WoW Outbreak Studied by Pandemic Researchers

August 21, 2007 -
Scientists studying the possibiliy of pandemic disease have turned to an unusual test group: World of Warcraft players.

As reported by Reuters, researchers Nina Fefferman and Eric Lofgren of Princeton University are looking into the September, 2005 outbreak of Corrupted Blood within WoW.

Corrupted Blood was a debuff cast by a high-level boss which could be spread from one character to another if the characters were too close together. It could also be spread to pets. Within a short time it had been carried out of the boss instance and into the larger WoW cities where it proved devastating to lower-level characters. Said Fefferman:
It really looked quite a bit like a real disease... Someone thinks, 'I'll just get close and get a quick look and it won't affect me.'

Now that it has been pointed out to us, it is clear that it is going to be happening. There have been a lot of studies that looked at compliance with public health measures. But they have always been along the lines of what would happen if we put people into a quarantine zone -- will they stay? No one have ever looked at what would happen when people who are not in a quarantine zone get in and then leave.

With very large numbers of players (currently 6.5 million for World of Warcraft), these games provide a population where controlled outbreak simulations may be done seamlessly within the player experience.

The Corrupted Blood experience within WoW is both fascinating and fun to study. But the real-world possibilities are frightening. According to Reuters:
Experts agree the world is overdue for a pandemic of some sort of disease. The current No. 1 suspect is the H5N1 avian influenza virus, which has killed 194 out of 321 people infected since 2003.

Comments

Re: WoW Outbreak Studied by Pandemic Researchers

yea this happned like september 2005... and most of these comments are in 2007, soo the EQ thing was about the same time. and yea this was an accident not a planned out thing.. Something simmilair happened like this, where a warlock or hunter would get a debuff. somthing like a bomb, anyway when the timer ran out it would BLOW THE FUCK UP and damage everyone around... theres a video of a gnome lock doing this in IF auction house brfore AH spread to other cities. but it would be pretty sweet if they start doing stuff like that now in Wrath of the lich king.. im getting bored of the game and stuff like this would spice things up.

Blog coment

Thanx For sharing such a beautiful resource. I really appreciate it..

I think what they're saying is that using certain ideas, they can simulate what a particular disease does to someone without having any risk of spreading. Like comparing the debuff spell that was mentioned in WoW to the common cold. What if people affected by them were put in certain areas, could others who had no contact with them still obtain the disease? I think that that's what they're getting at.

i think they all started this plan after that one guy got on the plane with tb (i think it was tb) and flew around for awhile stating "i didnt know i was contagious"

Matthew, I think researcher will know what to do not to piss gamer off if they get help from the game developer.

Instead of actually killing the characters, just have a tracking tag to see how one person can spread the diseases if uncontained. Also there can be a virtual containment that contain the tag when a character enter an area and if the character leave, the tag will stay and the character will never be effected by that tag. In the research model the tag staying act as if it kill the character in the contain area (with out actually killing him/her).

It would be a great model for spreading decease, but not actually the genetic of a disease.

Also, there could be some immunity for certain player of a certain level or cast, and do the research for with the tag method.

There also could be a special server to encourage people to join the research for a month or so. And make sure that characters' stat in that server won't change for the time and that server. Player who died first can respond as people who place quarantine, and simulate how effective different way are.

With all this, why don't they make a MMO for the researcher, and have people from the scientific community and collage volunteer to join. They can call it Pandemic Online.

[...] WoW Outbreak Studied by Pandemic Researchers [...]

WoW really is a good way to study when you think about it. Honestly, until it happens in the real world, we're not going to get a perfect study on it. Any volunteers for that one?

But think about it for a minute. There's a diverse range of personalities and ages, although not true to reality. It wasn't confined to a single country. Unlike other virtual simulations, it has real people controlling the population. There was no thought at the time of it being a study, so that didn't affect the actions of the population at all. And it wasn't an AI where we could control and predict actions.

Obviously it's not perfect. It's not completely true to life. Based on my reasons though, I'd say it's something to add to the files.

