HOW BLIZZARD CREATED A HAUNTINGLY SIMILAR VIRUS 15 YEARS AGO AND WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM IT TODAY.
It’s safe to say this entire world at this moment is filled with chaos and panic, but what if a game like World of Warcraft could help save us, or even could have prevented this from getting to where we are today? For you to understand what I’m talking about we will need to go back a bit in time, where something very similar happened in game.
Let’s talk about September of 2005, at this time World of Warcraft had been out for about a year and had quite a massive amount of players already. In classic WoW there was an end game raid called Zul’Gurub which is a 20 person team mission recommended for players around level 60, the level cap at the time. The final boss of this raid was Hakkar, The Soul Flayer, who inflicted players with a debuff called Corrupted Blood which would cause 250-300pts of damage every few seconds. While that does a lot of damage but the players were high level and so it wouldn’t actually kill you if you could maintain regular healing.
Now, this “virus” would go away in time but while you were waiting for it to wear off you were spreading this contagious debuff to anyone around you. Yes, Contagious. This debuff was annoying but was only supposed to reside in the raid to make the boss harder and to force you to work together with your team, and then once you left the raid the debuff would go away. But did it? Well yes, technically. The debuff did wear off for players the second they left the raid but the development team made one little mistake, they forgot about the animals. The hunters going into this raid with their pets would come out of it cured but their pets wouldn’t. So obviously, that pet would immediately spread it to their owner and then, you guessed it, that player would then spread it to everyone around them and so on. This plague spread to everyone, from the people the infected was standing next to, to the players they were fighting, and then even to NPCs. These NPC’s would acquire this sickness but wouldn’t show any “symptoms” of it and would go along as any normal day which infected and re infected players who would talk to them or stand around them. This virus completely spread on at least 3 different servers to two million players. The players who the debuff was intended for the level 60s, or let’s say the “healthy ones”, were fine as long as they kept up their health but they would then give it to players from level 1-40 , or the “weak and ederly ones” and they would die pretty instantly without even knowing what had happened. Sound familiar yet?
Similar to what’s going on in the real world, this virus was spread in very populated cities, places where everyone was coming to shop, do business or socialize. It got so bad players stopped going to these areas, and the more populated areas were completely covered in skeletons. There were players who tried helping, such as the medical workers today, and similar to them they would end up catching the virus as well. While there were good people trying to help out there were also a handful of higher levels who would spread this virus on purpose to the lower levels which made it even more out of hand. Eventually Blizzard fixed this bug but it was so bad that it started getting the attention of real world outlets.
While the bug was fixed this didn’t stop the attention it was getting from the outside world. According to World of Warcraft producer Sahne Dabiri,
“We got calls from The CDC – The Center for Disease Control – saying; “Hey what’s all this about the disease in your game? We want to look at the simulation data, it might help us in a real world situation.” We kept saying “no, no, no, it’s just a big! We fixed it, it’s just a game!”
This curiosity didn’t stop there, in 2007 An Epidemiologist Physician from Ben-Gurion University named Ran D. Balicer posted an article in the journal of epidemiology describing this in-game outbreak with the recent outbreak of SARS and Avian flu and stated,
“It is possible that these virtual environments could serve as a platform for studying the dissemination of infectious diseases, and as a testing ground for novel interventions to control emerging communicable disease.”
A few months later this outbreak was brought up again from an assistant research professor of health and family medicine at TUFTS University and noted the corrupted blood’s similarity with biological plagues. While she acknowledged video game behavior compared to a real world environment wont mirror the same exact behavior she compared this WoW incident to a drug trial with mice saying
“It was a real good first step, these are my mice [and] I want this to be my new experiment setup.”
Fefferman also made a really good point when saying “a virus almost doesn’t matter as much as the way people treat it.”
Okay, now that we have the history of the Corrupted Blood pandemic lets come back to the present time and talk about how World of Warcraft could save us. There is a man by the name of Dr. Eric Lofgren who is an Infectious Disease Epidemiologist and an avid WoW player. He recently has been revisiting the parallels with vanilla WoW’s Corrupted Blood plague and the current Coronavirus pandemic. He states how his layering WoW has influenced his work in epidemiology and says,
“For me, it was a good illustration of how important it is to understand people’s behaviors, when people react to public health emergencies, how reactions really shape the course of things. We often view Epidemics as these things that sort of happen to people. There’s a virus and it’s doing things. But really it’s a virus that’s spreading between people, and how people interact and behave and comply with authority figures, or don’t, those are all very important things. And also, that these things are very chaotic. You can’t really predict ‘oh yeah, everyone will quarantine. It’ll be fine.’ No, they won’t.”
Dr. Lofgren is now suggesting to bring back the corrupted blood virus in order to better understand its spread and how players react in the midst of a pandemic. With this in-game virus causing the attention of real life researchers and major news outlets especially right now during our own real life pandemic, you’ve got to be curious what Blizzard may throw at us and what role gamers may play in understanding and beating this virus. It makes you think, if researchers actually went through with testing these things in games like World of Warcraft, would this pandemic be this bad? And could WoW players really be the ones to help end this pandemic and save us? I guess we all will just have to wait and see for now.