Online ´Epidemic´ Gives Clues to Bird Flu Spread (HealthDay)

TUESDAY, Aug. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Online role-playing gamescould provide insight into how infectious diseases such as bird flu spreadamong people in the real world, American researchers report.

A programming error caused an epidemic of a highly contagious disease("corrupted blood") among virtual characters in the popular onlinerole-playing game World of Warcraft, scientists from Rutgers University inNew Jersey and Tufts University in Boston wrote in the September issue ofThe Lancet Infectious Diseases.

The company that developed the game tried a number of quarantinestrategies, but they all failed due to a number of factors -- the highlycontagious nature of the disease; the inability to seal off a section ofthe game world effectively; and player resistance to quarantinemeasures.

Resetting the game proved to be only way to halt the epidemic.

Computer programs specifically designed to model infectious diseaseoutbreaks are an important research tool but lack the unpredictableeconomic and social behavior exhibited by players of virtual online games,scientists Eric Lofgren and Nina Fefferman noted.

"We believe that, if the epidemic is designed and presented so as toseamlessly integrate with the rest of the persistent game world, in such away as to be part of the user´s expected experience in the game, areasonable analogue to real-world human reactions to disease might beobserved and captured within a computer model," they wrote. "By usingthese games as an untapped experimental framework, we may be able to gaindeeper insight into the incredible complexity of infectious diseaseepidemiology in social groups."

More information

The World Health Organization has more about infectious diseases.