7 Video Games Where the Infection Took Over
It’s safe to say we’re living in a pretty dark time right now. We’ve been instructed to isolate ourselves from one another and “social distancing”, an activity I usually engage in regardless of what disease is running rampant across the globe, is now somewhat mandatory. In spite of the danger and horrors of what is happening to us, this is our time as gamers to shine. We can escape into fantasy worlds where we can be whoever and whatever we want to be, and explore worlds of the most far-fetched fiction where one small organism fundamentally changes the way we live as a society and impacts us on personal and social levels. Oh, wait, that’s real life now.
As terrifying as things seem to be at the moment, it could be so much worse, as these seven games have shown us. Between some of the more outlandish scenarios that seem to always result in bloodthirsty zombies, to more accurate or historical visions of disease that remind us this is just another Sunday in the grand scheme of things, here are some escapist fantasies that hit a little too close to reality right now.
Honourable mention - World of Warcraft: Corrupted Blood
This one is a little obscure, but interesting nonetheless. On September 13, 2005, Blizzard introduced a new raid called Zul’Gurub, whose end boss, Hakkar the Soulflayer, had the annoying habit of draining a player’s blood to replenish its health. Some smartipants figured out you could abuse this ability by intentionally applying the Corrupted Blood debuff and by extension, infect the boss with the same debuff to kill it more easily.
The problem came about when players started getting infected with Corrupted Blood by proximity alone, and soon the whole game was in a state of panic as even the NPCs and pets became carriers of the disease. Whole cities were abandoned in the chaos as players tried to avoid accidental infection that would result in their character’s deaths, and it wasn’t until October 8, nearly a month later, that Blizzard was finally able to put a stop to it.
On a slightly morbid note, there were players who actively tried to infect others with the Corrupted Blood debuff, going out of their way to make sure the streets were littered with the bodies of fallen heroes. It’s official: humans are awful.
1. The Last of Us: Cordyceps Fungi
I’ve never been more terrified of a clicking noise than I have been playing this damn game. The Last of Us takes a different, and slightly horrifying, approach to zombies by grounding its infection in a real world creature. The cordyceps fungus, the source of the outbreak in The Last of Us, is a parasitic spore ripped straight from an insect's worst nightmares and made real for our amusement. It infects the hosts brain, disorienting them so they seek the safety of their nests, then slowly grows out of the bug’s body so it can release its spores and infect the other insects. Thank goodness this thing doesn’t like animals with squishy bodies, at least in the real world.
The Last of Us is a stealth survival game that embraces that idea of “your life is more important than how awesome that kill would have been” wholeheartedly, and most of the time (at least when I played it) you'll be cowering behind cover, waiting for that clicker to move away from the exit.
2. Dying Light: Harran Virus
Zombie infections with hardcore-parkour, what’s not to love? Well, aside from the utterly terrifying day-night cycle and those not-so-far-off screams that turn your blood to ice. In Dying Light you play as Kyle Crane, the macho-man and GRE secret agent airdropped into the quarantined city of Harran, who is immediately bitten and infected by one of its citizens, called a Volatile. Good job, Kyle; way to earn that paycheck.
Dying Light is a strange one among modern zombie games, as it actively tells you that the zombies aren’t to be messed with, especially at night, rather than trying to motivate you into culling the local population down to a measly dozen people (I didn’t listen and immediately regretted it). The free-running mechanics add to that spectacularly, as most of the time you’re clambering up the side of a shanty house and Spartan-kicking Volatiles off of rooftops, though there is some incentive to smashing a poor sap’s face in with a crowbar you found in the back of an ambulance. I don’t know why that was there either, I just went with it.
3. The Division: Smallpox
Finally, an infection that doesn’t make zombies. This strain of smallpox went by a couple of other names: Green Poison and The Dollar Flu, as the disease was passed by people exchanging money.
The Division is a third-person, online looter-shooter, which is appropriate for a game made by Ubisoft, a company who has perfected the art of making tedious busywork in a game actually enjoyable (that’s not sarcasm, I’m actually impressed).
You play as an agent of the Strategic Homeland Division who is trying to maintain order among the chaos of the outbreak. As yet another macho secret agent, you’ll be fighting against the likes of the Rioters, common thugs who take advantage of the quarantine, the Rikers, prisoner escaped from Rikers Island and the Cleaners, nutjob employees of the New York Department of Sanitation who wield flamethrowers and believe everyone left in Washington is infected. I’m sure the people at Ubisoft had a blast coming up with that one.
