Serious games: The Great Flu

After reading a little more about serious games, I played The Great Flu a couple of different times. The first, I waited until people were infected before I did anything, so by the time it had started being contagious, it was too late to keep up or make much of a difference. The second time, I spent almost all my money immediately setting up precautions against the outbreak. Less people died or were infected this way. The third time, I did nothing. The effects were much more drastic this time — Riots started, the Health Secretary resigned, and animal testing labs were attacked. With the exception of the last trial, the virus had been contained in the China/Japan, India/Pakistan, and South Eastern Asia region. After that, it started spreading to major cities in other countries and continents. Up until this point, I had been playing on the easiest level, the Kai virus. I tried playing on the hardest level, the Broadway virus. The spread of the virus was fast and almost exponential, and despite any precautions I had in place, the virus was almost impossible to slow down.

This screepcap is from playing the Broadway virus level. The virus was unstoppable.

This screepcap is from playing the Broadway virus level. The virus was unstoppable.

I think goals of the game creators include informing players about the spread of a pandemic and why certain actions work when others don’t. This game was created in 2009, which was very timely with the swine flu outbreak. I did a little more research and found that the game was sponsored by the pharmaceutical company that came up with an H1N1 vaccine. One review of the game read “It’s a slick propaganda tool aimed at the kids — “The Great Flu,” an online game sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, the folks who have started testing their pandemic H1N1 swine flu vaccine on hapless and dim-witted human guinea pigs.” On the disclaimer in the game it has a lot of fine print that all the information in the game may not be accurate and seeking professional help is the best option in a medical emergency.

In one of the readings, “Videogame vignette,” the game “Darfur is Dying” was mentioned. I remembered playing it in middle school when it came out, and while I realized the purpose of the game was to increase awareness of the genocide in Africa, I didn’t find myself learning a lot about what was actually happening, a similar experience to what I found in The Great Flu. While I learned about what measures are taken and how quickly a flu spreads, it wasn’t much new information than what I already knew about pandemics. I’m sure people playing this in 2009 were much more invested in it, since that was at the height of swine flu.

The article “Who says videogames have to be fun?” mentions that these “serious games” have a harder finding funding because they don’t often have a return, and it’s expensive to produce any game. I think serious games are important because of what you take away from them, but once you’ve played them through, they often aren’t the most entertaining to play through again. Once you know how it ends, the slow process of waiting for something to happen can get old.  Commercial games are often more active and complicated, and the greater return is apparent there.

Works Cited:

Bogost, Ian. “Persuasive games: videogame vignette.” Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Games.

Ochalla, Brian. “Who says videogames have to be fun? The rise of serious games.” Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Games.

“The Great Flu Game, Brought to you by Big Pharma”

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