Witnessing a Pandemic

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen several memes about how it feels like the world is playing a giant game of Pandemic. And as of two days ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially listed Covid-19 as a pandemic. Those memes are a bit of dark humor, but watching what’s happening in the world right now does point to how much work the designers of that game put into making the game fit its theme.

Now, I do not want to downplay the risks of the disease. All of us here are Absurdist Productions are in the low-risk groups for the disease. We are safe, but Covid-19 has already claimed thousands of lives around the world and will have more. For those with compromised immune systems, either through age or some other medical condition, this disease is incredibly lethal. This is why we are actually happy to see business reacting to try and stem the tide.

What’s Happening in the Real World

Across the US, concerts, festivals, and conventions have canceled. While disappointing to many, I feel its the right call. These sorts of mass gatherings are huge vectors of the spread of a disease like this. So are the crowds in sports arenas and stadiums. This is why the NBA has suspended their season and the MLB is delaying theirs. We all lose out on some entertainment for a while. Sadly in some cases, refunds have been mishandled so people have lost money, but we are all safer for it. Meanwhile, scientists around the world work tirelessly to find effective treatments and attempt to create a viable vaccine.

We have 3 confirmed cases of the disease here in Oklahoma as of this writing. Though, even for those communities that have no known cases of infection, all of this is having a direct impact. Here at Absurdist, we are watching the news closely. We might be safe but this could impact our family members, and it is impacting our business and our industry. Several of the conventions we scheduled to attend soon have already canceled or have the potential to do so. The entire board game industry is already seeing potential product shortages and delays. But those are the risks of doing business.

For now, we intend to keep working on our games and doing everything we can to keep ourselves and everyone we know healthy. Take the appropriate precautions, wash your hands, use disinfecting wipes on things you handle in public places, and if you feel sick stay home and/or get tested. The best way most of us can fight this thing is by helping to prevent accidentally helping it spread. For any of you out there that have gotten sick, we hope for a speedy recovery.

What games can teach us

Now, I hope this doesn’t come across the wrong way, but games like Pandemic and Plague Inc. can serve as a means to help us understand the impact and spread of disease. I think this is a much better way of connecting our hobby to real-world events than making insensitive jokes.

Both Will and I worked on some educational video games with themes in epidemiology prior to founding Absurdist Productions. Perfect Strain teaches about natural selection and mutation with the example of a bacteria that rapidly mutate under specific selection pressures. Deadly Distributions teaches statistical concepts by looking at how a fictional pathogen spreads, is detected in a sample population, and can be eliminated with vaccines and herd immunity. Both of these games are available for free. If you are an educator or parent and have kids that are curious or concerned about these topics, I highly recommend looking into these games.

Games and stories have always been a way to help us conceptualize and come to terms with difficult situations. A game could help us get our head around the math of how diseases spread and herd immunity protects us. It can help us understand how a pathogen can mutate into something threatening. It could also help us understand the contributions of healthcare workers, scientists, and public administrators who are working to keep us safe.

This is not a time to panic or make insensitive jokes. It is a time to consider the systems we have in place, how (or if) they are working, and how they can be improved. As gamers and game designers, thinking about systems is one of our favorite activities.

Be safe, wash your hands, stay home and play a board game.

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