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"It really looked quite a bit like a real disease."
August 21, 2007 8:11 AM   Subscribe

The 2005 outbreak of Corrupted Blood in World of Warcraft may provide epidemiologists with a new platform for studying the spread of disease.
By using these games as an untapped experimental framework, we may be able to gain deeper insight into the incredible complexity of infectious disease epidemiology in social groups.
It comes as no surprise that the "stupid factor" plays a role in susceptibility to viral marketing, but it may also be a factor in the spread of real life germs.
posted by solipsophistocracy (37 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I heard about this on NPR this morning. I don't play WoW, so I don't really have an insider perspective, but I do work in public health (though most of the folks at the office have no idea what a MMORPG is).
posted by solipsophistocracy at 8:13 AM on August 21, 2007


I could swear this was reported previously just a few months ago.
posted by DU at 8:22 AM on August 21, 2007


Sorry if it's a double. I searched for all the related tags I could think of, but I might have missed something. Delete away if it's redundant.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 8:26 AM on August 21, 2007


Exploiting a coding loophole to create a transmission vector for an instant area of effect infliction is completely analogous to real life.

I assume we'll be well prepared when citizens begin to consciously infect their pets with ebola, knit explosive vests during incubation and then detonate them in the middle of the local Mall's food court as they begin to crash and bleed.
posted by prostyle at 8:31 AM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hurm. My dismissive gut reaction to anything involving people taking an RPG too seriously aside...it does seem to me there's a pretty big flaw in using WoW as a model for an epidemic in the real world. Which is that it's not the real world. In terms of the "stupid factor," even though I'm sure people become very attached to their WoW characters, I'm (mostly) sure no players are as attached to them as they are to their own non-virtual skins. A player would, I imagine, be much more likely to send his/her character out to take a gander at a virtual infectious apocalypse than s/he would be to step outside and take a look at one in real life.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:35 AM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't know if this is a double, but I hadn't heard of the whole WoW Corrupted Blood thing before. It is extremely cool. Can we get our next IRL plague to have as awesome a name as "Corrupted Blood"? That's so much better than "SARS".
posted by Greg Nog at 8:42 AM on August 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


Will epidemiologists include the Leroy Jenkins factor in their studies as well?
posted by GuyZero at 8:44 AM on August 21, 2007 [4 favorites]


Of course, Hakkar the Soulflayer, the boss that gives the corrupted Blood debuff, is the end boss of Zul'Guruub. ZG is a level 60 raid instance, and so nobody runs it anymore.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:52 AM on August 21, 2007


I knew there was a reason why I don't play vids !
posted by unklspot at 8:56 AM on August 21, 2007


This is really interesting. I've never played WOW, but I do have a sort-of health background, so from that perspective it's interesting to me.

kittens for breakfast, I wouldn't think epidemiologists would just lift the data straight out of WOW, but rather, it gives them areas to consider that they may have been ignoring. In one link, the epidemiologist simply says that s/he had never seen 'the stupid factor' in any models before. It's not that that person would now assume the exact level of risk that a WOW player would put themselves at, but rather, the researcher was reminded to consider that as a factor at all.
posted by serazin at 9:01 AM on August 21, 2007


I swear, I was a freaking magnet for the panther boss.

Insta-gibbed every damn time she came out of stealth.
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:08 AM on August 21, 2007


Your tank sucked. Nobody died like that on my watch.
posted by baphomet at 9:10 AM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Can anyone translate Pope Guilty's comment for the rest of us?
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:26 AM on August 21, 2007


Wake me up when they discover a phenomenon in which the "stupid factor" is not a factor.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:28 AM on August 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


How can you kill that which has no life?
posted by LordSludge at 9:32 AM on August 21, 2007


Pope G is saying that high-lev runs were implicitly nerfed by BC, I think.
posted by Squid Voltaire at 9:32 AM on August 21, 2007


Can anyone translate Pope Guilty's comment for the rest of us?

