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Want to save the world, but can’t? These viral outbreak games will make you feel heroic

viral outbreak PC games
(Image credit: Future)

Tingle, tingle, tingle! 

This, my friend, is the incredible feeling PC gamers experience when we finally emerge victorious from hours and hours of virtual battle. Chills run down our spine as we stand up and say, “I did it! I won!” That feeling of taking control -- a sensation of pure empowerment -- is priceless. 

This is the beauty of gaming — we can all escape into a world where we feel empowered when, in real life, we may still feel dispirited. This is why, as the COVID-19 crisis disrupts the world’s normalcy, more people are turning to PC gaming to quell that sinking feeling of helplessness as the novel coronavirus continues to spread uncontrollably.

Gamers are yearning to experience a sense of control over the coronavirus pandemic — even if it’s within the confines of a PC game. As a result, many have reached out to James Vaughan, the creator behind Plague Inc., to create a new version of his popular pandemic game that involves saving the world instead of destroying it.

“Eight years ago, I never imagined the real world would come to resemble a game of Plague Inc. or that so many players would be using Plague Inc. to help them get through an actual pandemic,” Vaughan wrote in a press release

Vaughn inspired excitement when he confirmed that he is in talks with World Health Organization (WHO) experts to create a free-to-play game that mimics real-world actions to save the world from a pandemic, including the implementation of social-distancing mandates.

While we wait for Vaughn’s new-and-improved game, here are some viral outbreak PC games that will re-empower your spirits with a virtual pandemic storyline that will allow you to save the world. We promise we won’t mention any cliche zombie-apocalypse games. Also, to be sensitive to our current world situation, we won’t feature any shoot-em-ups that include the age-old plot of taking down "the infected.”

Unforeseen Incidents

best viral outbreak games: Unforeseen Incidents

(Image credit: Backwoods Entertainment)

In the very first scene of Unforeseen Incidents, a booming voice from a local radio station announces, “If you experience a high fever, nosebleeds or coughing fits, please stay calm, stay where you are, and call the emergency hotline.” The scene zooms in on a resting Harper Pendrell, a self-deprecating handyman, who seems chillingly unfazed by the announcement that hinted at a viral outbreak — a relatable moment as many of us know someone (yourself included, perhaps) who may have downplayed the seriousness of the COVID-19 crisis.

This hand-painted, so-beautiful-you’ll-want-to-cry PC game invites you to step into the shoes of Pendrell who eventually realizes the seriousness of this mysterious virus that’s plaguing his beloved hometown called Yelltown. He sets out to investigate the source of this befuddling contagion by teaming up with a tough-as-nails news reporter.

This click-and-point indie game is an intricate mystery puzzle that — as the protagonist — allows you to gain control of a viral outbreak spiraling out of control as you transform from a neighborhood nobody into a world-saving somebody.

Unforeseen Incidents is available on Steam for $19.99. 

 Quarantine 

best viral outbreak games: Quarantine

(Image credit: Sproing)

“You are the last barrier against a global outbreak,” the Quarantine trailer ominously says. 

In this strategy game, you are selected as the director of Pandemic Defense, which is an international biosecurity agency. It’s all up to you to recruit a team of pandemic-fighting warriors to deploy across the world — you can hire medics, scientists, diplomats, security officials and more. You can research the viral pathogen, upgrade your tech and quarantine affected areas before it spreads and plagues the world.

You can emerge victorious from this game by finding the cure and winning the war on disease.

Quarantine is available on Steam for $9.99 

Pandemic: The Board Game

best viral outbreak games: Pandemic: The Board Game

(Image credit: Asmodee Digital)

Don’t let the title of this game fool you. Pandemic: The Board Game is a PC game that you can snag off Steam, but as you may have guessed, it is based on a board game released in 2008.

Ten years later, Pandemic was released on Steam. PC gamers can now take control of a viral contagion that’s wreaking havoc on the world. Pandemic creator Matt Leocock recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times; he revealed that the idea for the game came to him during the 2004 SARS epidemic. “I imagined viruses would be the perfect antagonists for players to confront. Viruses are uncaring, relentless and frightening.”

The game, which has skyrocketed in popularity due to the COVID-19 crisis, requires you to assemble a team of specialized operatives as not one, not two, not three, but four contagions threaten the world.

“People worry that playing it, or watching a disaster movie like ‘Contagion’ is morbid and is perhaps socially unacceptable,” Leacock wrote. “To me, such activity is a natural way to cope with our new reality. It gives people a chance to confront their fears, make sense of the situation and perhaps even feel somewhat in control.”

Pandemic: The Board Game is available on Steam for $9.99. 

Bottom line

Everyone copes with crises differently. Some may bury their heads in the sand and pretend everything is OK. Others may stuff their faces with food and self-medicate with alcohol. And there some people, like myself, who seek escapism through gaming.

There’s something incredibly empowering to feel like you’re in control — even when your personal life is descending into absolute chaos — while stepping into the shoes of a heroic protagonist and saving the world with your wits and passion.