Science News and MMORPGs

Great article in the latest issue of Science News (the lady of the house subscribes, and then I leave it in the bathroom). It’s called “Virtual Worlds, Real Science” and it’s about how epidemiologists are using Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft (WoW) to model the rules behind the spread of epidemics.

Recently, the programmers behind WoW unleashed a highly contagious and deadly plague called “corrupted blood” on the fictional population of their own game. It was a mistake, but characters died like flies.

Here’s the great part: All the fantasy people did the sorts of things that you would expect real people to do during a major epidemic. They ignored quarantine rules and “health service” (read: system administrator) warnings. They flouted travel restrictions and some even knowlingly infected other characters who didn’t know they were at risk.

The floors of many popular spots were covered with the bones of characters who had died. Awesome!

Stat hungry scientists are poring over WoW server logs right now, finding patterns and drawing pessimistic conclusions about human nature. They are even trying to convince the makers of MMORPGs to let them create another outbreak on purpose, so that they can run it like an organized experiment!

They love the online games, because they are populated by real people and thus theoretically provide a better model environment for human behavior than the pure computer simulation that they’ve traditionally used.

Somebody has found a use for these things!

Disclaimer: I don’t play Warcraft or any other MMORPG. I’m too antisocial. And when I put the controller down and spend the weekend outside… I wanna come back to a game that is more or less in the same state I left it in.



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