board– and computer games. This time though, the roles have been reversed. In Crazy Monkey Games‘ nifty (and free!) little game Pandemic 2, you take on the role of the disease rather than the doctor -and instead of curing the disease, your goal is to infect and kill the entire human population. How’s that for the ultimate in computer violence?

When you start a new game you’re given the choice of whether your disease will be a virus, bacteria or parasite, each of which has different pros and cons in the game. Then you’ll just have to think of a name for your disease and you’re all set to start infecting.


Virus, Bacteria or Parasite? Decisions, decisions.

The game itself plays out on a little map, where the world is divided into some (rather broad) regions. Also on this map, are a lot of little ships and aeroplanes, cruising from airport to airport (and shipyard to shipyard), hopefully carrying a passenger infected with your disease. As the international community’s awareness of your disease inevitably grows, some countries may start shutting down their shipyards, airports and borders in order to contain your disease. Worst of all, they may begin researching a vaccine which -if successful- will prevent you from infecting any more humans.


The game's world map or "playing field". The green areas represent uninfected regions.

An interesting thing about the gameplay is that you can’t actively do anything to spread your disease -that’s all up to the humans you’ve infected. Your only “real” participation in the game consists of helping your disease evolve, using “evolution points” that you accumulate through infecting people and as time passes. You spend these points on different traits and symptoms, that help your disease become more resistant, infect and ultimately kill. The system, although simple, is rather nifty and you get the feeling that your choices really matter. This is in part due to the visibility of your choices on the world map (for example, a waterborne disease that is also resistant to moisture will infect the water supplies of the infected regions) and partly because all the symptoms you choose for your disease are reflected on three sliders; “Lethality”, “Infectivity” and “Visibility”. Obviously, you want your disease to be very infectious and eventually lethal but not very visible, which leads to an interesting game of trade-offs.


The disease "Museion Fever"; an airborne, heat-resistant and mutable disease with great promise. Although it's not quite as infectious as we might wish for 🙂

As I’ve hinted at above, life as a disease is no cakewalk. When your visibility gets too high, the pesky humans start taking all sorts of countermeasures to prevent you from infecting more of them. If your disease is spread by rodents, they start exterminating them, if you’re all set to wipe them out by infesting their water supplies they start handing out bottled water and so on. Coupled with the above-mentioned shutting down of borders, airports and shipyards (be prepared for experiencing surges of irrational hatred against Madagascar once you start playing this game), you’ll quickly notice the evolutionary benefits of staying “below the radar”, so to speak. After all, once you’ve infected enough people you can always start to ramp up the Lethality factor with some “delicious” symptoms such as kidney failure and pulmonary edema. But of course the ingenuity of humanity should not be underestimated. If you don’t get them quickly enough they’ll eventually finish developing that dreaded vaccine. 


Curses! Foiled again.

The game might not be extremely realistic (for example, it seems weird that it’s possible for a region to shut down all ingress perpetually) and all it’s elements might not be completely medically sound and “evolutionarily correct”, but I think it’s quite interesting to see a game that not only focuses on medicine (although in a reverse sort of way), but actually employs real concepts regarding the spread and evolution of diseases.

It might be slightly too morbid for some, but personally I find the game immensely enjoyable. I also think it’s quite interesting to to ponder what it is that make us transform the things we experience as threatening into entertainment -even to the point of identifying with it and make destroying mankind our goal. Even as a complete fiction that just seems pretty “heavy”. But I guess that’s one for the (other) philosophers or perhaps the psychologists.

At any rate, if you have time to kill you might consider trying out Pandemic 2, as it is very entertaining. But beware, it’s quite infectious!

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