-Mike Schwinger

EQ2 did this like 2 years ago with an ingame disease that spread through contact and there was a quest you could do to cure it.

I recall an earlier GP where someone was discussing using MMO systems to study macrobiology like this. I think they cited Second Life as being a massive, living petri dish where all sorts of types of infection can be simulated in a reasonably realistic world. (Except for all the furries, naturally.) Mass disaster is another potentially useful study point. Didn't a boss break out of their usual haunt a while ago too? It could be interesting to see the effects of a hurricane or similar in a virtual world.

Although maybe not WoW, where people would be up in arms about having their characters destroyed as part of an experiment. These players get angry when their favourite class has a stat drop.

That's pretty interesting news, i think.
@Minshi

Thats a scary thought, because it would happen, everyone knows that. think about the black plague, millions of people, excusing their sickness, spreading it, unknowingly.
Except, in todays day and age, it would happen so much faster, it could spread from Africa to the rest of the world in weeks, days, if left uncontained.

Part of the reason why the WoW pandemic is studied so much is because it was completely accidental. And the only way that they could get rid of it was shutting down all the servers and clearing the debuff from everyone. It's not so much that it spread, it was that it became completely unsustainable.

What are the chances that I just got out of a Pandemic Information Meeting and that I fall on this news. Woo!!!

this is interesting . . .i mean you can study a "disease" contagiousness on real people without anyone really getting hurt

clever

Well, yes, there might not be people who go "Lets go see how many people I can affect!" But there will likely be a lot of people who will ignore the fact that they are sick and go into work, or hear about a quarantine and panic. (I can not help but think about the opening of The Stand in that regard.) I would say it is that panic which would be the most missing aspect of the study, though maybe you can simulate with the ones who try to infect others. Not sure.

"I highly doubt that if there was an outbreak of Avian Flu, a bunch of asshats would burst into a retirement home or maternity ward and spread it around cause it was funny."

Your right, I can not see that. However, I could see a sick nurse who is ignoring her sickness going in, or a panicked mother. As for the retirement home, a son going to take his father away from the city in a panic while sick, or simply going as part of his weekly visits not thinking about the fact.

I guess that is another big thing, you know exactly what you have in the game, but in the real life, you may dismiss it as any lessor sickness or illness, or continue on your routines without thinking.

Kheldar,
It may be that taking such "life-like" models, such as disease spreading as being "serious study" might have just occured to someone. When it happened in the Everquest 2 situation, it probably didn't come to anyone's mind that this might be an interesting way to study, even at a low level, the social effects of disease spreading. It may not be very scientific regarding the disease itself, but the social aspects are quite interesting.

Nightwng2000
NW2K Software

The only problem with using World of Warcraft as a real world example for a pandemic is the extremely high population in the game that went around infecting weaker characters for "lulz".

I highly doubt that if there was an outbreak of Avian Flu, a bunch of asshats would burst into a retirement home or maternity ward and spread it around cause it was funny.

WoW has a higher public profile is all, Kheldar.

I find it interesting everyone looks at WoW's pandemic, but always ignores the same (general) thing that happened in Everquest 2 as well - a in-world event which spread a disease throughout most of the population.

Well, when the next pandemic breaks out all we need is a host of shamans spamming disease cleansing totem and we'll be ok...

I don't think behaviour in a game can really correlate with real life on this kind of issue.

In-game response: wow, cool - let's see how many people we can kill!

I'd very much hope the real life response would not be that...

(first?)

WoW AIDS is pretty easy to figure out, and I don't see how it could possibly be a decent model for a real disease.

It went something like, top tier guild beats Hakkar, realizes they still have AIDS, warps to capital, infects anyone nearby, who in turn die, spread the disease to a high level NPC who can't die from it, who in turn gives it to the entire city by virtue of noobs running around.

It's not a good model, cause you don't really get resists against corrupted blood, and a cure constitutes a patch to change it from 'allies' to 'raid members'.

