World of WarCraft And Its Role In The Pandemic
On September 13, 2005, in the “World of Warcraft”, world’s most popular multiplayer online game by the time, a glitch was found due to which “WoW” went down not only to the history of computer games but also to the history of modern medicine. To understand all the amazing absurdities of what happened and the completely unexpected effect that this led to, you need to know a little about how WoW works.
WoW is a role-playing game, meaning each player has a computer character that he controls. Yes, just like on a Facebook Farm. These character lives in a huge virtual world inhabited by other characters – some of them are also controlled by people and others – by a computer. The main task in the world of “WoW” is to complete the “missions” that computer characters give you, making sure that you are not bored. For completing tasks you get game money, equipment, and experience.
The more experienced your character, the stronger it is – which means that the harder for it to be killed by a monster or another player. But serious monsters still can’t be vanished on your own: they are too strong and can kill you with one spit. The most badass monsters – bosses – live in the so-called “castles” and are surrounded by a crazy amount of protection. To kill such a boss, you need to stray into groups of five to ten to twenty people, thoughtfully come up with a battle strategy and spend several hours on it.
And in September 2005, Blizzard introduced a new “castle” for the WoW, designed for a raid by a team of 20 top-level players. The castle was called Zul’Farrak and this handsome creature named Hakkar lived in it – such an evil winged serpent, which was extremely difficult to kill.
Among other things, Hakkar spread a disease called “Corrupted Blood” to opponents. This disease slowly pulled life out of your character for several seconds, and then it passed. An interesting feature of the disease was that it was contagious, like a real viral infection: if one character became ill, then those characters who were in physical proximity to him also became infected.
Corrupted Blood caused 250-300 damage hits every two seconds, and the high-level character could bear it without dying – for such characters, the disease was more like an annoying obstacle, causing distractions, disperse the group and impose additional work on team healers, whose mouth is already full of trouble in battle. Less pumped characters had very few opportunities to encounter the dragon Hakkar and stay alive, and that is why they were not taken into account by game designers.
Since the open world in WoW is very large, each character has the ability to instantly teleport from anywhere to his hometown. In the cities of WoW you can go to the market and go shopping, teachers of various professions and military trainers live there, stupid entertaining festivals, etc. are held there. – in general, life is in full swing, full of people. So, it turned out that if the player is quickly teleported from Zul’Farrak, without bothering to wait for a cure for the disease, then he carried Corrupted Blood out of the castle and infected completely extraneous characters with it.
In densely populated areas, the disease spread instantly and caused horrible devastation. Low-level characters were dying in a split second. Those that were stronger managed to run away, infect a dozen more people on the road and die there. The normal course of the game was crushed. Within a few hours, all the major cities of WoW became extinct. In the forums, there were reports that the capitals were filled with corpses, that “the streets of Ironforge were literally whitewashed with skeletons.” And from that moment, computer glitch became a laboratory base for mathematical modeling of the spread of infections.
It quickly became clear that the WoW players in the virtual world behaved exactly like real people caught in a global epidemic of deadly disease. Blizzard had not yet had time to fully realize and begin to solve the problem, while the excited epidemiologists began to call the head office, demanding to provide statistics on “Corrupted Blood Incident”.
Until that time, mathematical modeling of epidemics had one significant drawback: it had almost no data on the psychological factor in the spread of the disease. And now, the researchers had a vivid demonstration that the spread of the epidemic cannot be just calculated according to the unambiguous formula “suppose one person infects four, 75% of them die and some number survives.”
First of all, theories about how the population will respond to the government’s efforts to fight the infection have crumbled. To begin with, Blizzard, horrified at the scale of the necessary repairs, tried to solve the problem by informing the players about the infection and calling for voluntary quarantine. These events obviously failed. Immediately there were people who began to deliberately climb into Zul’Farrak, become infected and spread the disease around the world. This happened, as you know, in human history, as at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, stupid-ass patients infected as many people around them as possible on purpose.
Furthermore, despite the fact that most people fled from cities and avoided densely populated areas in fear, there were many who rushed to the cities to witness the devastating consequences, and then, scared, they rushed away carrying disease from cities to the suburbs. What in the real world media are likely to do.
Some players whose characters had the ability to heal and raise the dead began to offer their services voluntarily. Unfortunately, despite good intentions, their efforts did more of a hindrance than a help. It is known that the more deadly and transient the infection, the faster the epidemic “burns out”. Therefore, the most prolonged and most widespread are non-fatal infections, like acute respiratory infections, with which we go to work and infect everyone around us, and not Ebola, with which people quietly crawl through the huts and die peacefully. The efforts of voluntary doctors have led to a protracted epidemic that would have faded away as soon as the entire population of the cities were killed and there was no one else to spread the infection.
It took some time to discover that characters controlled by a computer, and not by people, are also susceptible to the disease and can carry it, but it flows without symptoms. Such patients with a “long latent period” have become unexpected and extremely effective centers of the pandemic. And when Blizzard took the first measures, cutting an option to bringthe disease outside of Zul’Farrak for the players, it turned out that the disease is also transmitted by animals (and some characters have pets). This made Corrupted Blood extremely similar to many viral diseases that spread from humans to animals and back.
A number of respected medical publications released articles based on these events revealing warning conclusions about what we need to prepare for if a pandemic does not happen in the virtual, but in the real world. Because Blizzard was eventually able to fix Corrupted Blood by doing a hard reset of all the affected servers. But in the real world there is no Reset button.