Researchers Want To Test How The Plague Would Spread In World Of Warcraft

from the all-for-the-sake-of-research dept

There are all sorts of questions about how the government would respond in the event of a serious outbreak of a dangerous virus or a plague. Certainly, various gov’t agencies have plans and procedures in place, but it’s difficult to account for all the different possibilities and how something might spread. However, some researchers have an idea for how they might get a better idea and perhaps get some training in at the same time: use online video games like “World of Warcraft” and see what happens when some players are infected with a contagious plague. The researchers note that “World of Warcraft” had its own plague a few years ago, which gave them the original idea to approach Blizzard to work out some sort of deal to do this kind of research. They hope that by seeing how real people react, with virtual characters whom they’ve invested a lot of time in, they’ll get a better idea of how people react to certain situations such as quarantines. Whether or not it actually will work, it certainly seems like a creative solution to get a better understanding of some potential scenarios, prior to an actual emergency situation.

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Comments on “Researchers Want To Test How The Plague Would Spread In World Of Warcraft”

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57 Comments
dorpus says:

Real Life Experiments

What if there are real life diseases in which mobs of netters decide to single out an individual at random, posting fake “wanted” posters of him?

These fake wanted posters of a college student are circulating in Japan, and thousands of stalkers are following his every move. They have randomly accused him of molesting a minor, harrassing his neighbors, planting computer viruses, jerking off in public, etc.

http://monkeyuploader.dyndns.org/Offering/mnkyup4267.jpg

Overcast says:

It will be very far from accurate indeed.

Consider a number of things:

People can simply logoff a video game if they are unhappy or annoyed with something. Also, regardless of whatever situation they are in, the vast majority realize it’s only a game, there’s no real issue of life and death involved.

It’s like basing your football team’s strategy off of a game where you’re playing other people. Fine – you may get some idea of how the other side will react, but question is – was the other player really paying attention? Also, in a virtual world, there are a limited number of variables that can be taken into account, whereas in reality, the number of variables is infinite in many cases, and extremely vast in others, but never a small number.

How many factors would come into play with the spread of a real plague? Just physical alone – depending on the communicability of the disease, even wind and humidity might come into play.

Perhaps they will get a bit of a ‘social engineering’ aspect to this, but it would be minor, at best, I suspect.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:


How many factors would come into play with the spread of a real plague? Just physical alone – depending on the communicability of the disease, even wind and humidity might come into play.

Perhaps they will get a bit of a ‘social engineering’ aspect to this, but it would be minor, at best, I suspect.

I’m going to guess you have not played games since ATARI. Games have come along way since the days of 5 variables and 2 dimensions. In world of warcraft, I know that their different geographic regions support weather patterns and such already. Attributes such as wind and humidity are nothing but mathematical values that can be assigned to the world as a whole and influenced via correlation with weather variables. The results would be relatively accurate, since the really contagious viruses can only be spread through a few means.

If you factor that the virtual virus is air born and a humidity of x increases the viral transfer potential by a factor of y, and correlate the dispersion with wind speed of z, you can make some pretty accurate assessments of infection rates. Viruses will have a certain life expectancy wile airborne, so if you can figure out how long it would theoretically be active enough while in the air, you can figure out about how likely people are to contract it based on the physical variables of the location. Of course it will never be 100% accurate because in real life we have other factors such as perspiration, immune systems, air circulation systems, so fourth, that just are not included in WoW.

The single greatest influence on how a virus spreads, in my opinion, is the reaction people have to the virus. If all the virus does is turn you green and make you look stupid, people won’t actively work very hard to avoid it. If it seriously impairs your character and could impact your game play, you will find that people either work to avoid potential sources, or do not play the game in general. Generally players of games like WoW would continue to play, at least from what I have seen, but would not travel to potential infection sites and would possibly seek isolation for the duration of the experiment. Much as people do in reality.

