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Virus games buoyed by coronavirus pandemic

Games also criticized for profiteering off negative phenomenon

Plague Inc.
Plague Inc.
Virus-related games are gaining popularity amid the ongoing COVID-19 spread.

Plague Inc., launched in 2012 by London-based company Ndemic Creations, especially enjoyed a spike in its daily user rate, sitting atop the charts of the respective Apple App Store in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, France and the UK, as of Tuesday, boasting unusual prominence for an 8-year-old game.

In Korea, China and the US, the game is variably either first or second on the charts.

“Can you infect the world?” is the idea behind Plague Inc., which beckons players to strategize as to how best to bring about a pathogen-induced apocalypse -- and in a turn of reverse psychology informs players how to prevent such an outbreak. The game also features controversial settings, such as by categorizing countries by less-than-ideal personal hygiene levels with dense populations.

The latest update to the game was in December, with the addition of a “fake news” function to hire experts to back up wrong information about preventive measures, accelerating the spread.

“People are returning to the game because epidemic is an issue at the moment,” said Wi Jong-hyun, a professor at Chung-Ang University Business School and president of the Korea Academic Society of Games.

“Some might say that playing the game gives people something to do rather than be caught up in fear about the COVID-19, but that’s not how I see it,” Wi said. “Just like how Albert Camus’ ‘The Plague’ has become suddenly relevant, people find it fun to consume cultural materials that reflect the current real-world situation.”

In a preemptive cut to possible accusations that the game profiteers off a negative phenomenon, on Jan. 23, Ndemic Creations posted on its website that while the game had been designed to be realistic and informative, even sourcing information from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is not sensationalizing serious real-world issues.

Plague Inc. is a game, not a scientific model, and any information on the ongoing COVID-19 virus should be directly accessed from local and global health authorities, according to Ndemic Creations.

Other games that have also seen recent spikes are Quarantine, a turn-based strategy game to contain the spread of a disease, and Pandemic, a board game adapted to Steam that attempts to prevent human extinction by fighting four deadly diseases.

By Lim Jeong-yeo (kaylalim@herlaldcorp.com)
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