Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cyberworld: WoW, the Great Plagues ...

Virtual communities can also be exposed to fast-spreading diseases; to what can be called virtual plagues. And over the years two of such massive epidemics have touched the World of Warcraft cyberworld.

- The Corrupted Blood Plague
The “Corrupted Blood incident” (a nice euphemism for the most important and largest uncontrolled virtual plague which even happened in a virtual world) was one of the most significant events in the history of the virtual world of World of Warcraft ...
September 13, 2005 (well, of course, if you do something on a 13th, you can only expect to lose control of it somehow!), Blizzard introduced into the world of World of Warcraft a new raid area called Zul’Gurub. The final boss was named Hakkar and could affect the players by contaminating them with the “Corrupted Blood”, a virtual disease which would deal significant damages to the players. Even more fun, the disease was contagious, and would be pased to nearby characters.
And of course, not only a bug made this disease long-lasting, but as well, the effect which was supposed to be effective only in Zul’Gurub happened to not be removed when the players left the area using teleportation. So, it went out of control the exact same day, as the first players met Hakkar, and left the area. September 13, 2005, the disease spread around in the cyberworld of World of Warcraft and the “Corrupted Blood” epidemic began.
At this time, the population of World of Warcraft was over 2 millions inhabitants. The pandemic quickly spread all over ... but what is interesting here for us was that new behavior, not typical of World of Warcraft classical role-play/game-play emerged. Actually, those new behaviors mimicked what happens in a real-life pandemic: people acted as if this disease was a real threat to their health (well, it was a threat to the health of their character, somehow). Most people did what they could to avoid at all cost infection by running out of the big cities in which the infection was spreading around faster, or even by leaving the game itself, while some infected people tried to infect others ... Something really interesting also happened, some characters able to heal other characters (in the context of World of Warcraft, hearler characters are often Priests) spontaneously volunteered to take care and cure infected people. Ultimately, Blizzard fixed the problem.

- The Great Zombie Plague
In order to promote the “Wrath of the Lich King” expansion before its release, Blizzard voluntarily released a second disease in mid-October 2008. The “Zombie Plague” was really different from the “Corrupted Blood”. First, this plague was fully intentional. Second it always stayed under control, as Blizzard demonstrated it by fully erasing it October the 28, 2008, after one week of epidemic. Third, the way of propagation was different (the Zombie Plague was less contagious than the Corrupted Blood was).

These plagues (especially the “Corrupted Blood” epidemic) elicited high interest from epidemiologists. Indeed, they provided a unique model of how a massive population would react in real-time to such a wildly propagating pandemic. But several things have to be pointed out in those examples. First, the plagues were not all planed ... Second, control of plagues is not always granted, but is a very important feature to keep the cyberworld safe (as if not, a massive loss of players may occur). Third, research on those phenomena are highly important, since we need to understand more about human behavior in such situations ...

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