You’re the head of the World Pandemic Control, and you’ve just received word that Gamers’ Flu–a rare, highly contagious disease–is spreading through Europe. Should you close the airports, or the markets? Should you distribute face masks, or isolate symptomatic individuals? Should you improve research facilities, or stockpile vaccines? Whatever you do, you better act fast: People are dying, and money is tight.
No, you’re not having the world’s most nuanced nightmare. You’re playing The Great Flu, a free online video game–yes, video game–developed by Dutch researchers to raise awareness about Swine Flu and similar outbreaks. As Kotaku reports, “Even at the lowest difficulty the game delivers a sense of just how difficult it is to handle and contain the spread of a dangerous virus.”
To many, turning a deadly disease into a playable pastime might seem distasteful, especially as North America braces for a “second wave” of H1N1. But among children, this gimmick may actually be the most effective way to communicate serious news. Last year, for example, researchers found that the videogame Re-Mission,
whose main character is a robot fighting cancer cells, “improves
treatment adherence, cancer-related self-efficacy, and knowledge among
pediatric cancer patients.”
In sum, you should spend five minutes testing The Great Flu–if only because saving lives is way better than sweeping mines. …Right?