Research and Advisors: Lisa Rosner, Lisa Hermsen, David Simkins, Ethan Watrall, Laura Zucconi. Art and Animation: Alicia Treat, Caitlyn Redden, Anita Smith, Benjamin Acevedo, Evelyn Morse, Sophia Herdzik
Already familiar with Lisa Rosner’s fascinating website on Burke and Hare (http://burkeandhare.com/), I was pleased to have the opportunity to review the Pox and the City prototype, a game featuring medical history and the city of Edinburgh in 1802. Can Dr. Robertson (your avatar) solve mysteries, gain trust and funds, and stop the dreaded outbreaks of smallpox? The player is asked to make some decisions along the way that will influence the ultimate outcome—for instance, are you playing primarily as a philanthropist or an entrepreneur? Will you choose to marry, or will you focus all your energy on the work? In other words, the game asks you not only to read clues and come up with diagnosis and cure, but also to choose a perspective from which to view your practice.
The game structure is not, perhaps, intuitive. When the blog link opens, it takes a few minutes to discover the entry point for the game, partly because a questionnaire appears below (suggesting that you have already played the game). Once inside the game, there are a few technical hurdles. It takes time to load, and I confess my browser crashed the first time. Once inside, however, we are faced with a cozy office and crackling fire—a diary, a doctor’s bag, a map, and an introductory note. The game requires quite a bit of reading both to contextualize the game world and to understand the next set of clues or quests. This is one of my favorite features, though of course that much reading can be daunting. There is a library of texts, a series of journal tabs leading to multiple pages, and the dialogue boxes [End Page 737] to work through. The order in which they should be read isn’t always apparent, so I was off to a slow start. Luckily, there are some hints—characters won’t converse if you haven’t achieved the next quest in the series. The wave of curtly repeated “good afternoons” can be frustrating when you reach a dead end, but that is true for most games of this type.
While it took me some time to adjust initially, I found the game very absorbing the longer I played. In fact, I returned several times to one of the mini-games, just to win at cards! I became less aware of the surrounding structure, and more interested in the mysteries I uncovered, choosing and reading through the library books in order to correctly assess treatments for things like typhus and gout. True to the hazards of historical time period, the methods for curing were not always pleasant, and I lost one patient to smallpox. In the end, I ended up a bachelor with a dispensary, known for my philanthropy . . . but the game does not set philanthropy and entrepreneurial spirit in opposition. Balance is necessary to create a thriving practice, and there are other possible outcomes!
The game experience might be improved upon with a bit more preamble and, perhaps, less reading at the outset. Or, alternatively, the game might employ scrolling text that allows for larger print and can seem less onerous to those not used to text-heavy game play. I found myself skipping some dialogue, but again that is true of any game that relies upon conversation to move the plot forward . . . and skipping did not (usually) cause me to fail the task, though I would have done better if I had been “listening” to my patients. A lesson learned, and true of most physician experiences, I’d wager!
On the whole, I enjoyed this site, and while I might hope for certain other changes in the final version—such as higher contrast, more readable and more consistent font, and greater explanation of instructions for using the game’s tools—I can highly recommend it for enjoyment and education. I can see utility for pedagogical purposes, as a multimodal experience of treatment and diagnostics...