Epidemiologists learn from World of Warcraft plague

Cory Doctorow:
From Lancet’s Infectious Disease Journal, a paper from epidemiologists on modelling the spread of disease based on an accidental “plague” in World of Warcraft:


A new villain, a winged serpent called Hakkar, originally designed as a challenge for only the strongest characters, started transmitting its “corrupted blood” virus down the ranks until it affected almost every area and every player in the game.

The scientists were able to monitor how quickly the disease spread and where to, while assessing the players’ individual responses to the outbreak. The particular features of the game, such as the many hours players around the world dedicate to it and the emotional investment they put into their online alter egos, offer scientists a tantalisingly close match to real social conditions.

As the virus spread, very real challenges emerged, such as the failure of quarantine measures, further transmission by character’s pets and the existence of “immune” characters, who act as carriers, passing the virus to others while failing to succumb to symptoms.

Professor Fefferman said that the findings could be of great value to public health officials in developing the best way to manage the flow of information in such a crisis. “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?

Link (via Wonderland)

(Photo credit: first time at hakkar, Creative Commons licensed pic from G_RAM’s Flickr stream)

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