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WHY: pandemic flu challenges

Pandemic influenza (sometimes called "panflu") is considered one of the most difficult global threats.

One of the difficulties is how to work together. The World Health Organisation (WHO) appeals to member states because it's an aggregate of them (and also to other entities). But other than through recommendations and paper plans, and the repetition of "we're not ready", there doesn't seem to be a mechanism for global, deep, fast, effective cooperation, of the kind that is needed both for preparation and response. (Please prove this admittedly bold assertion wrong.)

Maybe taking it as a game would provide some useful insights?

Let's say the world population is in the order of 7000 times a million people. What if each gamer, or team, looks at "their million" and makes sure they are able to do:

  • NPI (non pharmaceutical interventions, such as timely and effective school closure, etc) and
  • supplies of vital goods and services (such as described in which btw has a specific panflu proposal for your evaluation) (Note: goods and services are much about NPI for those who carry them out, but it's not just that.)

We win if, and only if, more and more of us, and eventually all humans, win. So the game starts with personal and family actions, then neighbourhood, etc, until eventually you find yourself contributing to international efforts. But of course some people might want to start at the international (local) level first?

What's the goal?

  • Say the virus starts off with really nasty fangs: "I can kill 5% of those I infect, and I can infect 30% of you all". (1% and 20% might be "bad enough". These figures are used because the biology says it's possible, and for clarity. It must look like the threat it is.)
  • "Oh, and btw", continues the virus, "I will kill both directly (flu) and indirectly (disruption of essential (vital, needed to stay alive) goods and services. Say, trade of stuff needed to make insulin or antibiotics... Or food, etc."
  • Faced with these "twin threats", say we then collectively decide "hey, no, less than 0.5% and less than 10%, and we'll lower disruption to a tenth of what it could be", and then help each other do just that. Is that, to use Jane McGonigal's book "Reality is broken" phrase, epic enough?

Our current, immediate challenge is, of course, to design that game. And so it begins...

WHAT: the game

Gamers will want to learn a bit, or a lot, about flu and flu pandemics:

  • A very mild flu pandemic would look like normal flu, but with a new virus. New means it emerges, either by mutation (think writing a phone number incorrectly, so you read 123 and write 128) from a virus that's adapted to animals, or by genetic swapping between two different viruses (say you start with numbers 1-8 of hearts, same of spades, and out comes 1-8 of a mix of colours). Because it's new, we pay lots of attention. But if it's not specially deadly, it behaves more or less like normal winter flu.
  • Now, if it's 10, 100, 500 times more deadly than normal winter flu, or it kills young and previously healthy people, then all of us change our behaviour. We want to reduce the number of infections. That's our very natural reaction: the more deadly it is, the more interested we all are in not catching it.

Gamers will need to learn about what experts believe works to slow down flu epidemics:

  • With flu, nothing works very well, so we'd use many "tools" at the same time. Think raincoats with holes, so we use several raincoats, hoping the holes will be in different places, so we'll stay drier.
  • If it's extremely deadly, some would say Let's just stay at home. But then nothing works and people die from something else: no food, no help if you're having a baby, etc.

Gamers will also be challenged, at some levels of the game, with "vital supplies and services":

  • In short, we need to find ways to keep vital things (goods and services) moving while we keep infections to a minimum. That's tricky, and that's why we need your help. Officials have provided guidance, but no-one is really sure how things would work in practice. They need help from volunteers, from society, from people who will put their minds to imagining things beforehand, and come up with ways of doing things that actually help.
  • Two approaches have been tried: stock up so you don't have to go out (1% of the population of a few countries are able and willing to do that?). And tell businesses to plan and prepare (but we don't know when it's coming so why tie up resources that make us less viable as businesses?).

So, you see, tricky. You are needed.

HOW: game design

Sample run of the game

  • Checked world population, estimated for the beginning of year 2018. It's 7600 million of us!
  • Googled for "random number between 1 and 7600". In the future this would be a menu option, but this was good enough. I got 4984, a number like any other. I looked in (where the total is less than 7600 million, btw) and left the sorted list with the most populated first. Added numbers from the top until I got to a close enough numbers... Got Germany, which I found disappointing because it's too similar to the countries I know. So I also noticed that the countries above and below were Vietnam and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • Because I've been looking at these things for years, I decided to epically take all 3 countries under my extremely powerful wing. Also, just to test how things would go. I don't speak any of the languages!
  • Below is what I've found about each country. Initial research: population and age structure, what do they grow and eat, how many people circulate inside and outside the country, number and sizes of schools and healthcare centres, and existence of public health structures and pandemic plans. Just learning this is going to qualify as epic, I think.
  • If you want to help, either go to one of these three countries, or select your own. You can invite friends (or students?) to participate in the Flu Quest?


  • population and age structure
  • what do they grow and eat
  • how many people circulate inside and outside the country
  • number and sizes of schools and healthcare centres
  • existence of public health structures and pandemic plans
  • makerspaces and other "fun & maybe useful" facts


  • population and age structure
  • what do they grow and eat
  • how many people circulate inside and outside the country
  • number and sizes of schools and healthcare centres
  • existence of public health structures and pandemic plans
  • makerspaces and other "fun & maybe useful" facts

Democratic Republic of the Congo

  • population and age structure
  • what do they grow and eat
  • how many people circulate inside and outside the country
  • number and sizes of schools and healthcare centres
  • existence of public health structures and pandemic plans
  • makerspaces and other "fun & maybe useful" facts


Needs to be energising. "Now or never" kind of thing. Spanish flu started 100 years ago, in 1918, and killed the same number of people, if not more, than WW1. Today, it would kill 90-250 million people. See this!

Variety of participants: why set limits to this? Maybe 10 million gamers would be a good number.

All must get to have basic solid knowledge, including the known unknowns. The difficulties: in terms of prevention, nothing works well with flu. Masks are debated. School closure is disruptive, but if done early may be effective. Vaccines probably late and only for a small percentage of humanity. In terms of keeping vital stuff going, we'd even want to improve some flows: more healthcare, not less, to the poor. Enough water, food, protection from the weather... Enough transport and communication for teams solving people's problems... See

Game should give us all insights that could be used in real plans, preparation and response - even if not many play. Better with 15 million, of course! What's the minimum? What would the game look like? ...


WHO, CDC, ECDC, Mike Coston and Smithsonian videos, etc...

Let's connect and go viral with this?

Contact user LucasG, twitter lucasgonzalez, and use twitter hashtag pandemicflugame. Tell friends. Let's see what the next steps are, today!