I'm under the impression that the Corrupted Blood virus was contracted by fighting a high level boss (Hakkar the Soulflayer) in the Zul'Guruub campaign. The articles state that the virus was pretty trivial to level 60+ players, but that it wreaked serious havok among lower level characters who were exposed by those infected by ole Hakkar. As to why no one runs it anymore, I have no clue.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 9:35 AM on August 21, 2007


>>Wake me up when they discover a phenomenon in which the "stupid factor" is not a factor.

Hope you're good and tired, then.
posted by SaintCynr at 9:38 AM on August 21, 2007


No one runs it because it's a 20 person big time consuming instance at level 60*, but at level 60 you're spending all your time getting to level 61 now instead of trying to do really hard dungeons that take a ton of people.

* Game used to stop at 60, and then you ran around doing really hard dungeons. Now, it stops at 70, and you run around doing really hard dungeons.
posted by FritoKAL at 9:42 AM on August 21, 2007


Your tank sucked. Nobody died like that on my watch.

Yeah, maybe. I've died when standing right on the tank, who was crouching in wait for the thing. Still though, being picked for backstabbyness every time without any insight into the mechanics of it was just lame.

Leave me to my bitterness.
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:46 AM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Not exactly related to this story, but Nina Fefferman, one of the authors of the Lancet Infectiious Diseases paper being referenced here, was my TA the first time I taught calculus. Glad to see she's doing such good work!
posted by escabeche at 9:46 AM on August 21, 2007


GuyZero writes "Will epidemiologists include the Leroy Jenkins factor in their studies as well?"

Leroy's chicken has Avian Flu?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:52 AM on August 21, 2007


Fascinating...thank you for posting this.

I was in Ironforge when some of this went down, on a character that was high enough level to not die from it.

As in most MMOs, the city itself has a general channel where people in it can talk. The thing I remember most was how the lower level characters who died immediately were concerned about whether they would pay for item damage (in WoW, in most cases, when you die your gear deteriorates and it costs money to restore it).

Most of the upper level characters in the Ironforge general chat channel basically told them to suck it up...item damage costs at lower levels were minimal anyway, so what was the big deal?

That, too, I now realize, had real world implications.
posted by gnomeloaf at 10:08 AM on August 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


I was there for this too, and it was awesome.

Not like "this will be great for epidemiological studies" but "hahaha everyone's dead".

I don't see it having much value in real-world studies. The fun of the corruption was that it was a game, and it was enjoyable to watch other people's avatars die suddenly and unexpectedly. Walking into Ironforge to see corpses strewn everywhere was a surreal experience.

In real epidemics, people aren't going to be trying to spread the disease. Or standing by, watching it spread.
posted by graventy at 10:28 AM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


I could swear this was reported previously just a few months ago.

It was, sort of. But more than a few months ago. Previously.
posted by dersins at 10:33 AM on August 21, 2007


The gear in the expansion is so good that there's no point bashing your head against the wall of Zul'Guruub anymore, so nobody does it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:50 AM on August 21, 2007


“In real epidemics, people aren't going to be trying to spread the disease. Or standing by, watching it spread.”

Really? I think you overestimate human nature.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:58 AM on August 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


Yeah, that's true. But I think far less people will be assholes in real life than on the internet.
posted by graventy at 11:12 AM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't know about that graventy. Didn't we just hear about that one American guy with an unique and apparently deadly form of TB - and didn't that one guy have to be arrested and quarantined because he apparently didn't care about infecting anyone else - even flew to Italy and through Canada because he didn't care about anything other than his own convenience? That's a ratio of 1 ass per 1 deadly infection - 100% humanity is doomed.
posted by eatdonuts at 11:23 AM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


While I am often the last guy in the room to point to Wikipedia, somebody made a nice writeup of this 'WoW' virus on Wiki here. Of course, it's wiki, so by the time you click this it might be replaced by Goatse or whatever...

What made this debuff (er, temporary damaging condition) so neat was that it literally spread via anything in the game, NPC's, little snakes, anything walking around. So if you went into that dungeon, got the debuff, then went anywhere else before you died, shazam, it just ran rampant along the landscape. On my server there was a whole line of bodies from the city out to Crossroads. They patched it within a night or two, I think, but it was pretty wild those first two days!

