World Of Warcraft Once Had A Pandemic That’s Been Studied By Epidemiologists
World of Warcraft has had a huge influence on the MMORPG genre, and it has even impacted the way epidemiologists study viruses.
The Corrupted Blood incident was a week-long virtual pandemic that began in World of Warcraft on September 13, 2005. The virus came about after a raid boss, Hakkar the Soulflayer, used ‘Corrupted Blood’ on players, and it had unintended long-lasting effects.
The disease was carried by pets that would transport the debuff-based virus outside of its intended confines. The virus killed lower-level players in a few seconds, and while higher levels would survive, it would take some time to overcome the virus. As a result of the broad effects of the pandemic, epidemiologists began studying it.
In March 2007, Ran D. Balicer, who is an epidemiologist physician at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, drew attention to the virtual pandemic in a scholastic study. Balicer believed that the incident could act as an advanced platform for modelling the dissemination of infectious diseases. Shortly after this paper, others in the field began to look at what could be learnt from the gaming accident.
Nina Fefferman, a Tufts University assistant research professor of public health and family medicine, researched the pandemic and its similarities to contemporary diseases. Fefferman went on to note how it would be useful to see further diseases in the game and research how the information about it is spread.
With ideas surrounding contagion and word of mouth, it is somewhat unsurprising that the incident has been reevaluated because of the COVID pandemic.
Speaking to PC Gamer, Dr Eric Lofgren, an epidemiologist fighting coronavirus and co-author of a research paper about Corrupted Blood, explained how the gaming incident relates to the current global pandemic:
When people react to public health emergencies, how those reactions really shape the course of things. We often view epidemics as these things that sort of happen to people. There’s a virus and it’s doing things. But really it’s a virus that’s spreading between people, and how people interact and behave and comply with authority figures, or don’t, those are all very important things. And also that these things are very chaotic. You can’t really predict, ‘oh yeah, everyone will quarantine. It’ll be fine.’ No, they won’t.’
One of the critiques we got from a lot of people, both gamers and scientists, was over this idea of griefing… How griefing isn’t really analogous to anything that takes place in the real world. People aren’t intentionally getting people sick. And they might not be intentionally getting people sick, but wilfully ignoring your potential to get people sick is pretty close to that. You start to see people like, ‘oh this isn’t a big deal, I’m not going to change my behavior.’ … Epidemics are a social problem… Minimizing the seriousness of something is sort of real-world griefing.
With this in mind, it seems that games can actually inform us on how to deal with pandemics. Who knows, maybe Boris Johnson’s press conferences are always late because he’s studying World of Warcraft.
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