Part of our mission here at Daily Fuel has been to illuminate life and early career insights for our readers. As part of that continuing purpose, we're excited to announce our new blogger, Christian Zilko, will be providing first-person accounts into one young professional's journey. Enjoy.

Courage In The Face of Utter Ridiculousness

Reading Profiles In Courage as a child, I was struck by John F. Kennedy’s eloquent portrayals of leaders who sacrificed their political careers for their principles. But while it was a good read, I never thought I’d find myself in a comparable position. But yesterday, in a beige classroom in the board game wing of my college’s English building, I was placed in such a situation. While I remain sensible of my defects, I like to think that I acted honorably enough that the story merits some Daily Fuel coverage.

Despite my school’s art-centric nature, I’m still required to take one science class (a tragedy, I know). But they’re not exactly teaching theoretical physics to us theatre majors, so I’m fulfilling my requirement by taking Plagues and Pandemics, a public health class about the spread of infectious diseases. It’s as interesting as anything with the name “public health” in its description, but yesterday was a rare break from the mundanity. We spent the class playing Pandemic, an insanely complex board game in which five players work together to cure diseases. The game is very strategic, incorporating many of the scientific and economic aspects of disease control. My group was doing exceptional, even by my very high standards. It seemed as if we were crushing one disease after another, sailing towards a healthy planet. Then suddenly, disaster struck.

One of the “game masters,” the two board game specialists employed by the school to supervise such activities, examined our board and mentioned that we were almost out of time. Which was strange, since there was still an hour left in the class. When I said as much, he replied that it was because we were about to run out of “time cards.” Apparently you have a finite amount of days to cure the diseases, or else you automatically lose. So despite the fact that we had controlled all of the viruses and were almost done, we had to stop the game.

I was unaware of the law that requires epidemiologists to simply give up if it’s taking too long to cure a disease.

I couldn’t believe the stupidity of the situation. It would be one thing to lose because too many people became sick, but this was different. The real life equivalent would be if the CDC had to stop working on Ebola because the sun exploded. I’m not saying that that wouldn’t be a problem, but it’s not exactly a concern that’s always hanging over their heads. It raises some interesting questions… if the world is about to end in a matter of weeks, why even bother curing diseases? The premise is so contradictory, it invalidates any learning opportunities the game may have otherwise provided.

As we conferred about next steps, my livid teammates all agreed that our principles wouldn’t permit us to tolerate such nonsense. If this ridiculous game was being presented as a serious learning simulation, then it should be expected to at least follow the idea that the world is not at risk of ending every day.

After a tense negotiation session with my professor and the game masters (a job that I still can’t believe exists), we were told that there was no way we’d receive the victory we had so obviously earned. We were despondent. But then my teacher rubbed salt in the wound, asking us to write a paper about what we had learned. We all agreed that we couldn’t in good conscience turn in an assignment that endorses the ludicrous game. The system was rigged against us from the start. Millions of fictional people died of illnesses that we could have cured if not for this stupid “time card” rule.

So I hit the academic databases and did research on times when researchers had almost cured a disease, but had to stop because the world ended. I was unable to find an example. I said as such in my paper, and encouraged everyone else to do the same. If we had remained silent in the face of such an asinine rule, I don’t know how I’d be able to look at myself in the mirror every morning. Edmund Burke famously said that society is truly a contract between the living, the dead, and the unborn. If that’s true, then the living have a moral obligation to fight stupid board game rules. I just hope that when I’m dead, people will say I did my part.

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You don't learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.
— Sir Richard Branson
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