Scientists - don’t you love ‘em. Warning us about impending climate catastrophe, pointing out the terrible flaws in social and health policy, discovering cures and new technologies all the time. No wonder politicians and industry do their best to ignore our lab-coated heroes.
Wise gamers, however, now have the chance to pay attention to a pair of scientists – the good Dr Rosalind Eggo from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, alongside Dr Benjamin Thompson of the Microbiology Society – playing through Plague Inc., a game that casts you as a variety of infectious disease looking to wipe out humanity. The game itself is great fun and, while somewhat grounded in reality, obviously indulges in many flights of fancy for a more fun experience - which is where our brainboxes come in.
The playthrough is full of incidental nuggets of wisdom - at the start the pair choose to play as a virus, because the most common vector for nasty diseases remains animals. When choosing a name for this, Dr Eggo explains that viruses are often named after where they’re found: Zika is a forest; Ebola is a nearby river. But she goes on to say that traditionally the naming was more literal, and gives the example of malaria meaning ‘bad air.’ And then goes even further in pointing out that the modern convention is now somewhat frowned-upon, in the sense that it stigmatises a particular place - you don’t imagine the Ebolan tourism industry is up to much.
The whole thing is just under an hour long anyway, and a great watch. We all know that Plague Inc. is science-y rather than science, but it’s fascinating to see two people who know their stuff go through and talk about what makes sense and what is just there for the sake of the game. In a better world, it’s the kind of thing that would go viral.