4. A Plague Tale: Innocence - Bubonic Plague
A Plague Tale takes place during the Hundred Year War and a massive outbreak of the plague, then makes a complete left turn in the story and draws some eerie inspiration from Willard with a dash of magical royal bloodlines. It’s a weird combination that somehow works.
In this stealth adventure game you play as Amicia, a young woman of noble lineage who must escort her sick brother away from the grasp of the Inquisition while trying to find a cure for whatever has stricken her sibling. As you progress through the game you find that the swarms of rats aren’t just infecting the population with the plague, but are recreating the scarab scenes from The Mummy and devouring everything they come across in this disgusting sea of teeth and red eyes. Luckily for Amicia, the rats aren’t too fond of fire and light (are they zombie rats?), and many of the puzzle elements surrounding the rats involve using torches and fire to scatter the swarm.
A Plague Tale is disgusting and gorgeous, and I’m so glad we don’t live in 14th century Europe right now.
5. Prototype: Blacklight Virus
Yet another outbreak game set in New York City (do we have a secret vendetta against them?), you play as the “superhero” Alex Mercer, who wakes up mid-autopsy to find he has gained shapeshifting powers and a complete indifference towards killing as many people as he can get his clawed hands on. The best part? He’s the idiot who unleashed the virus in the first place, and he doesn’t even remember doing it.
Prototype is a sandbox action game where you use your shapeshifting powers, also known as eating people so you can look like them, to hide from the military and find out what happened to you and the rest of the city. As you progress through the game you gain new abilities like gooey, black armour, gliding through the air by shooting blood from your butt and cosplaying as Edward Scissorhands. You know, the normal superpowers.
The Blacklight Virus plays out a lot like your typical zombie infection, though the creatures it bears are more like monsters than slow shuffling zombies, and the Hunters are basically angry, pink gorilla men. There’s a whole government conspiracy going on in the story too, and pretty soon after you pull the scalpel from your chest and make a run for it, you’re slapped with the most over-the-top martial law reaction I’ve seen to date. Seriously, who starts by bringing in tanks? That’s at least step three in the “How To Implement Martial Law” manual.
6. Resident Evil: T-virus
Arguably survival horror at its best, and probably the game on this list I want to be a part of the least, possibly tied with The Last of Us. Over the course of the series you play a variety of different characters, with the likes of Chris and Claire Redfield, Leon Kennedy, Ada Wong and Jill Valentine, who all show up in multiple titles either as playable or side characters. For the most part, these characters are trying to stop the spread of a vicious and deadly disease, and I am now questioning their qualifications since they never seem to get the job finished.
You know a virus is resilient when it lasts two dozen games and a series of movies, and it seems like Umbrella Corp never learns their lesson and leaves the T-Virus well enough alone. It's a derivative of the Progenitor Virus mixed with leech DNA, which sounds terrifying in itself, but the effects of the T-virus are arguably worse than just killing you. If you're unlucky enough to be dead when infected, you come back to life as a cannibalistic and mindless zombie. Then there are the "willing" participants who are turned into a B.O.W. (Bio Organic Weapon) by the mutagenic properties of the virus and horribly deformed beyond recognition. This isn’t Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, although apparently being mutated always turns you into a living weapon no matter if you’re an anthropomorphic reptile or horribly disfigured human.
While there are a few other viruses and infections throughout the Resident Evil series, the T-virus is arguably the most well known and impactful among them.
7. Plague Inc. - Everything
Plague Inc. may be the most morbid game on this list, as the end goal is to wipe out every human on Earth with your chosen disease. Jack Thompson would have had a field day with this “murder simulator”.
A real-time strategy title, the gameplay is fairly simple but difficult to execute. Throughout your playthroughs you’ll be fighting against the clock to infect as many people as you can, while mutating your disease enough to prevent the humans from creating a cure. If even one human survives when the clock runs out, you lose (I’m not sure the developers know how population growth works) and you’ll have to start from the beginning. To keep the game from feeling too real, there are also some wackier infections the player gets to use, like the Simian Flu from Planet of the Apes as well as a zombie-inducing plague, because what kind of game would this be if you couldn’t make zombies?.
There’s been a lot of noise around Plague Inc. lately for fairly obvious reasons, with China even banning the game outright for including “illegal content”, though the CDC has praised it for its ability to make people think about how diseases can spread so easily.
The world is a scary place right now, and while some of our escape methods are hitting a little too close to reality, we need to remember the lessons we have learned from these games. If you’re sick, don’t be a workplace hero and infect your entire office. Stay at home, self-isolate and don’t horde toilet paper. It won’t help you ward off that dry cough and high fever, and you’ll just make life miserable for those in need. And for the love of God, wash your hands.
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