By Jennifer Bulandr
Last year, leading mobile game, Plague Inc., worked with the PFF to raise disease awareness for Global Pulmonary Fibrosis Awareness Day. In partnership with the game’s developer, the PFF created an in-game news message about pulmonary fibrosis directing players to our website for further information.
In Plague Inc., players attempt to create pathogens capable of causing a global pandemic. Despite this dark premise, the game has been praised by educators and scientists for its ability to engage and educate players about the complex issues surrounding disease treatments and cures.
Below is the story of how the PFF identified the opportunity and a Q+A with Plague Inc. developer, James Vaughan.
In today's society, learning and entertainment easily go hand in hand. I have an excellent example of this in my own life that led to an opportunity for the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation (PFF).
One day my son Jacob came to me with a very interesting fact. An avid gamer, he was stunned to see pulmonary fibrosis (PF) listed as a option when he started playing Plague, Inc. “No one ever talks about this disease except my mom, so seeing it in Plague Inc. was very interesting. I know that the PFF struggles to get the word out about PF so this is a cool opportunity to spread awareness about the disease.” As far as seeing the disease represented in the game that affected his family, he says, “I am relieved to know that awareness is starting with younger people and the next generation will know about PF earlier than at any other time.”
Plague Inc. is a game for smart phones and tablets created in 2012. It is marketed as a “is a unique mix of high strategy and realistic simulation which lets players create and control a global plague whilst adapting against everything humanity can do to defend itself.” The game has won major awards and the creator, James Vaughan, has been asked to speak to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on multiple occasions to assess how the game might be a non-traditional way to teach people about disease transmission.
As someone who has lost three family members to this disease, it is important to me that I do everything in my power to raise awareness and funds to find a treatment and ultimately a cure for pulmonary fibrosis. Realizing that this was an excellent opportunity to forge a partnership, I reached out to James to talk about the game, the role of pulmonary fibrosis in the game, and how it is portrayed. In the game, players create their own plague and create “symptoms” from a list of known diseases. The description of PF is a little off target (we are working with James to correct this) but the potential impact of getting “pulmonary fibrosis” out in front of the masses is incredible.
I am grateful to all those I have met on my journey in relation to this disease. I have talked with James on numerous occasions. He has been extremely generous to offer us a 48 character “in game” message during the first two weeks of September. We anticipate “What is pulmonary fibrosis? Visit aboutpf.org.” to be seen 9,800,000 times during the those two weeks. Partnering with Plague Inc. and James Vaughan is an exciting opportunity to bring awareness to a greater audience so that people can learn about the symptoms of this lung disease, that it has limited treatment options, no known cure, and kills someone every 13 minutes in the US alone.
How does it make you feel to partner with the PFF to further the game’s reach and educate people about a disease with no treatment and no cure?
Honored and proud that Plague Inc. is in a position where it has the potential to help raise awareness of pulmonary fibrosis. It’s still hard to believe that a game that I made as a hobby is now able to engage and educate millions of people about important health issues (despite its dark premise!). As a side note – I was quite surprised when you informed me that very few people have heard of pulmonary fibrosis – I had expected it to be more widely known!
How does it make you feel to hear about the real statistics of a disease that is in your game? That pulmonary fibrosis is fatal, has limited treatment options, and no cure, and that in the US alone, PF affects approximately 200,000 people a year and kills approximately 40,000.
Hearing real life statistics really emphasizes the human impact that diseases can have in the real world. Plague Inc. focuses on major diseases wiping out the entire world and it is easy to forget that there are huge numbers of people suffering from lesser known debilitating and /or fatal diseases. It’s great that there are organizations like yours helping raise awareness of these 'hidden' diseases.
What do you feel the partnership between the Plague, Inc. and PFF can achieve?
Because Plague Inc. is a game, it has a tendency to educate by accident due to its hyper-realistically modeled world. It will never replace a text book. But it lets people apply knowledge and learn through doing. By drawing players' attention to pulmonary fibrosis – players will become aware of a disease they may not have known about before – some may even decide to research it in more detail. It will also help people realize that although Plague Inc. is a game – the diseases and symptoms it depicts are very real and that there is a lot of work needed to develop treatment and cures for them.