World of Warcraft has helped scientists prepare for real-world epidemics

WoW Cataclysm

As part of the Serious Games Summit, Rutgers University epedemiologist Nina H. Fefferman has explained how the Corrupted Blood plague that savaged World of WarCraft in 2005 helped scientists study and plan for real-word epidemic situations. Read on for the details.

The Corrupted Blood attack was inserted into the game by Blizzard in 2005 as a spell cast by Hakkar; the end boss of the Zul'Gurub dungeon. When attacked, Hallar cast a hit-point depleting spell which was supposed to last for just ten seconds and only apply within Zul'Gurub. However, players soon realised that if they teleported out of the dungeon and into player-filled areas, the spells effects could be passed on to others. “People were infected,” said Fefferman, “and instead of killing Hakkar or dying themselves, they went back to the cities and infected others.” And so started the plague; an epidemic that contaminated city after city within Azeroth.

Blizzard reacted like any real-life government would, and started to quarantine areas. Fefferman noted the reaction from players was very similar to that expected from real-life people subjected to quarantine. “We saw compliance with quarantine measures,” she says. “We saw courage, we saw suspicion of the quarantine and Blizzard's intentions. There were people maliciously running in and infecting guilds. We saw looting. It was incredible to see the diversity of response.”

Fefferman has said the World of WarCraft player base (6.45 million at the time of the plague) has worked well as a useful sample in predicting real-world events; showing that regardless of government action, human behaviour always poses a hurdle. “Is it all we need? No,” she says, “but it's a good place to start.”

[via Edge ]