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Plague Inc. creator invited to speak at CDC about spread of infectious disease

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

The man behind Plague Inc., a massively popular mobile game that tasks players with using a deadly disease to destroy humanity, has been invited to speak at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about his game, the spread of disease within it and the potential to use games as public health awareness tools.

"I made Plague Inc. as a hobby," said James Vaughan, the game's creator, in an interview with Polygon. "I don't have a medical background."

Vaughan, who studied economics in college and worked as a consultant before developing Plague Inc., will give a few lectures at the CDC later this month.

"They reached out to contact me," said Vaughan. "It was something they were all playing, and they thought, 'Wow, this is pretty cool.'"

Plague Inc. is a strategy title in which you take control of a deadly pathogen and, beginning with patient zero, attempt to spread the plague across the entire world and wipe out the human race — which does its best to adapt and stop you in your tracks at every turn.

Vaughan began working on the game in 2011 as the one-man team Ndemic Creations. With the help of three freelancers, the studio launched it last year on iOS in May and then on Android in October. It has since been downloaded millions of times, including more than 2 million paid downloads on iOS. Less than three months after its release on iOS, Vaughan quit his day job.

"I made Plague Inc. as a hobby. I don't have a medical background."

He acknowledged that Plague Inc. isn't exactly a simulation of how infectious disease spreads, but said, "I tried to make it as scientifically plausible as possible."

Vaughan added, "The overall impact of a disease spreading [in the game] is pretty realistic. You have the airports and the boats and it spreads from these major flight connection areas to smaller, more rural areas."

The CDC invited Vaughan to speak at its headquarters in Atlanta for two main purposes, he explained.

"They're interested in how [the plague is] spread," he said. "They're also very keen on how games like Plague Inc. can be used to inform the public about health issues and raise public awareness of these issues."

Vaughan will speak at the CDC in mid-March, during the week prior to the Game Developers Conference. His lectures will not be open to the public.

Russ Pitts contributed to this report.

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