Since I was a child, infectious diseases have been one of my most consistent fears. At mere mention of the Ebola virus, my skin crawls while I fight the urge to wash my hands. As PopMatters’s own Dan Dinello rightly points out, “[p]op culture runs rampant” with disease ”and has for some time” (“The Contagious Age”, PopMatters, 8 September 2011). Contagions have long offered potent analogies for the social and political fears of an era. Early zombie films explored the deadening effect of consumerist culture, while more modern takes on the undead have addressed governmental inadequacies and cultures of violence. While Dinello offers a thorough exploration of infections through film and literature, he only briefly touches upon disease in games. Surely the interactive medium offers wholly unique takes on plagues and pustules? Upon closer inspection, have games upheld the long tradition of exploring social and political issues by horrifying, repulsing, and upsetting us with disease?
The single more terrifying element of epidemics and diseases are how they completely and suddenly upset normalcy. From the global context to our own communities, the dread of disease lies in its ability to upend expectations. As Dinello points out, “In our age of global networking and circulation of people and goods, contagion threatens to violate secure borders, invade our society, and proliferate out of control.” Games may have difficulty evoking this menace when interactivity demands players maintain some degree of satisfying control, even in the most dire circumstances.