COVID-19 is No Game, App Stores Say, but Plague Inc is

Google Play and App Store have taken the matter to heart: the coronavirus pandemia is not acceptable content for gaming apps. If you search Google Play, actually, you will find no “coronavirus” or “COVID-19” apps whatsoever. So if you are bored and want some fun you will have more luck with legal US online casinos and perhaps taking your mind off the pandemic is a wise move anyway. But it is a different story if you remove “coronavirus” and “COVID-19” from your search and look at the broader concepts of virus and pandemic.

Back in January, the Chinese went crazy about a game by Ndemic Creations, that goes by the name Plague Inc. The developers describe it as an “intelligent and sophisticated simulation that encourages players to think and learn more about serious public health issues.”  At the same time, the company made it clear that the game should not be used to obtain safety information about COVID-19.

The strategy game puts the user in control of a disease: the player must develop it a global pandemic before the scientific community can develop a cure. Plague Inc. is not a new game, it has been around for eight years, but it became the bestselling app in China in the first weeks of the epidemic.

The Chinese government did not like it at all, and ordered Steam and the App Store to remove it, on vague grounds of the game including “illegal content.” A copycat alternative by the name “Virus Antidote – Pandemic Doom”, by the Russian developer Action Portal, appeared afterward on GooglePlay and can still be found there, but with angry one-star reviews from dissatisfied users.

Ndemic Creations issued a statement saying they are “devastated” that their Chinese players can no longer access the game. “Plague Inc. is a huge critical and commercial success. Eight years old and with over 130 million players, it’s the #1 strategy/simulation game worldwide and has been the most popular paid game in China for many years.”

The game is still available on GooglePlay, from where it has been downloaded 3,156,994 times. The AppStore version is the top paid iPhone app (*except in China, see above), beating out the likes of the hugely popular Minecraft. Directly on the site of Ndemic Creations, the “evolved” edition is available too for PC and console.

What is striking, or better say creepy, is that the trailer of the game describes a situation that sounds exactly like the actual COVID-19 pandemic in the real world. The best way to fight our fears is to face them, is the argument put forward by the game’s developers, who insist on its educational value.

“Whenever there is an outbreak of disease we see an increase in players, as people seek to find out more about how diseases spread and to understand the complexities of viral outbreaks. We specifically designed the game to be realistic and informative, while not sensationalising serious real-world issues.” It certainly makes sense.

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