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Scientists claim Virtual game is a 'disease model'

In September 2005, shortly after the introduction of Zul'Gurub to World of Warcraft, a virtual plaque broke out. Players who defeated the last boss Hakkar, contracted and then spread a disease called, "Corrupted Blood," throughtout the fictional world of Azeroth. Scientists are now claiming that this is an example of how virtual worlds could be used to study human behaviour during epidemics.

The, "Corrupted Blood," disease was contracted upon killing the last boss in Zul'Gurub. Players and player pets close to the corpse of the dead boss would contract the disease. A bug in the programming led to the pets spreading the disease to computer controlled characters and player controlled characters alike. Due to the fact that the disease had been designed to challenge high level players, many low level players died instantly upon contracting the virtual illness from fellow players and computer characters. Forum and fan site members world wide began to report hundreds of dead bodies lining the streets of cities and towns in the virtual world. Some people purposely spread the disease whilst others tried to flee the mayhem being caused by the accidental virus outbreak.

Human behaviour has a big impact on disease spread. And virtual worlds offer an excellent platform for studying human behaviour.

The players seemed to really feel they were at risk and took the threat of infection seriously, even though it was only a game.

Blizzard countered the outbreak of the disease by performing rolling restarts of effected servers and applied quick fixes to resolve the issue but many players said that the problem continued well after these rolling restarts and fixes were completed.

Scientists claim that this method of study would be pheasable as it would be unethical to release a real virus into a population simply to observe how people reacted.

Despite this theory, other scientists have highlighted problems when studying human behaviour in fictional and none-fatal situations, questioning how reprisentative of real life virtual worlds really are.

Although the characteristics of the disease could be defined before hand, once released into the virtual world, the study is just as 'observational' as disease outbreak studies in the real world.

Despite this, scientists have said that this would provide them with a platform to make observations that would otherwise not be possible.


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  • #1

    Well, then they might as well compare someone's pet getting the "bomb" from Geddon, dismissing them and then calling them out in Org or IF as a "terrorist attack".

  • #2


  • #3

    There have been several cases of people intentionally spreading HIV. Knowing they were infected, yet having alot of sexual partneres where they neither used protection nor informed of their disease.

    So it's not like it's that far fetched to imagine people acting like idiots in the real world either.

  • #4

    i wish they did more random world events in WoW.

  • #5

    The one problem is, they'd be comparing an adolescent player base with real life. So sure. It might be the same as infecting some kids at a camp and watching the mayhem but not a major city with a more mature population.

  • #6


  • #7


  • #8

    well i am a warlock...

    No - you are not evil...just simple :-) :-P

  • #9

    as it says, they dont think it would be accurate, but there is no other way for them to really study this sort of thing... you do have malicious players who would run through town stirring grief and you have some that would try to prevent it... unfortunately i'd be stirring up grief in the alliance towns, biological warfare ftw!

    does that make me evil? well i am a warlock...

  • #10

    As another poster has mentioned, it is not uncommon for people to intentionally spread disease irl either. If everyone acted with care and consideration then the world would be perfected. There are people who have little to no care for the lives of others. There are people who's religions dictate the act of killing people as a good thing.

    There are people who are willing to walk into a crowded street and blow themselves up just to cause as much suffering and torment as possible. They die as well but they don't care. They just care about how many people they kill. What would stop one of these people from infecting themselves with a fatal disease and spreading it throughout the world? Nothing.

  • #11

    i read this ages ago in a new scientist magazine... its a good idea but players wouldnt react in the same way in game and in real life, tbh if i got a disease like that on my pet, i would dismiss it go to org/shattrath and cause utter chaos, and so would many other players.

    So in my opinion repeating this idea for scientific research would not be a good way to research the spread of disease and control, due to the carelessness of players (carelessness FTW :D).

  • #12

    i think you'd be surprised how closely virtual worlds resemble the real world in cases like this. sure some of it's exaggerated, but not as much as you'd think. with respect to epidemics and deadly viruses, to say that people wouldn't deliberately attempt to spread them is a very naive statement. misery loves company, and when someone with a propensity to be malicious contracts a deadly virus, dont be surprised when they try to spread it. It happens all the time with HIV carriers.

  • #13

    "it would be unethical to release a real virus into a population simply to observe how people reacted." Do you actually believe this statment though?? /Equip foil hat

    Seriously though; A virtual world with no real consequences and no real death - Compared to the real world. Would there be so many people trying to spread the disease? I don't think this is a valid study

  • #14

    article is a bit flawed.. the problem was pets.. essentially what happend was :

    during the fight players could get afflicted with a disease.. as could pets.. if players die pets despawn..

    Players then rezzed if they resummon pets everyone near pet including player gets disease at which point its a chain reaction..

    Some jerks on a server or 2 thought it would be "funny" to do this in a packed AH and thus the madness ensued..

    For the record this was the SECOND time this problem happened (it also happened earlier in the game IIRC but was hotfixed)

    What this has to do with real world modeling I have no idea.. since short of figuring out just how many people are idiots/jerks this has 0 to do with real world disease spreading..

    However.. a HIDDEN disease could likely be effectively modeled in an MMO (if the players didnt know they where exposed then tracking how quickly it spread.) but even then.. without knowing you are potentially a carrier of said disease all it would really model would be traffic/player populations in that same virtual world.. not the real world?

  • #15

    To be able to cure a disease you must be able to understand it and what it does to people. They are not saying that they want to let a real virus rip through a real town, it specifically says they wouldn't want to do that because it would be unethical. But to be able to put a virtual virus in a game like Second Life, where you could observe the way that a massive population reacts when there is an epidemic, is an awesome opportunity to be better prepared for if it ever happens in real life.

    ...O_o...A) it was a sarcastic responce to someone elses post. B) What you said is what I said when I posted the article.

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