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“You died of wormes!”: What an online ‘death roulette’ game can teach us about pandemics

The "17th century death roulette bot" raises difficult questions about how we empathise with lives in the past—and reveals the way plague still shapes our modern view of disease

By Kirsty Rolfe  

A memento mori printed on London's Dreadful Visitation. Photo: Wellcome collection

Sometime between 8th and 15th August 1665 you were found dead in the parish of St Bartholomew’s the Less, just north of St Paul’s Cathedral. Or you drowned, or were murdered in Stepney, or died of the plague. You can die in all of these ways in about forty-five seconds (if you move fast enough), and it’s a fairly entertaining thing to do when you’re bored at work.

This is “17th Century Death Roulette,” a browser game from the website, which generates randomised causes of death from London death statistics, known as “bills of mortality.” It’s also…

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