Disease Control: The Home Game


Whoever chose the cities represented in this board game totally whiffed when they left out Seattle.

Four months ago our family added a new board game to our collection. Pandemic’s what-if scenario of infection spiraling out of control worldwide has been a plot device in occasional movies and TV shows. It seemed like an interesting concept for a fun game. Any supernatural foreshadowing inherent in this benign purchase was lost on us at the time.

Instead of players competing against each other for Monopoly money or first place in a simple race, Pandemic’s cooperative design has all the players teaming up against the game itself, in which four different diseases erupt in spontaneous outbreaks all over the map and must be cured through collaboration between emergency specialists of diverse skill sets. Coordination, expediency, and prioritization are among the keys to victory. Presumably the same is true of real-world crisis management, ideally.

No player represents any one nation. No one earns points for saving the most lives or murdering their opponents. No one is awarded treasures if they pin blame for each outbreak on other countries. Players who refuse to help and/or who want to see what it looks like when everyone loses are clearly not suited for such tasks and should be sent to the kiddie table where they can work on coloring books while the proper participants get down to business.

The players have several responsibilities to juggle, but have each other for backup and accountability. Throughout the course of the game, you realize it’s secretly educational as it distinguishes between outbreaks and epidemics, incorporates infection rate as a critical factor to monitor, and teaches basic concepts such as teamwork, creative problem-solving, and science. Not everyone embraces these subjects. Some people just need practical advice.

Our success rate depended heavily on which professional roles our characters assumed, how well we kept the lines of communication open, and how well we delegated tasks to each other. Pandemic beat us at least twice before we got a handle on it. It wasn’t cheap, but it was highly engaging.

And it was all fun and games.

Fast-forward four months and…uh, well, here we are today. The world and all its problems.

Whether you’re taking about the Coronavirus disease itself or the virus that causes it, the American public has been given multiple names to juggle. I’m pretty okay with “Coronavirus”. Most of the rest…nah. Especially not “COVID-19”, which sounds like an AOL chatroom username. I’m sorry, I just can’t. “Coronavirus” it is.

When headlines began popping up elsewhere in the world, we nodded as we would at any given headline, then moved on with our day. When it made its American debut, we raised an eyebrow. When there came a death toll, that merited stronger attention. When the first confirmed case was discovered here in Indiana last weekend, we were jarred, to say the least. Then came several more cases, including two in a nearby school system. With 11 confirmed cases as of this moment (subject to change, though hopefully not for the worse), Indiana ranks 17th among the most afflicted states, assuming every state is testing thoroughly and reporting candidly.

So far it hasn’t directly affected anyone we know unless you count Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, which isn’t what I mean by “know”. But it could. We pray not. We also pray it stops affecting everyone we don’t know. It’s a big ask.

After days of back-and-forth between the media, our politicians, and actual accredited doctors and scientists, the World Health Organization has now stepped up and declared this thing a literal global pandemic. Some locales are handling it differently, depending. Some aren’t speaking up or are simply lucky for now. Some businesses are taking stronger measures than others. Some are “monitoring the situation”. A few businesses — Target, Best Buy, Avis, Hyatt, and PNC Bank — have each emailed me and millions of other customers to assure us they’re pitching in with whatever relevant efforts and it’s still totally okay to give them money.

Our beloved comic and entertainment conventions are hardly immune. C2E2 went on as scheduled two weekends ago, albeit with a lot less physical contact between fans and guests from what I heard. But as we’ve gotten deeper into this mess, Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle and Ace Comic Con’s premiere Boston soiree have been canceled. HorrorHound Cincinnati is still a go for March 20-22, as the bulk of Ohio’s Coronavirus cases appear to have clustered in Cleveland on the polar opposite end of the state.

We have three cons penciled on our calendar between May and September, assuming the situation doesn’t get out of hand by then, Dark Ages style. One August show in particular would be heartbreaking to miss, but with entire sports calling off their games, concerts and non-geek gatherings being postponed or canceled, and audiences being disbanded from arenas and TV-show tapings alike…sooner or later the precautionary movement will get to some event we do care about.

Meanwhile where I work, multiple signs went up the other day, courtesy of the CDC.

CDC Coronavirus warning...

When I took the pic last week, the juxtaposition of the handwashing tutorial and the Big Basketball advertisement wasn’t ironic yet. More undetected foreshadowing.

I work for a large company. That means a lot of bodies to keep clean and monitor and potentially fear, regardless of whether your concerns are borne of prudence or paranoia. Interim changes are being made for the sake of corporate responsibility. Some are more drastic than others. Some are more inconvenient and/or annoying than others. The phrase “social distancing” is getting tremendous airtime in both media reports and casual conversations. And whenever we think we’ve settled down and the tension has eased as we’ve adapted to each change thrown at us, some knowledgeable authority or some know-nothing internet crank picks up a megaphone and bellows in our ears like William Dozier on ye olde Batman TV show, “THE WORST IS YET TO COME!”

The story is far from over — more so in other countries disproportionately hit by the Coronavirus disease. I’d rather not imagine what a “Chapter 2” for this post would look like. I have other things I’d much rather write about, but I’m skeptical as to whether anyone would take a break from refreshing their Coronavirus phone updates to glance at anything else. Frankly, I know the feeling.

I refuse to stay locked up at home, but I can’t say every single concern I have has been allayed. For now I’m doing what’s asked of me, doing my part for the sake of this cooperative design we call life. I’m not in control of the board, merely a pawn, and with every passing day this feels less and less like fun and games.

What do you, The Viewers at Home, think?

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