Gamers’ world reveals secrets of the next epidemic

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

I recently cited some of game-designer Ryan Dancey’s examples of online games gone awry. Now it appears that real epidemiologists are studying the World of Warcraft outbreak to improve their models of how diseases spread. Gamers’ world reveals secrets of the next epidemic:

But Lofgren, who played the game, alerted Fefferman, and they studied what they could.

Fefferman, a medical epidemiologist, immediately recognized human behaviors she had not ever factored in when creating computer models of disease outbreaks. For instance, what she calls the “stupid factor.”

“Someone thinks, ‘I’ll just get close and get a quick look and it won’t affect me,”‘ she said.

“Now that it has been pointed out to us, it is clear that it is going to be happening. There have been a lot of studies that looked at compliance with public health measures. But they have always been along the lines of what would happen if we put people into a quarantine zone — will they stay?” Fefferman added.

“No one have ever looked at what would happen when people who are not in a quarantine zone get in and then leave.”

She will now incorporate such behavior into her scenarios, and Fefferman is working with Blizzard to model disease outbreaks in other popular games.

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