In 2005 the ever popular World or Warcraft MMO introduced a new raid to the game, it was Zul’Gurub (now a dungeon instance) that has been cited as a model for real world epidemic study. The games mechanics introduced a damaging effect called ‘Corrupted Blood’ from the last ‘boss’, Hakkar, that came off the players when they either died or the boss was killed. It could however be on the pets that players brought along and when they left the instance it continued to stay on the pets.
Consequently some players inadvertently spread this to others as it leapt from the pets to the players, this incident primarily occurred in Ironforge, the Dwarven City. Some players indeed found this quite amusing and deliberately brought it to the city as well.
Discussion forums at the time discussed the sight of bodies in the streets of the city, and it seems that at least three of the multiple servers were affected. The towns and major cities were abandoned by those not affected as they went into the countryside. The urban areas were then graveyards with the white bones of the dead.
It was interesting to see that players that had an ability to help did so, they directed the lower level characters away from the area and where they could remove the disease from others they did but other players deliberately brought the contagion to others.
Blizzard then attempted quarantine, the idea being that those affected would stay in a contained area but vindictive players (or those not taking it seriously as it was a game) brought that to those areas, praying on the weak and the fact it was a confined area. Some players ensured that the pets that caught it were then ‘un-summoned’ to remove the issue but ultimately Blizzard had to hard reset all the servers and reprogram the glitch.
After the outbreak the next even in 2008 was intentional. Blizzard released a zombie plague week in order to promote the new release of the expansion ‘Wrath of the Lich King’. This one was seemed more true-to-life as it was a small risk of transmission and encountering a lone zombie was not as dangerous as a large number of the infected. It was met with both praise and criticism, and from my side, mostly praise as it was an interesting adaptation to the game for a short period of time.
The epidemic of the Corrupted Blood was compared to real life breakouts, the CDC did ask for information about the statistics but Blizzard found they could not provide them as it was a computer glitch. It was also fascinating to see that it was carried from a remote area into a larger one, that people and animals could contract it, much like Avian Flu, and that people in larger areas were more at risk.
However there were differences from the real world too that negate parts of the study, such as it did not affect the non-playable characters because they did not transmit it. Alongside this there were no visible signs of the disease, such as pustules or other effects, but there was one thing that made it feel realistic – the rush of journalists wanting to cover the story and then get back out of it.
There was a discussion about using the platform for further study with the players however it never really came to fruition. It was felt that it was not really going to be indicative of a real world situation. There was not enough realistic data because players regenerate and with that meant there was little threat on the infection if all the player precautions could be set up, it would really be more for entertainment…
It was also discussed that WOW could be used in terms of how terrorists form collaborations and cells, this again would only be used for entertainment as a model could not be formed from the game. It did however give interesting light when someone pointed out that people quickly got smart in the game about how to do the biggest damage to the most amount of people and how. And lets not forget that it is a game and the very worst that can happen, unlike real life, is you can re-spawn and get back to doing what you like, so it really does not mirror real life.