Ars Technica (an excellent tech news site, by the way) has an interesting article concerning epidemiologists turning to the game developer Blizzard for help. Blizzard is the developer and publisher of the wildly successful massively multiplayer online role-playing game, World of Warcraft (WoW for short). So why are epidemiologists so suddenly interested in games? Turns out virtual worlds with varied populations like WoW are just little social petri dishes for human behavior. This is evidenced by an event that happened a couple of years ago within the game. The developers initially created a virus for high level player areas, which is a very small population, for those unaware of the game. Then the unthinkable happened – it hit the cities where, fairly predictably, all hell broke loose. Oddly enough, this accident confirmed a great many models of disease spread created by epidemiologists. Now they want to take the show in the road, as it were, and test lots and lots of different scenarios and models using the game.
I remember the incident in game as I was on when it struck. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen real panic en mass. I sure don’t want to see the real thing… ever!