Welp, looks like we're all going to be spending a lot of time indoors over the next few months. Coronavirus has well and truly set in, but luckily we have more media at our disposal than during any previous plague. Which means there'll be plenty to keep us occupied, and we won't even have to go out to the library or Blockbuster to get it.
Here's our pick of the vaguely apocalypse-themed movies, books and games that'll keep your cogs turning during what's going to feel like the longest school summer holiday of your life. And probably not in a good way.
1. The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why
Amanda Ripley's ridiculously gripping book takes you through real-life disasters and some of the surprising ways people reacted. Turns out people act predictably -- but not very helpfully -- in disasters, and that learning and preparing some better techniques would probably save quite a lot of lives.
For instance, did you know that about 1000 people took the time to shut down their computers before leaving the burning Twin Towers? Or that some people quite literally lose their sight when disaster strikes? We're not good at this stuff, but we can be better, and this book explains how. [Buy it here]
2. World War Z
Obviously there's the Brad Pitt-starring movie and the tie-in game that spun out of it, but we mean the original book. Or if you're feeling fancy, the full-cast audiobook. Frankly there are a lot of familiar parallels between the beginning of this story and what's happening now.
Admittedly, it is about zombies, as a lot of apocalypse content is. But the zombie pandemic originates in China, and while our current storyline probably isn't going to go this way, it's a nice reminder that things could always be worse.
3 & 4. Theme Hospital and Two Point Hospital
One of the all-time classic videogames, Theme Hospital's cartoony and genuinely funny gameplay will remind you that terrifying illnesses do eventually find a cure, as long as you cheat a bit on the fax machine and put the money into drug research.
Every so often, your hospital will be hit with an epidemic, and then you get to see how you'll cope when everyone suddenly has obscenely bloated heads, Hairyitis or alien DNA.
Two Point Hospital is Sega's 'spiritual sequel' to Theme Hospital, blessedly keeping both the cartoony style and the dark humour (plus some of the original developers). In this game, a 'pandemic' involves having a pan on your head, but you do also get occasional epidemics -- and dead patients sometimes turn into ghosts that come back and haunt the hell out of your terrible hospital.
It's available on consoles too.
It's not about a pandemic, but John Wyndham's 1951 novel about world blindness and killer plants genuinely made me look out of the window to make sure I wasn't the last person alive.
It's also the book that inspired the film 28 Days Later, so you can be snobby about having read the (excellent) material that made it a reality. Please ignore the current cover art, it is not actually a book about a sad man who can't get control of his weeds. [Buy it here]
6. Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak
Netflix released this docu-series suspiciously recently, making us wonder who tipped them off about covid-19. It's a 6-part series looking at how virulent disease outbreaks start, how vaccines are developed, the pressures and problems front-line staff face, and how some people apparently think prayer will save them.
Although the title promises to help stop an outbreak, it might have been more useful if it had come out late last year to give us time to watch it, and maybe put more emphasis on WASHING YOUR GODDAMN HANDS.
Watch it here (if you have Netflix. If not... well, you're going to have a sucky apocalypse).
7. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
Dan Ariely's bestselling 2009 book on behavioural economics is a must-read for understanding your fellow humans -- a priceless skill in the midst of a crisis.
It explains and illuminates with clear examples and amusing anecdotes, taking you through just how weirdly people can behave in unexpected situations. It might help you understand why there's been a run on toilet roll, for instance. [Buy it here]
The infectious virus in this film is called Motaba, but it's pretty clearly based on Ebola. An amazing cast including Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Donald Sutherland -- also, unfortunately, pre-shame Kevin Spacey -- battle the virus and each other as they face the unconscionable decisions caused by this kind of pandemic.
It's a bit "America, fuck yeah," but it's superbly well acted and makes for such good escapism, you'll almost have forgotten the word 'coronavirus' by the end. [Watch it here]
9. The Stand
The situation in Stephen King's epic plague novel sits halfway between a medical pandemic and a Biblical end-of-days apocalypse. The deadly flu in the book was developed by the US military (a common trope with this sort of thing) and quickly spreads from one dude in his car with the corpses of his loved ones to the rest of the country.
