Playing at apocalypse: Reading Plague Inc. in pandemic culture
Convergence , Volume 24 - Issue 6 p. 587- 606
Plague Inc. is an enduringly popular mobile video game in which players create diseases and attempt to eradicate humanity; it has been downloaded more than 60 million times and been met with largely positive critical reception, with many reviews praising the game as a ‘realistic outbreak simulator’. This article explores Plague Inc. as both an artifact, and productive, of ‘pandemic culture’, a social imaginary that describes how the threat of pandemic increasingly shapes our day-to-day life. Ludic and narrative elements of the game were identified and selected for analysis, along with paratexts surrounding the game. Three aspects of Plague Inc. were used to structure the analysis: its politics of global scale, its viral realism, and its visual culture of contagion. The article examines how the ways in which Plague Inc. articulates ideas about pandemic may not only explain the game’s immense success but also provide insights into public perceptions and popular discourses about disease threats. The article argues that the game is an incomplete text that depends on preexisting familiarity with other disease media. It concludes that the popularity and longevity of Plague Inc., as well as its broader social relevance, can be explained by placing it within the context of public anxieties about vulnerability to infectious diseases.