Casper says:

Not a bad idea

This actually kind of sounds like fun. It would be quite interesting to see how the populations reacted to a virus, specifically if it had a significant impact. If the virus made you run at half speed in the game and when you died it would not allow you to use the character for a week or two, it would be enough to cause players to seriously evaluate where they traveled in game and who they were hanging out with.

Whoever was the first to start selling SARS masks in WoW would make a fortune.

White Pheonix says:

As opposed to ...

This is, of course, alongside simulations of how diseases spread, with every variable of a simulated city known, and, in some cases, every detail of a few million residents known and used to create these simulations (the last time I heard about this was a few years ago, but at the point they had it up and running, so I think that it’s safe to assume that it still exists, and is in use).

The advantages of using WOW to test how a plague spreads is that you can find out how people react to various things, such as quarantines. After all, it is fairly hard to model panic with computers, when people behave irrationally.

: says:

It’ll spread like blood elves after the last expansion. Though, if you infected everyone, you’d have to watch their real life counterparts spaz out. Their avatars won’t be enough to show the anguish they’d feel from having their $15/month wasted investment 100% wasted. I mean, it’s not enough that you pay $15 to have your time further wasted by corpse runs and resurrection sickness. You’ve gotta really stick it to ’em with a virus to make em realize they’re wasting time & money.. and time IS money, so it’s like double taxation.

Deliverator says:

Griefing would ruin the study

Researchers may find that involving the players directly will ruin the study. For instance, if players figure out that proximity to others will spread the virus (duh!) then players will begin to go out of their way to infect others.

Perhaps you could liken this to the office-idiot that comes to work sick, but that may be stretching pretty thin.

It might be better to hide the information from player though, conversely, that would mask data where some people isolate themselves when they know they are sick.

lplimac says:

It's been tried in a smaller scale in games other

The MMO Horizons tried this, where some of the monsters you fought would infect you and you could spread it to anyone you came in close contact with I think it was based on distance). It wasn’t very effective because the cure was easy to get (I remember all the OOC requests for the cure) so it was really never much of a problem, and Horizons wasn’t a real popular game.

I don’t remember all the specifics of what the plague did (it’s been years since I played), I think it reduced your hit points, stamina and other stats over time, then incapacitated you. I don’t remember a case ever getting that far because the ease of obtaining the cure.

For this to be a effective experiment in WoW they would have to make the effects serious to the character, maybe permanent. I doubt that Blizzard would want to do that because it would seriously piss the players off, not what you want to do to paying customers.

TheDock22 says:

Re: It's been tried in a smaller scale in games ot

For this to be a effective experiment in WoW they would have to make the effects serious to the character, maybe permanent. I doubt that Blizzard would want to do that because it would seriously piss the players off, not what you want to do to paying customers.

Actually I bet they would just offer free play to anybody who wanted to participate in the study and then setup a different server from the one paying customers play on. I think it would be a good experiment, although I doubt you could draw much information from it since it is a virtual character. When I get bored with role playing games, my virtual beings usually fall to a creative demise.

Ryan says:

Time to go a bit superdork...

I thought this had already happened in WoW, well slightly

When the Zul’Gurub instance was introduced, one DoT that wsa passable between characters was Corrupted Blood, that did massive amounts of damage. Hugh level hunters would get their pet infected then dismiss the pet, until they were back in ironforge where they’d resummon the infected pets and watch the mayhem ensue. Yea so that was my dork moment for today.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corrupted_Blood

MeatyMcBeef says:

WoW

This all sounds good on paper but there are just some emergencies you can’t prepare for with a study. Most WoW players are usually above average intelligence and below average social skills(hence the avoidance of Real Life Interaction for it’s digital counterpart). It’s the equivalent of simulating a virus spreading at MIT and assuming the rest of the world will react like they do.

Besides there is already a plague involved with WoW, bedsores from 16 hours of continuous play. Now if you could only monetize it…Blizzard you’re a sack of greedy sack loving bastards.

