Dateline: Edinburgh, 1802

Pox and the City. Courtesy Lisa RosnerWe were pleased to see Lisa Rosner, PhD, in the Historical Medical Library here at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia the other day. Rosner, who is professor of history at Stockton College as well as an advisor to History of Vaccines, is the recipient of an NEH grant in the digital humanities to develop a role-playing game about early smallpox vaccination in Scotland. She was in the library finding great materials for the game, and we’re looking forward to playing it and promoting it when it’s completed. Keep an eye on her blog to read about the progress her team is making on the game. You can also follow her on Twitter to enjoy her musings on the history of medicine and her book The Anatomy Murders. The post below is reproduced from her blog with her permission.

Lisa Rosner, PhD

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, a 3rd person isomorphic 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 fall 2012. It is a collaboration between Lisa Rosner and Laura Zucconi, historians of medicine at Stockton College, NJ, and Ethan Watrall, digital game specialist at Michigan State University. Additional collaborators include graphic artist Hannah Ueno, Adventure Club game designers, and the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

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 the Pox and the City blog for clues and updates as they emerge…