Something for the weekend: Pandemic 2

This week Iain Simons reviews one game that should appeal to those with a taste for the morbid...

For those who enjoy strategic simulation games but dislike the company of others, this week we present Pandemic 2 for your delight and amusement. The sequel to Pandemic (who would have thought global devastation could be developed into a franchise…?) this challenges you to create the ultimate disease, infecting and killing the population of Earth. It’s like SimCity for people that hate other people.

Whilst having a simple interface, I’d recommend a watch of the tutorial video to be introduced to the basic concepts. It’s a resource management/ strategy game, where the assets you are juggling are the qualities of your disease. Once you’ve made the decision of what class of infection you are going to create (virus, parasite or bacteria) the core game begins.

Your task is to guide the development of your disease into being the most infectious, lethal strain possible - whilst keeping its visibility to humans and resistance to their vaccines at a maximum. By carefully managing symptoms, transmission methods and resistances, one slowly spreads death throughout the planet. But as borders close and governments order the mass burning of corpses, your function becomes frustratingly spectatorial. It’s morbid fun, but doesn’t offer quite enough feedback in its interface for you to really feel in control of the action. This has no pretensions to being educational, and nor should it, but a little more detail would prove satisfying.

With just functional graphics and an irritating, looping soundtrack (although it can be muted) Pandemic 2 is a fairly lightweight strategy affair. A nice concept needing a rather more finesse, this won’t tax any simulation aficionados but rather provide a gentle diversion, allowing you to while away some time wreaking death upon your fellow man. And what else are Fridays for?

Iain Simons writes, talks and tweets about videogames and technology. His new book, Play Britannia, is to be published in 2009. He is the director of the GameCity festival at Nottingham Trent University.
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What the debate over troops on the streets is missing

Security decisions are taken by professionals not politicians. But that doesn't mean there isn't a political context. 

First things first: the recommendation to raise Britain’s threat level was taken by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC), an organisation comprised of representatives from 16 government departments and agencies. It was not a decision driven through by Theresa May or by anyone whose job is at stake in the election on 8 June.

The resulting deployment of troops on British streets – Operation Temperer – is, likewise, an operational decision. They will do the work usually done by armed specialists in the police force protecting major cultural institutions and attractions, and government buildings including the Palace of Westminster. That will free up specialists in the police to work on counter-terror operations while the threat level remains at critical. It, again, is not a decision taken in order to bolster the Conservatives’ chances on 8 June. (Though intuitively, it seems likely to boost the electoral performance of the party that is most trusted on security issues, currently the Conservatives if the polls are to be believed.)

There’s a planet-sized “but” coming, though, and it’s this one: just because a decision was taken in an operational, not a political manner, doesn’t remove it from a wider political context. And in this case, there’s a big one: the reduction in the number of armed police specialists from 6979 when Labour left office to 5,639 today. That’s a cut of more than ten per cent in the number of armed specialists in the regular police – which is why Operation Temperer was drawn up under David Cameron in the first place.  There are 1340 fewer armed specialists in the police than there were seven years ago – a number that is more significant in the light of another: 900, the number of soldiers that will be deployed on British streets under Op Temperer. (I should add: the initial raft of police cuts were signed off by Labour in their last days in office.)

So while it’s disingenuous to claim that national security decisions are being taken to bolster May, we also shouldn’t claim that operational decisions aren’t coloured by spending decisions made by the government.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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