The infamous Joe says:

Re: WoW

Most WoW players are usually above average intelligence and below average social skills(hence the avoidance of Real Life Interaction for it’s digital counterpart).

Okay, this is woefully off topic, but I have to know where this data is coming from. I can’t find *any* intuitive connection between intelligence and playing Wow, and I dare say that in this day and age, social interaction *includes* online activity. I mean, in the real world I may interact with a few people I don’t know a day, but online I can easily interact with dozens of people I don’t know.

Here’s wikipedia’s take on it, for your reading pleasure.

So, I dare say, if anything, playing an online game like WoW increases social skills on the general level.

Though, maybe I’m biased. 😛

: says:

Make the virus so that players walk slow and drop money/items. If the game were WoW, they’d have to make the dropped items visible on the ground.
Regular players can run away from the infected’s slow pace, but will be drawn in by the gold and items surrounding them.
That way, intentionally spreading it would be bothersome to the player. However, because of all the items at the infected’s feet, someone that knows no better is bound to walk into the trap.
The spread of how the virus works through broadcasts/shouts/etc just factors into the study of public reaction. I’m sure folks in real life spread viruses while fully aware they have them, with the intent of infecting others.
You could argue that virtual characters have nothing to lose, but their real life counterparts cannot be fully absolved from taking similar actions by virtue of their corporeal body alone. Some may feel that by contracting a real life virus, that they have nothing to live for. Therefore, resolving to spread it willingly.

The infamous Joe says:

Re: Re:

It would take about 42 seconds for someone to make a new character and spread the virus risk free, out of spite.

It simply wouldn’t work– either the ‘study’ is not realistic, or Blizzard will piss off all 9 million of its paying customers. Maybe, just *maybe* on the test server, where (I assume) no one is there for any type of character gain, since everything is subject to deletion at any time.

I have never played (if that is the proper term) Second Life, but maybe it would be more realistic there?

: says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

In any case, it’s still good research for an inevitable point in time where a metaverse is as ubiquitous as Google.
If a virus gets lose there, real commerce, belongings, and information will be at stake. Hardly different from securing your computer from spyware. It’ll be good to know well beforehand how people will react in such a situation where it’s no longer just a game.

Eric the Grey says:

Re: Re: Re:

I was just thinking about Second Life while reading this article.

Since the end-users create their own content, I’m wondering if something like this might be possible from their end.

Create an “Object” that will automatically be transferred to any other character within a certain range (air-born). This object does nothing for the first 24 (game) hours, at which time, the character’s skin turns blue. As long as the object is on the character, it can also pass on to anyone else…

Someone else can create a “cure” which can be passed by giving it to another character.

It would make an interesting test, since Second Life is quite a bit less of a fantasy world. I don’t know about the griefing aspect of SL’s game play, but I would think that it is much less than in other MMORPGs.

EtG

Anonymous Coward says:

Okay, this is woefully off topic, but I have to know where this data is coming from. I can’t find *any* intuitive connection between intelligence and playing Wow, and I dare say that in this day and age, social interaction *includes* online activity. I mean, in the real world I may interact with a few people I don’t know a day, but online I can easily interact with dozens of people I don’t know.

Here’s wikipedia’s take on it, for your reading pleasure.

So, I dare say, if anything, playing an online game like WoW increases social skills on the general level.

Though, maybe I’m biased. 😛

I have to agree. Wow is not like many other games where social misfits are the only players (see Dungeons and Dragons). It has turned out to by a very powerful social networking system. The demographics spans from kids in their early teens, to adults in their 60’s. We were given the game as part of a team building exercise.

Anyone who believes that socializing online promotes poor social skills has not observed the situation fully. I would say that the opposite is true, and socially dysfunctional people use the internet to meet other people on the same social level and actually develop better social skills.

