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Going virtual with swine flu

A new flu virus has the globe in its clutches. You know that. What’s new is you now have a chance to save it. Virtually.

health and fitness Updated: Aug 23, 2009 00:10 IST
Sanchita Sharma

A new flu virus has the globe in its clutches. You know that. What’s new is you now have a chance to save it. Virtually.

Two new online games allow you to better government efforts to contain flu pandemics in cyberworld. Since you work hard sitting at home, there’s virtually no risk to life (the chances of you getting electrocuted while gaming are non-existent!).

I suggest you begin with the simpler Swinefighter (www.swinefighter.com), an action-packed free online game that challenges players to assist a certain Dr Gomund as he vaccinates pigs to beat H1N1.

Next, move to The Great Flu (www.thegreatflu.com), which offers you a pick of five difficulty levels of virus outbreaks. Much like governments, you need to set up monitoring systems and stockpile anti-viral drugs and vaccines to combat the virus with limited funds while sitting comfortably at home, which becomes the World Pandemic Control Centre in the virtual world.

You will soon discover that containing pandemics requires work and planning, such as tracking the epidemic and taking unpopular decisions such as shutting down airports to save lives at the risk of huge financial losses.

The virtual viruses sound familiar, as they are loosely based on the many new viruses that have crossed over from animals to humans. Apart from the obvious reference to swine in Swinefighter, you’ll recognise Kai, which spreads from chickens, and Jabali, which, like H1N1, was discovered in a farm close to a big city.

These games sound like near perfect test-drives for epidemiologists and infectious disease experts before they step out for some real-time containment. I somehow don’t see teens playing these games, but that should not worry their developers. A new survey released on Friday reported that the average video gamer in the US is not a teen but a 35-year-old. Unlike the teen, the adult is not in the best of health.

Adult gamers are overweight, introverted and depressed, reported the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, and rely more on the Internet for social support than non-gamers. While men who played video games weighed more and used the Internet more than men who didn’t, women gamers were found to have greater levels of depression and poorer health than non-gamers. Women also used gaming as a form of digital self-medication, choosing to immerse themselves in brain-engaging digital environments to take their minds off their worries.

The survey also reported that adult gamers were unsocial and less assertive than non-gamers, which is consistent with several findings that link gaming to sedentary habits, obesity and mental health disorders in adolescents and teens.

Surprisingly, all the adult gamers I know are fitter and cheerier than most other people. I guess spending a chunk of your time hunched before the PC hurts only if you don’t spend the other half working out or doing what we all do best —hanging out with friends.