Review by Leslie Crenna, Common Sense Education | Updated June 2012
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Plague Inc.

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Negative goal overshadows science concepts in disease-design app

Subjects & skills
  • Science

  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: Teens can contemplate sophisticated concepts and get lots of data and information.

Cons: The pretext is violent, and user input is relatively small.

Bottom Line: It's possible to pick up some biology and social studies concepts as you work toward the very negative goal of Plague Inc.: total annihilation through disease.

Plague Inc. obviously has an antisocial agenda that educators probably wouldn’t want to promote, except perhaps for the reaction of countries to the problem and the race to find a cure. If the developers had given teens the option to play as a government official or research scientist rather than genocidal criminal, this app could be used as a learning tool without reservations. It's just a weird, backward way to learn about the spread of disease.

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Plague Inc. is an app that asks players to create and evolve a disease that kills the human race before a cure is discovered. Gameplay shows teens how disease spreads across the globe through air travel and cargo ships, as well as how vectors like animal hosts or "abilities" like airborne transmission make diseases more contagious or resistant to medicines. Teens can learn about world geography through the map interface; about biology through disease types, transmission, symptoms, and abilities; and about society and government through tickertape news stories and statistics pages for each country showing responses and actions to the disease.

An opening one-page tutorial clearly explains the basic steps of gameplay, distilling a great deal of detail down to its elements. Players first select a country in which to start their disease. Players strengthen their virus, fungus, or bio-weapon by adding symptoms and giving it defenses –- against cold and water, for instance. Players get points and upgrade their virus by "popping" bubbles that appear on screen. Once doctors become aware of the disease, they work on a vaccine.

While some teens will be fascinated by the intense music, detailed graphics, extensive data, and the slow red spread of contagion and death, others may find it too intense and disturbing.

Overall, gameplay is quite passive physically, aside from popping DNA bubbles to earn points toward evolving the disease, but teens must do a quite a bit of reading and thinking -- though it's not clear how much impact this has on the results. In-app purchases to unlock DNA codes are easy to make inadvertently depending on your device and settings, and the text is way too small. In the free Android version of the app, ads (for dating and violent games, for example) can be eliminated with an upgrade to the full version via in-app purchase.

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

Much of the gameplay is watching and waiting, though the information, concept, and graphics are scarily fascinating.

Pedagogy Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

Plague Inc. uses statistics, distribution lines, and disease characteristics to teach a spectrum of social concepts. However, what's learned here doesn't transfer well to real life: Who wants to start a plague?

Support Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

Data is extensive, and play is amazingly intuitive considering the complexity. Scoreboards and achievements help players track their progress.

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Mark S. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
An interesting app that forces players to determine the ways in which diseases spread most effectively.
I believe that this product could be used as a teaching tool, but in a very limited way that helps to reinforce the factors that are needed for diseases to spread effectively. I enjoyed the interactivity of the lesson, and watching the students put in the needed strategic effort to solve the limitations presented. It could be helpful, particularly for students that have additional time available, and are waiting for their classmates to finish an activity. With that said, I do not believe that I would ...
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