The world -- or what's left of it -- ends up split between leaders: an old lady and a creepy dude. Seems legit, apart from people agreeing to vote for a woman. [Buy it here]
10. Fallout Games
A spiritual successor to the '80s title Wasteland, the Fallout universe is about as beautiful as a post-apocalyptic hellscape can possibly be. Its ''50s atompunk aesthetic and the eerily-cheerily old-timey music make it a much nicer world to spend time in than ours, despite all the dystopia and death and whatnot. Which we'll probably have here before long, anyway.
There's a whole range of Fallout titles to enjoy, easily taking up days of your hermit time. And if you want to play with your also-quarantined pals, Fallout 76 has online multiplayer. [Buy Fallout 4 here]
11. Red Dwarf
Undoubtedly one of the greatest British comedies of all time, Red Dwarf kicks off in 22nd century space, but quickly ends up with hapless scouser Dave Lister as the last human alive. All because his idiot coworker accidentally vaporised everyone on the ship in a nuclear accident (we've all got a colleague like Rimmer). Lister was in suspended animation at the time, but the ship's hyper-intelligent computer kept him frozen for three million years until it was safe to come out.
A sitcom with one character would be pretty dull, though -- Red Dwarf has some very inventive ways of bringing others in, including a hologram of jobsworth Rimmer, an obsequious android called Kryten and a creature called The Cat that evolved over millions of years from Lister's illicit pet cat Frankenstein. You can buy the series over on Amazon (digitally, or on disc), or binge the first/best 8 seasons on Netflix. Oh and if you finish all of them, there are also books that can be read/listened to.
12. Plague Inc
This British-made mobile game was recently banned from the App Store in China because it contained unspecified "illegal material." It's still available here and everywhere else, though, and unsurprisingly it's gone viral (hurr) since covid-19 kicked off.
It's a real-time strategy sim whereby you design your own virus, either to kill humans, enslave them, or turn them into zombies. Its developers, Ndemic Creations, describe it as "a bit like the film Contagion except you're on the other side." Get it here.
If you keep hearing people say "Let's go to the Winchester, have a pint, and wait for this to blow over" during corona madness, this is the film they're referencing.
Named after the (also excellent) zombie film Dawn of the Dead, Shaun stars comedy duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost facing up to a zombified public in classic British fashion. It's also the first film in the so-called Cornetto trilogy, which appropriately ends with The World's End. It's available on Amazon, digitally and on disc, or you can probably count on ITV2 to be showing it again sometime soon.
14. High Rise
JG Ballard is the king of the dystopian novel, and this one is a masterpiece. Ensconced in their fancy residential tower, 2000 people begin as neighbours and end as bloodthirsty animals. There's no pandemic in this one, it's just a really engaging look at what can happen when the thin veneer of society cracks under the weight of a crisis.
15. The Good Place
Possibly the most intelligent comedy ever written, The Good Place sees Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) discover that she's dead, she died in a cringetastic way, and somehow now she's in heaven -- the Good Place. Ted Danson is unbelievably good as the fatherly, god-esque Michael, guiding Eleanor through the afterlife. And that's pretty much all I can tell you about it without spoilers.
It's one of those shows you'll watch multiple times, quote forever, and share many, many screenshots of because it just has so many zingy, pithy, relatable and did we mention really funny lines? Plus by the time you get to the tearjerkingly brilliant finale at the end of season 4, you'll have a completely new take on death. Which might come in handy in 2020. Watch it on Netflix.
Honourable mention: Pandemic
It's a board game rather than a videogame, but we couldn't let any list of plague-time distractions close without a mention of Z-Man Games' legendary title.
The premise is pretty much what you'd expect: you're in charge of saving humanity from deadly pandemics spreading around the world. If we've learnt anything from this game, it's that we should probably all move to Greenland immediately. [Buy it here]
Main image: Giphy (it's from Fallout, FYI)