Scientists studying the possibiliy of pandemic disease have turned to an unusual test group: World of Warcraft players.
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.