November 28th, 2006

A class I’m taking on historical Black Death has got me all hot and bothered about virtual plague, which is, quite simply, awesome. The thing that really strikes me–beyond the normal, mind-bending, disease in non-physical environment discussion–is the way that plague can be broken down into a game mechanic: this close promixity causes infection, this many health points go away per hour.

I’m wondering though why, oh why, this hasn’t been used retrospectively. I mean, why not create a disease simulator (blank number of people in blank amount of space interacting with people using a random noise function) where you can plug in the parameters of disease behavior, see how the sim plays out, and try and match that to historical records as a form of reverse epidimiology? Am I missing something?

Or, you know, just do it for kick. Death, disease, possibly fire. Who wouldn’t love that? It could be like all those sadistic things you do in The Sims when you’re supposed to be constructive, but possibly with more peasants, and definitely with more fun.

Tags: disease

11 Responses to “Disease as Game Mechanic”

  1. Moo Says:

    Hmmm, a plague. Something like this:


  2. Scott Jon Siegel Says:

    More info on Corrupted Blood can be found here, including a link to an interesting NPR piece.

  3. james Says:

    Well, I’m not sure if using an online virtual world would be very useful as a simulation for real life. Especially something like WOW, where most people’s job is to kill things.

    However, people do this sort of research all the time. My brother who is currently at Dartmouth is doing his master’s thesis in simulating disease spread in urban settings. Their data is essentially based on surveys taken in Portland, Maine. They are using graph theory as a model for interaction.

    P.S. Nice use of the term “noise function” by the way ;-)

  4. John H. Says:

    Why hasn’t that been turned into a game mechanic?

    Because it hasn’t been done before hundreds of times so most publishers would be standoffish about doing anything that even looked like this.

  5. MD² Says:

    Damn, why is it all I can think about when confronted with the idea of a ludic use of epidemics is accursed Unit 731 ?

    Still trying to think of a situation in which the spreading of the illness would be the game mechanic itself, and not a contextual rule of the game mechanics (I’m slow).

  6. Bonnie Says:

    I'm not sure if using an online virtual world would be very useful as a simulation for real life.
    Hi, James. Well, I envision more a whole new system you could program with the right variables. But I told you that already on the way to the Indian buffet. And you told me you don’t normally read my blog. So I am officially talking to myself ;).

  7. Cybersexy Says:

    The only use I can see for disease as a game mechanic is as a random quest/mission. In other words, when you get it, you have to go obtain the cure before it kills/disables you.

    If the game has a built-in “heiring” system, like Sociolotron, where your character can be perma-killed, but you can have an heir “alt” whereby you don’t necessarily lose everything when you die (it just transfers to your heir), the developers could create a vicious plague that kills off all the pc’s.

  8. Adam Says:

    For the record, I’m always nice to my Sims. If I’m in a mood for sadism, I’ve got GTA.

  9. scott Says:

    A game designer friend of mine goes on and on about Agent USA which has contamination, infection, and inoculation as a central mechanism of gameplay. He’s been quite close a few times now to getting something similar into an approved design but management or the customers haven’t bitten quite yet.

  10. Bonnie Says:

    What I envision, as far as a commercial game is concerned, is something of a situational sim, i.e. you’re given tasks to complete in different scenarios (make sure plague doesn’t spread, make sure it does, make sure only this many people are killed, make sure it mutates into a child’s disease, etc.).

  11. Craig Alexander Says:

    Make sure it does?! Make sure it mutates into a child’s disease?!

    You’re talking Grim Reaper simulator now! I like the idea.

    (And yes, before anyone points out – I’ve played Grim Fandango, thank you.)

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