$ 2 billion to fight the flu
Now, you can battle swine flu in a video game

A new computer game, available for free online , www.thegreatflu.com  ) lets players ‘tackle’ as variety of viral flu epidemics, with their mouse clicks. In the process they imbibe some useful knowledge that might come in handy in the current Swine Flu crisis.

Created by virology scientists at the Erasmus Medical Centre, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, the introductory video starts with images of first big flu epidemic in modern times, the Spanish Flu of 1918, that killed 40 million people. Players are then invited to assume the role of the head of the imaginary World Pandemic Control organization and having picked one of five flu strains, they can follow its spread across the world. They can harness a variety of control measures: stockpiling anti-viral drugs; closing schools and airport, isolating infected individuals, distributing face masks, setting up research teams to develop new vaccine; trying, as the game suggests, to ‘save the world’. 

Players start with $ 2 billion in the kitty and each control measure eats away into this budget. Meanwhile a running counter keeps track of the number of persons infected and killed by the virus in each geographical region. If the measures selected are impractical, messages will pop up that warn that these are likely to be ineffective, so one switches to another strategy. Once players get into the spirit of things, it can be as thrilling as a Robin Cook medical thriller – except that with the Great Flu game, you get to write your own plot.

The creators say they wanted to give players, a feel for the complexity of trying to control global pandemics, even as they absorb some practical tips.Science journals like “Nature” have lauded its public awareness subtext. Players can find some hard core research information at the same site. -Anand Parthasarathy.

This game review appears on page 50 of the current ( Sep 13 2009) issue of “The Week” magazine ( www.the-week.com ) . Reproduced by special arrangement