Plague Inc – Learn while you infect the world

It’s the summer holidays here in Australia. This means I get to play more games than usual. Rather than spending my evenings planning lessons, I get to sit on the couch with my tablet and play games while watching the Australian Open.

Last week I stumbled across a game called Plague Inc, available on iOS an Google Play. The goal of the game is to design a disease that will become an epidemic that wipes out humanity. You as the player chooses where you start the disease, the symptoms of the disease, how the disease will be transmitted and the defence mechanisms it will have such as drug resistance.

The game is an authentic simulation of epidemiology. While it is not 100% scientifically accurate, it is accurate enough to reflect the following epidemiological aspects:

  • The location of the origin of the disease affects where and how fast the disease is transmitted. For example, a disease originating in a third world country with limited health care resources will spread faster than the same disease originating from a first world country. The disease will also spread via transport routes.
  • To design a disease that will kill everyone on Earth, the player needs to balance the rate of transmission, the severity of the disease and how lethal the disease is. Making the disease too lethal early in the game will result in doctors noticing the disease and research on a cure will begin too soon.
  • Islands are harder to infect. In the game it is often difficult to spread the disease to Greenland and¬†Madagascar.
  • The transmission of disease follows trade and travel routes.

Plague Inc has a lot of potential in games based learning. I am planning to use it as an introductory activity for students to think about how diseases are spread on a global scale and how scientists approach epidemics. The game can be used to discuss evolution of pathogens and vectors of diseases. The game can also be used for students to test out how wealth and regional location affect a country’s ability to respond to epidemics.

Plague Inc also throws in some ethical issues. In the later stages of the game, it shows how countries begin to respond to massive numbers of people dying. Some countries’ governments are overthrown, some countries fall into anarchy and some countries bomb areas with large numbers of infected people in order to control the spread of disease. This can be used as a stimulus for a whole variety of learning that spans across many subjects.

I am planning to use Plague Inc with my Year 9 class this year when we are learning about diseases. I am going to use the game in the beginning and have students come up with questions they would like to explore and mould that into a project based learning opportunity.

Plague Inc is a bit morbid and perhaps not entirely politically correct, so it is best to check with your principal if you are thinking about using Plague Inc in your classes as well.

7 thoughts on “Plague Inc – Learn while you infect the world

  1. Plague Inc. opens up many opportunities for teachable moments within a GBL environment. You have mentioned the science options and some of the ethical considerations. From a humanities perspective, this game can be used as a vehicle for exploring issues of social justice and governance. Health teachers can use for many of the reasons outlined in your post also. I have also blogged about this game

  2. Pingback: Plague Inc – Strategic Gaming | iPad Inspirations

  3. I love playing Plague Inc myself and really want to use it with my Yr9 science class too on our unit on disease. Do you have any suggestions of learning tasks or assessment that I can use? An essay topic…or rubric? Thanks.

    • Hi Claudie. I use it mainly to stimulate interest and discussion and have students share what they have learnt about the spread of disease. I don’t have worksheets, etc as that’s not how I teach mainly. I like to use games to let students explore and discover.

  4. Thanks so much for this. My 9 year old homeschooled son has been playing Plague Inc for the last week. Looking over his shoulder and chatting with him about it, I could tell he was learning lots (what an interesting way to learn about graphs!). You’ve helped me understand a bit more about how the game works.

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