A disease pandemic in the online role-playing game "World of Warcraft" is helping researchers get a handle on the real-life spread of swine flu. Canada.com
reports that players' reaction to the "Warcraft" pandemic shows researchers a more realistic picture of how pandemics spread than computer models can provide.
In 2005, "World of Warcraft" publisher Blizzard Entertainment
introduced a virus called Sang vicié
into the game world that players' characters could pass along to one another. A quarantine was ordered for infected characters, but many players ignored it and continued to interact with one another. Eventually, the virus was spread to more than four million characters
"Suddenly, there did exist an experimental framework to watch how people would behave during an epidemic," said Nina Fefferman, assistant professor at the Center for Discreet Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Fefferman and a colleague published a study on the "Corrupted Blood
" outbreak in the Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal. They are currently consulting with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on human behavior during pandemics. "We don't expect people to behave the same way in a virtual world, but it's closer than asking them hypothetical questions," Fefferman said.
"World of Warcraft" actually contains swine flu -- in the form of a spell of the same name
-- which also has a chance of triggering an outbreak in the game world.