Could A Video Game Help Save Us From The Coronavirus?

You undoubtedly know that a serious virus is beginning to spread around the world. Originating in China a new coronavirus has killed and infected thousands already and that number is only likely to rise. Travel bans and quarantines have been put into place and Chinese authorities have been scrambling to get a hold of the situation as it spreads around the world.  

We live in a very comfortable society today and a global pandemic is right now the biggest threat to humanity. It also seems like we are due, as history has shown us that major global pandemics have happened in 1820 (yellow fever) and 1920 (Spanish flu) so it might be time. But what would happen if this were to happen?

We may in fact already know the answer and we have a computer game to thank for that. OK, it may not actually save us but it can help us be more prepared to deal with the threat.

World Of Warcraft

Playing video games is something that we enjoy here at Nicely Done Sites. While we don’t have enough hours in the day to do it, it is a great way to relax, even if it is for 10 minutes. Sometimes it is good just to take your mind off of something for a few minutes. Of course that is not true for all games and for players of World of Warcraft in 2005 they took the game very seriously.

World of Warcraft was released in 2004 as a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) and the fourth installment in Blizzard’s Warcraft universe. It was an instant hit. Players could live in a virtual world and improve on their character’s skills by completing quests and killing monsters. They could also interact with other real characters and non-playable characters (NPCs). It was also possible to join guilds which built a society within a society in the game and have a pet as well.

In the summer of 2005 World of Warcraft surpassed 2 million subscribers.

Corrupted Blood

In September 2005 Blizzard released a new raid called Zul’Gurub. The end boss Hakkar the Soulflayer had the ability to drain player’s blood to heal himself and this could be passed to other nearby players with something called Corrupted Blood. It was intended by Blizzard for this raid to be attempted only by serious players who had played the game for a long time and thus built up their abilities as they would be able to withstand it.

Corrupted Blood was intended to only be in effect on the raid and as soon as the player returned to the “real” world they would return to normal. The only problem was that was not what happened.

It turned out that the player’s pets never shed the disease and those pets began to infect NPCs. NPCs could not be killed and they spread the disease around the virtual world. And it spread quickly.

Pandemonium In Azeroth.

As Corrupted Blood spread gameplay came to a halt. Players abandoned cities and fled in panic to the countryside leaving towns and cities filled with the dead bodies of the unfortunate players. Players who had the ability to heal rushed to try to heal their friends only to become afflicted themselves.

Blizzard’s first response was intended to be a temporary fix as players were able to put up a banner that signaled that they were not infected. It turned out that some unscrupulous players who were infected simply went after them and spread the disease. Some players did not take the disease seriously and did not care about the quarantines that Blizzard put into effect and many players shied away from the banner making it useless fearing it would only attract the infected to them.

The World of Warcraft was in pandemonium as players spread fear while others tried to keep their players (and their investment) safe. 

The Fix

Of course this was a virtual world so the fix would have to take place in the form of an update. As Corrupted Blood spread Blizzard was unable to find a suitable fix and just wound up resetting their servers. A fix was applied in October when pets were made immune from Corrupted Blood thus rendering it unspreadable. 

A “Real-World” Example

There was speculation following Corrupted Blood of whether it was a glitch in the system or if it was intentionally spread to study its potential effects. Players who intentionally spread the disease were quickly labeled as terrorists. Others were unhappy about how their player died and left the game altogether. Blizzard developers saw what happened as an in-game dynamic that presented an uncontrollable event in a controlled atmosphere and said that unexpected events can still happen, even in that environment.

Researchers and scientists also took notice. Corrupted Blood began in an uninhabited region, was carried to populated areas by hosts and was passed by NPCs who were asymptomatic. They noted that some players came into an area to see what was going on with the infection and then rushed out only to spread the disease to other locations, thus making quarantines ineffective. That is what we are seeing with this coronavirus.

A “Real-World” Model

While Blizzard says that World of Warcraft was first and foremost a game and thus not intended to be used as a real-life laboratory it showed how people will react with to a global pandemic. Obviously it would not be ethical to unleash a virus (like the coronavirus) on the world just to study what the effect would be so this will have to do until a real-world pandemic runs its course. 

It took them several days to figure out what the problem was and their first efforts to mitigate the spread of the disease failed. As we have seen with China and the coronavirus that is very similar to what is happening there as they try to quarantine people to prevent its spread. It took over a month to actually fix the issue when the pets were made immune to the disease, something that will take far longer in the real world. China is not the most open place in the world and it seems that rather than tackling the coronavirus head on they tried to hide it until it became too widespread.

The problem is in the real-world we cannot resurrect ourselves and a hard server reset cannot be done. The fix may have worked with World of Warcraft but a different fix will have to be found in the real world for the coronavirus. Despite that a computer game may have provided a lot of information about what would happen when a disease is unleashed on society. We just hope that we never need to put those lessons into practice but we might be already there.

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