Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dateline: Edinburgh, 1802

Imagine a world in which there are no antibiotics, no routine medical checkups, no blood tests, and no sterile surgery. Imagine a world in which people are surrounded by deadly microbes, with no way to hold them in check. And now imagine that there exists one, and only one, proven vaccine: the vaccine for smallpox. The trouble is, that vaccine is very new and largely untested.

Now imagine that you live in Edinburgh in 1802. A young doctor in the city, Alexander Robertson, is trying to set up a vaccination dispensary, to protect people from the deadly smallpox virus while establish a paying medical practice.
A recent Irish immigrant, Charles McMahon, is working to set up a market stall on the Grassmarket -- but can he avoid contracting the deadly disease?

And through it all, the smallpox virus itself stalks the city, spreading contagion unless -- just unless -- the vaccine can shut it down.

If you can imagine this, then you can imagine playing the digital role-playing game Pox and the City, an RPG for the history of medicine. Funded with a Digital Start-Up Grant from the Office of Digital Humanities, a division of the National Endowment for the Humanities (, the game is currently under construction, with beta-testing scheduled for spring 2013. It is a collaboration between Lisa Rosner and Laura Zucconi, historians of medicine at Stockton College, NJ, and the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Additional collaborators include Elizabeth Goins and Lisa Hermsen, Rochester Institute of Technology, graphic artist Hannah Ueno, and virtual world designer Desmond Shang.

We are currently working on the first episode of the game, in which Dr. Alexander Robertson must collect enough patients, and enough funding, to build a vaccine dispensary in Edinburgh's medical district. Will he be able to collect enough points to receive a charter from the Lord Provost and name his institution the Royal Vaccine Dispensary? Or will he be defeated by his nefarious rival? To find out, check this site for clues and updates as they emerge...


  1. Profs, this sounds very exciting. Excuse my gaming illiteracy, but is isomorphic RPG a game in which there's one set role available to the player? And it's the doctor? (Can't wait to see who the "nefarious rival" is.) Are you basing the characters on real people? Is variolation going to be competing with the new procedure of vaccination? And finally, will this tear my 17-y-o son away from Skyrim? Looking forward to getting updates about this project! Your friends at History of Vaccines

  2. This sounds pretty awesome. I told my medical students about playing the game as a way to learn history. Their first reaction was a weird look, but they are most decidedly intrigued, as am I. Good luck!