Covid Simulator Is So Well Made It’s A Little Depressing

·4-min read
Covid Simulator shows a pixel workplace struggling with the pandemic.
Covid Simulator shows a pixel workplace struggling with the pandemic.

Covid Simulator is exactly what it says on the tin. By using data from the official CDC website, indie developer coldrice’s game allows you to simulate how covid-19 spreads in a workplace. There isn’t a “win” condition. The simulation keeps running no matter how much debt your virtual business accumulates, and you can even run simulations with zero employees. So there are no concrete goals, only sadistic experimentation.

The game accounts for factors such as vaccination rates, masking, vaccine sentiment, different types of work schedules, and whether or not an employee recently died of covid. While the simulator is in motion, players can introduce new factors at any time, such as viral mutations or the prevalence of anti-vaccine propaganda at the office. Sometimes my employees would take hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin (neither of which are suitable for treating covid). There were also random events in which vaccine sentiments would be swayed by what was being portrayed in the media.

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At first, I tried to simulate a workplace that most closely resembled the situation in the United States today. I set the vaccinated population to 60%, the number of infected employees to 30%, and I guessed that maybe half were wearing masks. I also started out with 100 employees so that calculating percentages would be straightforward. I didn’t require vaccinations or give anyone time off to quarantine. People occasionally got sick, but the company’s profits stayed in the black. And nobody died over the course of a month. In a society whose pandemic response was rife with half-measures, our workplace managed to avoid total collapse.

I forced the virus to mutate, which meant that my employees needed to get re-vaccinated. Fortunately, the workplace was entirely pro-vaccines. This meant that people became vaccinated quickly, very few became debilitatingly sick, and the company stayed solidly profitable. Covid Simulator painted an incredibly rosy picture of a workplace that could bounce back simply by maintaining a high pro-vaccination sentiment. Even in simulations in which initial vaccination rates were low, I maintained company profits whenever vaccine acceptance remained high. While I can’t claim that the simulator mirrors real-life circumstances, it’s undeniable that countries such as Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore have had better outcomes than vaccine-hoarding, wealthier countries such as the U.S.

However, the 60% vaccination rate isn’t true for every part of the U.S. Many Americans live in communities that are highly vaccine-hesitant. I started a new simulation. This time, I simulated a workplace with a ton of antivax propaganda. At the beginning, we remained profitable despite the occasional death or hospitalization. However, all of these antivax simulations ended with a spiraling debt hole, as a single mutation was all it took for my company to completely break down once antivax sentiment took root. The real virus in Covid Simulator wasn’t the virus itself: It was pseudoscience and a refusal to prioritize collective welfare.

A screenshot of Covid Simulator shows a workplace with high antivax sentiment and a high infection rate.
A screenshot of Covid Simulator shows a workplace with high antivax sentiment and a high infection rate.


The disaster begins.

In some of these simulations, I tried my best to turn antivax sentiment around. I issued vaccine and mask mandates, but workers were slow to adapt them. I found that the best tactic for encouraging vaccination was giving my employees the weekend off. Still, my employees barely budged from their vaccine hesitant views. None of my countermeasures could resolve my company’s ballooning debt. Once covid and vaccine deniers got a hold of my company, there was nothing I could do to save it.

By the developer’s own admission, Covid Simulator has its flaws. The randomizer is rigged in favor of positive outcomes, and focusing on a company’s profits doesn’t show the social cost of the pandemic. And though only one person died in most of my antivax runs, one percent of the American population is still a few million people. Despite its grim premise, Covid Simulator is a fascinating game that I can’t stop playing whenever the Kotaku editors aren’t looking.

You can download Covid Simulator for free on Itch.io, or wait for the Steam version that’s due to land on January 24.

Correction 1/12/2022 11:07 a.m. ET: This post has been updated to correct some math and clarify some statements about ivermectin

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