// July 29th, 2011 // No Comments » // Uncategorized
On September 13 2005, World of Warcraft (WoW) gamers discovered they faced a new threat: Corrupted Blood. The resulting epidemic has attracted widespread attention in surprising places.
The virtual plague began when WoW gamemakers Blizzard introduced a new dungeon Zul’Gurub and its end boss Hakkar, who when confronted and attacked would cast a point-draining and highly-contagious spell “Corrupted Blood”.
As reported by Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corrupted_Blood_incident):
The spell, intended to last only seconds and function only within the new area of Zul’Gurub, soon spread across the virtual world when players discovered that the use of teleportation spells could take the affliction out of its intended confines. By both accidental and purposeful intent, a pandemic ensued that quickly killed lower-level characters and annoyed higher-leveled ones, drastically changing normal game play, as players did what they could to avoid infection. Despite measures such as programmer-imposed quarantines, the players’ abandoning densely populated cities (or even just not playing the game), the epidemic was only finally controlled with a combination of patches and resets of the virtual world.
The conditions and reactions of the event attracted the attention of epidemiologists for its implications of how human populations could react to a real-world epidemic. Anti-terrorism officials also took notice of the event noting the implications of some players planning and perpetuating the epidemic.
During the epidemic, normal gameplay was disrupted. Player responses varied but resembled real-world behaviours. Some characters with healing abilities volunteered their services, some lower-level characters who could not help would direct people away from infected areas, some characters would flee to uninfected areas, and some characters attempted to spread the disease to others – resembling behaviour attributed to early AIDS patient Gaëtan Dugas and Typhoid patient Mary Mallon.
As Reuters reported (http://reut.rs/158dBu):
What made Corrupted Blood so interesting was the way players responded — providing an insight into the psychological response to plague that most computer models can never hope to capture.
Some players selflessly rushed to help, using their healing powers and acting as first responders despite the risk.
“Their behaviour may have actually extended the course of the epidemic and altered its dynamics… keeping infected individuals alive long enough for them to continue spreading the disease, and by becoming infected themselves and being highly contagious when they rushed to another area,” according to a medical journal, The Lancet.
Others got infected on purpose and strolled around populated areas — leading some security analysts to say the incident may provide insight into how terrorists would exploit a pandemic.
Amongst the more compelling insights to be drawn from the WoW incident (as noted by Prof. Nina Fefferman, a medical epidemiologist at Rutgers University):
“Suddenly, there was [in WoW] an experimental framework to watch how people would behave during an epidemic. That’s exactly what we worry about in real-world epidemics — the little behaviours that we don’t tell people to do or not to do, because we have never seen this happen before.”
And then there was the “stupid factor”:
Professor Fefferman immediately recognised human behaviours she had not ever factored in when creating computer models of disease outbreaks. For instance, what she calls the “stupid factor”.
“Someone thinks, ‘I’ll just get close and get a quick look and it won’t affect me,’” she said.