Monday, January 14, 2008

Epidemiology and virtual virus part 2

'For days carpets of skeletons riddled the highest populated towns and were rendered uninhabitable by the persistent plague.'

Just following up on the post below. I found the following article in the Lancet (a leading medical journal) that answers many of my questions. This has a great many connections to this class.
'The untapped potential of virtual game worlds to shed light
on real world epidemics'.

1 comment:

Kavon Noorbehesht said...

How funny! As a former player of the game, I was part of this incident first-hand. To answer the questions posed by Dr. Latto in the previous posting:

1. How did people/characters behave? Did they realize it was an infectious disease? Were there examples of people deliberately spreading the disease?

It is very obvious to players when you are infected. I believe you would turn an ugly green color and subsequently drop dead if you were one of the weaker players (For reference, the disease would deal say 400 damage per second. Weaker players who have less than 400 health points would die instantly, while beefier players had some time to seek first aid). Amusingly, your last point is spot-on; since players are virtually anonymous online, many of them deliberatly "dismissed" their pets upon infection before running into a crowded marketplace and summoning their companion whom would go on to spread the disease which, as the article pointed out, more or less instantly killed weaker players. What a nightmare it would be if someone could do this in the real world!

2. Any examples of spontaneous community quarantines?(there is some mention of quarantines imposed by the company).

Yes, the company employees, "Game Masters," urged players not to bring infected players or pets to crowded areas until the issue was resolved by resetting the computers. Of course, it is very difficult to get 6.5 million people to listen to you!

3. How permanent is death in this game? Does it cause any real loss of $ or time investment or can you pick it up from where you left off?

When a player dies, his or her equipment becomes damaged and must be repaired, often for a rather hefty bill if you're a powerful player. Being resurrected only to die again would absolutely put a dent in your pocketbook, so the entire situation was a pretty big deal for most of the players involved.

It's really interesting to see how disease ecology can even be applied to virtual worlds. I hope to see more researchers embracing the game's massive community as a means of performing studies like this one!