Observations Reality Check

Pharmaville—the latest fad in online gaming

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d4080 (Published 06 July 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d4080
  1. Ray Moynihan, author, journalist, and conjoint lecturer, University of Newcastle, Australia
  1. Ray.Moynihan{at}newcastle.edu.au

As the web based, social network gaming sensation Farmville (www.farmville.com) sweeps across the “English countryside” with millions of followers in its wake, I thought it might be a good time to introduce Pharmaville—an idea for an internet game where players develop and sell drugs to improve human health.

Just as Farmville players build up virtual farms, breed new crops, and trade sheep, Pharmaville players join together to form companies, research new drugs, and market them to as many other players as they can. Instead of Farmville’s cute cartoon icons representing farmers, fruits, and vegetables, Pharmaville features brightly coloured pills, along with little avatars of white-coated researchers, well groomed key opinion leaders, and even better dressed young salespeople. Instead of Morris dancing, dubstep electronic dance music plays in the pubs.

As with all games, there are a few fundamental rules. New prescription drugs must be proved to be safe and effective before marketing, advertising claims have to be at least half true, and anyone caught misleading people too egregiously about a drug’s risks or benefits may face mild professional censure. An evaluation of the game’s …

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