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World of Warcraft Continues to Teach Us About Ourselves, This Time With Response To Disease Pandemic

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As Michael mentioned last post, we have a history with World of Warcraft. In 2005, we weren’t yet ready for Zul’Gurub, but it was our first raiding experience when we came-of-level. A glitch in one of the boss’s debuffs broke out of the raid setting and began spreading disease-like into the big cities of four different servers. Now, the responses players exhibited to the spread of Corrupted Blood has been used to inform simulations of real-world pandemics. The way the in-game response might be similar to the real world response is fascinating. Read the full article, but I’ve pulled out one of the most intriguing bits below.

From How World of Warcraft Might Help Head off the Next Pandemic:

Some of the player behaviors were what they expected to see. They saw people who were scared and ignored public health announcements. They saw people who were scared and were seeking out public health announcements—the equivalent, Fefferman says, of those who call the Department of Public Health asking for answers. They saw people rushing in, trying to help and heal the sick—as aid workers would. And they saw a lot of discussion, with players talking to one another about what to do, where to go, and whether to be really worried. “Like people who talk to their neighbors,” Fefferman says.

But the scientists also saw behaviors they hadn’t thought to build into their models before. Fefferman and Lofgren were both curious about the disease, and so exposed their WoW characters to it to see what was going on. “That’s something we [had] never put into the epidemiological model,” Fefferman says. While it might seem unrealistic for people to put themselves at risk of a disease out of curiosity, Fefferman says it’s not all that farfetched. Journalists, for example, might get closer to an outbreak than they should to find out what’s going on. So might public health researchers.

Then there was what gamers call “griefing”—the practice of intentionally making things harder for other players. In this case, high-level players who could survive the plague would intentionally go around infecting other, lower-level characters for fun or other reasons. While uncommon, this behavior isn’t unheard of in real life.

But there are also less dramatic examples of unintentional griefing: people who go to work when they’re sick. “It’s not malicious,” Lofgren says, but people with the flu who go to work—because they’re out of sick days or they have a big deadline coming up—are knowingly exposing their coworkers to disease.


Author: Erin Perry

I'm a high school English teacher specializing in AP Literature and Film Analysis. I'm interested in most things geeky, including superheroes, vampires, zombies, teen culture, postmodern philosophy, pop culture analysis, and combinations of the aforementioned. Follow me on Twitter @eriuperry.

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