WoW Outbreak Studied by Pandemic Researchers

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.

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