Blizzard negotiating with researchers for virtual epidemic studyMaybe I should go apply at Blizzard, now :P
Around this time last year, a strange phenomenon struck the virtual inhabitants of World of Warcraft. A disease designed to be limited to areas accessed by high-level characters managed to make it back to the cities of that virtual world, where it devastated their populations. At the time, Ars' Jeremy Reimer noted, "it would be even more interesting if epidemiologists in the real world found that this event was worthy of studying as a kind of controlled experiment in disease propagation." The epidemiologists have noticed, and there may be more of these events on the way for WoW players
On balance, the analysis in Epidemiology felt that virtual worlds might provide a useful supplement to traditional models of disease spread, and suggested working with game programmers to test a variety of disease conditions. "Multiplayer online role-playing games may even be useful as a testing ground for hypotheses about infectious disease dissemination," the author said, "Game programmers could allow characters to be inflicted by various infectious diseases, some of which may not be visible to the player, and track the dissemination patterns of the disease in specific subpopulations." It looks like something of the sort is in the works. A report from the Agence France-Presse indicates that Nina Fefferman, a researcher from Tufts University, is currently negotiating with Blizzard about running epidemiological tests in WoW.