RandomThoughts (user link) says:

Not knowing anything about WoW, this could be an interesting study. We could find that a certain percentage lock themselves away, we could find that some that are infected stay away from others while others seek to spread the disease (kind of like the guy with the supposidly nasty strain of TB did)

The study is less about the disease and more about how people would react to it.

Pro says:

Modern or Medieval?

is a ‘plague’ really a possibility in this day and age? Before modern communications, people had to communicate with other people to get news – and while someone was telling you how people were getting sick and dying, they were probably spraying plague all over you.

Today, if there were a “plague”, i’d hear about it via TV or internet and I wouldn’t leave my house.

An interesting twist to the WoW experiement would be to run it twice – once where they don’t tell people, and another where they announce that it’s happening. The difference could show that a modern day plague is less likely possible because of the lack of contact involved in information delivery.

Overcast says:

I’m going to guess you have not played games since ATARI. Games have come along way since the days of 5 variables and 2 dimensions. In world of warcraft, I know that their different geographic regions support weather patterns and such already. Attributes such as wind and humidity are nothing but mathematical values that can be assigned to the world as a whole and influenced via correlation with weather variables. The results would be relatively accurate, since the really contagious viruses can only be spread through a few means

No, actually I have been a video gamer since 1979, lol – and currently play Wow – but a fake ‘rain’ and the reality of how it impacts the environment are two different things – for instance, even at the most simple level – your character doesn’t get wet, would we also have to take into consideration drought periods, hurricane season, tides, volcanic activity – what I’m saying is there is a practically limitless number of variables in the real world, as opposed to computer code that needs to be limited to run smoothly. I realize computers are more powerful now, of course..

But in addition to that, in reality, we have no way of really measuring global precipitation. Sure we can say this area got ‘about’ an inch, but it’s just that one spot, it may not reflect the true amount.

But like I had mentioned, perhaps there may be a bit to be learned in terms of social engineering. But ok, I agree – the study is mainly about human reaction to it.

But you do have to consider something else about WoW – people will know, at some point, Blizzard will give them a ‘cure’. That may or may not happen in real life.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

for instance, even at the most simple level – your character doesn’t get wet, would we also have to take into consideration drought periods, hurricane season, tides, volcanic activity

Although this is not graphically simulated, it can be done mathematically behind the scenes. A character can get a virus from the rain even though they do not look yet. A computer program can have virtually limitless variables. Im sure the global warming models have quite amount of them…

: says:

Re: HA

The amount of time you have the virus or the effects of it could multiply with the number of people you’ve infected. So that someone intentionally infecting people would be made too burdened to continue doing so. That way, you don’t want to catch or spread the virus. Combined with an incentive for survivors, only idiots would willingly contract it.

Snapper says:

Give my time for research

Do I want to give up my time and money for a researcher to infect my toon with what ever to see what I would do? If I get the month free maybe.
Many have mentioned locking themselves away. Where? Hide in an instance? There isn’t anywhere else you can go to hide/avoid other toons.
Offer a way for people to grief others and they will take advantage.
As for simulating air travel or other methods of transfer I really don’t think the game has the hooks to make it work.

anonymous says:

Ridiculous

How ridiculous.

A) It would not mimic real life, your results would be specific to WOW.

B) If you wanted to change parameters or otherwise make it more realistic, too bad, you’re stuck with the interactions & limitations of WOW

C) It would be realtime. That sucks… a good simulator could give you results faster than realtime & do a much better job.

How did this make headlines? What a waste

Overcast says:

Pro, lock yourself away during a pandemic? What happens when your water, electricity, gas and food supply stops? Then what do you do?

See… in WoW none of that would ‘matter’.. 🙂 – There’s no ‘dire’ need for food, water, power, or anything really. You could leave your character sit in place for 9 months and nothing would change – assuming you kept it from logging you out for inactivity and logged back in after patches.

I could park myself in a off the wall place and fish for 6 months. If I wanted to – there would be no real reason, other than perhaps sanity to interact with others.

