Anti-vaxxers are the latest real-life villains. Like Thanos, they think they're doing the right thing but are ultimately going to get a lot of people killed. So it makes sense that eventually they'd star in their own video games. Now, after a petition on Change.org went viral, they will make their first video game debut in the extraordinarily popular game Plague Inc.
Earlier this month we reported on a terrifying Exercise Mataika experiment run by scientists, which simulated what would happen if there was a deliberate smallpox attack. The simulation factored in populations becoming suspicious of vaccines and refusing to take them. It made treating the population a lot more difficult, as you'd imagine, and the resulting simulation concluded that in the end "the final impact of the pandemic is more severe than a single nuclear strike, and societies are left decimated."
If you're creating a game where you play a virus whose goal it is to destroy humanity, as Plague Inc. is, adding in anti-vaxxers is an obvious choice if you want to create an easy mode.
The Plague Inc. game sees you act as a virus, bacterium, fungus, or parasite. As well as outlandish modes where you play as a zombie virus or communism, there are more grounded scenarios where you act as a pathogen that has to infect the whole of humanity before they develop a cure. The developer spent months working out the "infection cycle" element of the game, which dictates how the disease spreads, to make it as realistic as possible, but still fun to play.
"There are scientific models, which have very accurate, interesting data, but lack an easy way to visualise this and see what that data really means," creator James Vaughan told I-Sense.
"Plague is the opposite – the data is maybe not as accurate as it could be, but we are able to display it in a fun and accessible way. Plague Inc. simplifies and clarifies key concepts in order to help people learn the really important facts about diseases without bombarding them with too much information."
At its core, the creator says that the game is "based on scientific principle". He was even invited to give a talk about infectious disease modeling at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The new element of the game, an anti-vaxxer scenario, was petitioned for on Change.org. The petition's creator simply explained that "anti-vaxxers are stupid" and within a few days they had the 10,000 signatures they needed.
The company has not yet released details about how the new scenario will work (if it's anything like real life it will involve diseases spreading a lot more quickly and easily than they should), but they did release an "anti-science" scenario in 2018 that may work on a similar principle.
In this version, flat-Earthers and conspiracy theorists have taken over. The spread of disease is helped by the population "placing their hopes on alternative medicines such as ginkgo tree extract, healing crystals and snake oil" leaving you, the virus, to make yourself at home in humanity, unhindered.
The creator told the CDC he hopes the game "makes people think about infectious disease in a new light – helping them realize the threats that we face every day." Fingers crossed it does the same with the rising threat of anti-vaxxers.