Warcraft pandemic has real-world consequences

World of Warcraft has become an unlikely laboratory for researchers studying the spread of pandemics.

Warcraft pandemic has real-world consequences

Back in September 2005 a glitch in the game caused a villain to spread its “infected blood” virus beyond the few intended targets right through the entire game world. The virus quickly became a pandemic, infecting every class of character and sweeping across every continent, mimicking the effects of a real life pandemic.

Using the 6.5 million players as guinea pigs scientists writing for The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal were able to monitor how quickly the virus was able to spread, player and authority reaction and how effective quarantine measures were.

The scientists, Eric Lofgren and Nina Fefferman, claim that the players, heavily invested in their game personas and relationships, acted in realistically unpredictable ways, throwing up a number of unexpected consequences. Players who were themselves immune to the virus were still able to spread it to others. There were scenes of panic and migration from affected areas as well as a number of other real life scenarios played out in the virtual world, including the emergence of pets as carriers.

Professor Fefferman told The Times that the research could have real world practical applications. “If, God forbid, a disease broke out in London you could see what would happen if people were told immediately of the risk. Would there be panic and chaos, or would it allow them to psychologically accept the danger and act accordingly? What would happen if we made people feel too reassured?”

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