China censors epidemic-themed game Plague Inc.

Society & Culture

Popular simulation video game Plague Inc., which lets players create and evolve a disease to wipe out humanity, has been removed from Chinese app stores today, as the country grapples with COVID-19.

Popular simulation video game Plague Inc., which lets players create and evolve a disease to wipe out humanity, has been removed from Chinese app stores today, as the country grapples with COVID-19.

In a statement released by Ndemic Creations today, the U.K.-based game’s creator described the situation as being out of its control, saying that the game was no longer available on Apple’s App Store in China after the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the central government’s internet censor, made a decision to take it down for including “content that’s illegal” in the country.

“We have a huge amount of respect for our Chinese players and are devastated that they are no longer able to access and play Plague Inc.,” the developer wrote on its website.

It also assured Chinese players it hadn’t given up on them, vowing that it would work very hard to try to bring the game back. “Our immediate priority is to try and make contact with the Cyberspace Administration of China to understand their concerns and work with them to find a resolution,” the developer wrote, adding that it found itself in a disadvantaged position as “a tiny independent games studio in the U.K.”

As to the curious timing of the removal, Ndemic said it is not clear if CAC’s decision is linked to the coronavirus outbreak in China, but noted that the game’s “educational importance has been repeatedly recognised by organizations like the CDC and we are currently working with major global health organizations to determine how we can best support their efforts to contain and control COVID-19.”

First released in 2012 as a mobile app, Plague Inc. allows players to invent a pathogen that spreads using an epidemic model, in an effort to convert the world’s population into zombies. In January, as three Chinese cities were put into lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19, Plague Inc. rocketed to the top of the iOS App Store charts in the country, garnering a great deal of buzz on Chinese social media.

In response to the game’s sudden ascent in China, James Vaughan, founder of Ndemic Creations, released a statement on January 23, stressing that Plague Inc. was just a game designed to be realistic and informative while not sensationalising serious real-world issues.

“It’s not a scientific model and the current coronavirus outbreak is a very real situation, which is impacting a huge number of people,” Vaughan wrote. “We would always recommend that players get their information directly from local and global health authorities.”