Virtual Plague

POSTED: July 19, 2006

Still looking through old papers and files I remembered that on Friday 23 September 2005, the BBC News website reported that:

A virtual plague has broken out in the online game World of Warcraft.

Although limited to only a few of the game’s servers the numbers of characters that have fallen victim is thought to be in the thousands.

Originally it was thought that the deadly digital disease was the result of a programming bug in a location only recently added to the Warcraft game.

However, it now appears that players kicked off the plague and then kept it spreading after the first outbreak.”

It appears that this is not a virus, but a result of the game designers failing to anticipate the players’ reactions correctly. What was supposed to be a deterrent in a small part of the game was spread rapidly:

The BBC addedthat “in the last week, it added the Zul’Gurub dungeon which gave players a chance to confront and kill the fearsome Hakkar – the god of Blood.

In his death throes Hakkar hits foes with a “corrupted blood” infection that can instantly kill weaker characters.

The infection was only supposed to affect those in the immediate vicinity of Hakkar’s corpse but some players found a way to transfer it to other areas of the game by infecting an in-game virtual pet with it.

This pet was then unleashed in the orc capital city of Ogrimmar and proved hugely effective as the Corrupted Blood plague spread from player to player.

So we have a virtual, communicable disease in an online game. Like real diseases, and unlike so-called computer viruses, this was the result of an accident, and not intentional malevolence.

Interesting. Very interesting, indeed.