Of course, if one went to the mountains and took up fishing – I suppose in the end, he could accomplish the same thing, lol

Although – I find the test might give them some more statistics for more direct computer simulations. Perhaps they are looking for stats like:

7% became hermits
53% tried to avoid it, but went on with their affairs
20% tried to spread it
20% welcomed it

Although, I may still question the real motive behind the government wanting this data, if used for the right reasons, I don’t see any reason there wouldn’t be some benefit from it.

The infamous Joe says:

Re: Re: Researchers? Sorry more like drooling feeb

Okay, so maybe they can’t actively transmit the disease, but if it’s spread in an ‘airborne’ way, then they can just hang around until it spreads, which is just as good. I don’t even want to think about a different way to spread the disease. 🙂

However, if no one in WoW even knows that they are infected, then you would get *zero* useful data, because unless they have a reason to avoid getting the disease (e.g., it causes some type of harm to the player) people will just ignore it and go about the game as usual.

So, for it to work, they would have to 1) Give an incentive to *not* spread the disease and 2) Have this disease worth avoiding.

I can’t see any way to do that without pissing off the players.

Jimmy Z says:

Re: Re: Re: Researchers? Sorry more like drooling

Agreed.

The only way to get any real data from this type of experiment would be for Blizzard to not claim responsibility for it and let the community believe it’s an actual virus. Also, the consequence for contracting the virus would have to be somewhat significant.

Doing so would definitely piss a lot of people off and could possibly cause irreparable damage to their customer base. Being a former WoW player and Blizzard customer, I know first hand that they are scared shitless to do anything that would threaten their business model. Even if it makes perfect sense, much less something experimental.

Anonymous Coward says:

Old News

It happened accidentally in 2005, and many people were discussing the value as a human behavior research tool.

The main goal of such studies is usually to determine what emotions or thoughts influenced a persons’ ’emergency response’ reaction. Basically why the executed behavior of an individual varies from what they predicted their behavior to be (which tends to happen often in high pressure situations e.g. evacuating for a hurricane, response to fires/flooding/etc)

As many people in WoW have a small emotional, and time vested, interest in their character many of these initial decision changing conditions are felt (if on a much smaller scale then reality).

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4946772

Eddy says:

Account Infection

The way to fix deliberate spreading of the Plague by people creating noobs to spread it while saving their Lvl 70’s is to make it an account infection. E.g. On the one account Husband, Wife and 2 kids have multiple toons. Little Johnny gets bored and starts a noob character to spread the infection. In 24 hours the whole family’s toons on that account have Sars. That is closer to real life and who is gonna spend money creating a new account and character to spread this. Although even in real life there are sicko’s who probably would. Just reading the posts here gives an idea into the mentallity of some people.

Steph says:

Money and age issues.

I wouldn’t think Blizzard would impliment this. If they did, not for long at least. The reason being is if players get pissed off enough over a virus that severely inhibited their ability to play, they’d log out. If a cure was not easy to find and it got to where the entire time they were on the game they were actually unable to utilize the game’s real purpose, then they would kill their accounts off. Blizzard could seriously loose millions of dollars from angry players who just choose to move on after so long of a virus afflicting them.

I play WoW, and I’m not sure what I’d do myself. If I spent two weeks with a virus unable to do anything but sit and wait for it to end because the virus ruined my character to the point I couldn’t even quest for a cure, then I would not even log on anymore, and would more than likely cancel my account until Blizzard decided to quit being retarded and cleaned everything up.

I mean, come on, players on WoW freak out over 30second sever resets. One happened today to impliment voice chat and everyone was on all the world channels freaking out wondering what was going on, how long it was going to be down, why this or that.

Not to mention the government has to take into account they have no idea how old the players are. The age range is just too vast to get accurate readings on how humans would react. Children play the game… how they act in the game is severely different than how they would under their parents if a real plague spread. Children aren’t going to get scared and things like that if they are some hulking warrior on a game and they are safe in real life.

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