This Game Shows You How Epidemics (Ahem, Ebola) Spread, And How To Stop Them

Vax! makes tracking epidemics fun and addictive.

This Game Shows You How Epidemics (Ahem, Ebola) Spread, And How To Stop Them
[Image: Hazmat suits via Shutterstock]

With West Africa’s tragic Ebola outbreak in the news, people all over the world are thinking about how diseases spread and epidemics start.


It’s a good time to check out Vax!, an online game developed and released by Ellsworth Campbell, a PhD student at Penn State University.

In the game, players are able to prepare for an outbreak by vaccinating a limited number of nodes in a network designed to resemble human social networks (I recommend completing the educational modules before starting the game. It really helps). After the last vaccine is gone, the outbreak starts, and the player’s only tool is to effectively and quickly quarantine individuals to limit the spread. At the “hard” level, players also have to deal with vaccine “refusers.”

It’s a very fun and borderline addictive way to educate yourself about epidemics and see how contagions spread across a network (if you want to learn more about how epidemics spread, it’s also worth checking out the iPhone game Plague). But after the fun is over, you then realize your “good” score of an 84% survival rate is not that great in the real world, and you become very sad. In the case of Ebola, there is no vaccine (yet), treatment options are minimal, and the survival rate is very low. Health officials are left desperately trying to isolate the sick and quarantine people who may have been exposed. Optimistically, they estimate it will take at least three to six months to contain the virus.

Campbell is continuing to develop the scenarios and modules to delve into complex topics related to infectious disease spread, such as Herd Immunity, the idea that if most people are vaccinated, the few that are not are still protected. “The goal is advance the public’s understanding without the technical jargon and equations,” he writes.

Hopefully, the anti-vaccine crowd in the United States will take notice.

(H/T FlowingData)

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.