Now seed of corruption, that would make for a good test.

It works as one thing to study though. It wasn't completely predictable. Yeah, there is some generally predictable behavior of WoW players, but not completely. You can't be completely sure of the exact movements at what times. Then there are the people who try to avoid it at all costs. For that matter, the NPCs would emulate the carriers who were themselves immune.

We can NEVER have a hypothetical model that's perfect. No matter WHAT we do, there's always an element of people knowing it's fake. And there are always unpredictable actions and circumstances. All we can do is study anything relevant and prepare as best we can.

-Mike Schwinger

looks like we may see another outbreak at wow

WoW AIDS! I remember WoW AIDS. It seems like only yesterday...

Jesus Christ, the fate of the world rests in the hands of ignoramuses!

"No one have ever looked at what would happen when people who are not in a quarantine zone get in and then leave."

Haven't any of these people watched any zombie films???

my guess is they more likely want to study how people would react to a quarantine area ( if i may site my earlier post) not all humans are as intelligent as we wish

several thoughts:
"not all humans are as intelligent as we wish"
IQ 100 is MEDIAN.
And altruism in not exactly being held as a high cultural value in most cultures around the world. Airline regulations won't let me carry a nail clipper, but I can go between continents with a high fever.
To use WoW properly, there would have to be a significant gameplay negative associated with contaminating others or the 'asshats' would certainly run wild for the hell of it.
It would have been cool if blizzard had put out a solution for players, such as healing totems or other player deployed fixes. That would have been much more interesting and engaging than a magic fix via server shutdown.
That would make for an interesting experiment!

@The wombat

for the record that wasnt meant to come out as harsh as it sounded

@Bongotezz

This happened in WoW like two years ago as well, but it was not a quest or in game event. It was an accidental pandemic. Far more interesting.

[...] Ashes, We All Fall Down: Scientists Studying Warcraft Plague Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down: Scientists Studying Warcraft Plague: “ A couple of sources (notably Wonderland and GamePolitics) have taken note that aforthcoming paper in The Lancet Infectious Diseases will be taking a look at the World of Warcraft ‘Corrupted Blood’ plague of 2005. Their purpose? To see how virtual models of epidemics can help real-world research - and they got the perfect case in the WoW plague. Eric Lofgren (Rutgers University) and Nina Fefferman (Tufts University), the two researchers who worked on the paper, say in their abstract: Simulation models are of increasing importance within the field of applied epidemiology. However, very little can be done to validate such models or to tailor their use to incorporate important human behaviours. In a recent incident in the virtual world of online gaming, the accidental inclusion of a disease-like phenomenon provided an excellent example of the potential of such systems to alleviate these modelling constraints. We discuss this incident and how appropriate exploitation of these gaming systems could greatly advance the capabilities of applied simulation modelling in infectious disease research. [...]

[...] A couple of sources (notably Wonderland and GamePolitics) have taken note that a forthcoming paper in The Lancet Infectious Diseases will be taking a look at the World of Warcraft ‘Corrupted Blood’ plague of 2005. Their purpose? To see how virtual models of epidemics can help real-world research - and they got the perfect case in the WoW plague. Eric Lofgren (Rutgers University) and Nina Fefferman (Tufts University), the two researchers who worked on the paper, say in their abstract: Simulation models are of increasing importance within the field of applied epidemiology. However, very little can be done to validate such models or to tailor their use to incorporate important human behaviours. In a recent incident in the virtual world of online gaming, the accidental inclusion of a disease-like phenomenon provided an excellent example of the potential of such systems to alleviate these modelling constraints. We discuss this incident and how appropriate exploitation of these gaming systems could greatly advance the capabilities of applied simulation modelling in infectious disease research. [...]

[...] When a virtual viral epidemic is out of control, what would a population of gamers react? [...]

I believe that there are people who go around spreading their plague on purpose. So, yes, there are "asshats" in society that would do that.

Kingdom of Loathing did something similar. It was called the "Gray Plague" and it infected 75% of the in game population at one point.
 
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