I think it makes sense to think about an MMO model to simulate or study concepts of spreadable afflictions.
posted by cavalier at 11:35 AM on August 21, 2007


I am such an idiot. The main link is to wikipedia. Sometimes I think my BRAIN is a wiki, and only r-tards are editing it..
posted by cavalier at 11:37 AM on August 21, 2007


Current epidemiological models don't include the "Stupid Factor," at least as it pertains to gawking. Do they include other instances of irrational behavior, such as taking preventative actions that actually serve to spread the disease, based on misattribution of causes? How about straight up panic?

Certainly there are enough historical examples of this- see pretty much any pre-20th century account of bubonic plague or cholera epidemics.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:06 PM on August 21, 2007


Ahhh, I see what you did there. When most people get virulent smallpox, they immediately head to a major city, run around waving their arms and hugging people, and then upload the video to YouTube. An excellent simulation of real-life epidemics.

Not to mention the side bonuses of the free internet PR and getting to spend all your research budget playing WoW.
posted by spiderwire at 12:38 PM on August 21, 2007


I didn't do WoW. I did City of Heroes. Doctor Vahzilok was a low level baddie who'd give you a disease in the final plot arc against him. You'd have the disease at the end of one instance and it'd stay with you as you completed the following instances until your character found a cure. It essentially lowered your defenses a bit and added a graphic to your character that looked like flies buzzing around your head, and then there was the accompanying sound effect. It wasn't communicable. Essentially, it was cute. Funny. Occasionally annoying or frustrating. Essentially, CoH is antiseptic. Because of concerns of PvP and griefing (what I would equate to 'stupid factor' behaviors), CoH is coded so that nothing you do really adversely affects anyone around you. At most, someone will get Whirlwind and put it on automatic then hang out at the tram in Talos Island to annoy anyone who visits that zone. That's about as bad as I recall it getting.

If CoH had had a few 'instances' like this Blood Curdling Disease thing, it might have made it interesting enough for me not to have left... or I mighta left sooner if I'd gotten sick for no good reason, and it wasn't 'cute'.
posted by ZachsMind at 12:55 PM on August 21, 2007


Video of the plague laying waste to the city of Orgimmar (warning: music).

I was playing back then, but I don't think this happened on my server, at least not on the Horde side. Pity, because I remember it being talked about in the mainstream media, which I found more interesting than the "plague" itself. Especially since it wasn't all that different from the "living bomb" trick that had been known by WoW players for a while (and which I believe is mentioned in the Wiki link).

Still though, being picked for backstabbyness every time without any insight into the mechanics of it was just lame.

That's why you stand with your back to a wall, so that she can't get behind you to ambush you when she's stealthed. Noob!
posted by good in a vacuum at 1:12 PM on August 21, 2007


I fucking hated that instance. My guild was tight-knit but always hovering around 15 hardcore members -- so we'd run ZG with our newbies and eventually it got so frustrating that the guild broke up.

Smaller instances are easier to get together decent groups for, and if someone screws up you generally know who did it. Larger instances have more room for error -- a lot of good people makes up for some error, so you can sorta guide the new people along without having them wreck everything. 20-mans are the worst. One or two idiots can easily tank the raid.

I was priest class leader (i.e., in charge of the healers) and I can't even tell you how frustrating it was. Every night it was re-explaining what overhealing is, or how the 5SR works, or how heal agro works, what a main tank and an offtank is, what a heal assignment is, why "DPS out" is an important message to watch for... and then getting killed covering for dipshits who don't know how to listen to directions... and then having to parse through huge combat logs to prove to someone that NO, you were the one who broke CC... I really hate ZG.

MC is so much easier -- "heal the tank in your group." OK, done.
posted by spiderwire at 6:38 PM on August 21, 2007


I'm not sure if the idea of waiting around in a virtual STD clinic to get tested for herpes would make me more or less likely to try out Second Life.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:38 PM on August 21, 2007


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