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World of Warcraft Useful for more than Entertainment

In 2005, the creators of World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment) introduced a “feature” into their game that would have a lasting impact on the world outside of the virtual one of Warcraft. The developers of the game mistakenly introduced a superbug into their ecosystem that caused everything from mass panic to virtual bioterrorism. In order to try and control the outbreak, Blizzard tried imposing some control mechanisms such as quarantines. Despite these measures, the bug continued to spread wildly and ultimately had to be stopped with a reset of the servers. Some researchers used this event as an advanced simulation of what might happen in the real world in the event of a global deadly pandemic.

This goes to show that even with advanced mathematical models and game theory, it is hard to account for the human element. Though the virtual world has limitations of its own as far as the simulation is concerned, it provides a different view than a purely mathematical approach. Game theory and predictive behavior can only go so far when free will is involved, but by studying this incident, researchers can make even more accurate models for what might happen in the event of a similar real-life event.

Who knows, maybe this accident by the developers at Blizzard will provide enough insight into human behavior that it will one day help save humanity in the face of a catastrophic disease.


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September 2011