The popularity of a video game that teaches players about how diseases spread has grown sharply amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus. Now, the company is warning people to seek information on the disease from official sources, rather than relying on its game, Plague Inc.
Officials have been racing to contain the fast-moving coronavirus, as it has spread from the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, China throughout Asia and across the world. Thousands of cases of the disease had been confirmed — mostly in China, though a fourth case in the United States was confirmed Sunday morning.
“The current coronavirus outbreak is a very real situation which is impacting a huge number of people,” Ndemic Creations, the maker of the game, said in a statement last week. “We would always recommend that players get their information directly from local and global health authorities.”
The company linked to a page from the World Health Organization with information about coronavirus.
Ndemic Creations tweeted on January 24 that its website had gone offline due to high levels of gameplay. The company said it often sees a surge in new users amid new disease outbreaks, as people try to better understand how diseases operate and spread. The game’s creator, James Vaughan, said the company’s website and game servers are now back to being fully operational.
Plague Inc. is an app and online video game developed by Ndemic Creations where players become a disease and aim to infect the world by developing new means of transmission and symptoms — countering countries closing their borders, news reports about the disease and scientists trying to develop cures. Vaughan was invited to speak at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention after the organization recognized the game as a new way to teach people about the spread of disease.
The company said in its statement that the game was designed to be “realistic and informative while not sensationalizing serious real-world issues.” However, it pointed out that the game is not a “scientific model” and should not be relied upon for information about coronavirus.
More than 50 people have been killed by the disease.
Chinese authorities have imposed indefinite restrictions on public transport and travel, with motor vehicles banned in Wuhan’s city center starting Sunday to control the flow of people. Only vehicles with special permits, free shuttles, and government vehicles will be allowed to move around.
Amid the lockdown, countries like the United States and France have been trying to evacuate their citizens from the central Chinese city. Outside of China, more than 40 confirmed cases have been identified in about a dozen countries.