Epidemiologists, often lacking real-life disease explosions within the population, are studying epidemics within virtual worlds such as the famous “corrupted blood” disease that ripped through, and temporarily pacified, the World of Warcraft.
The infection raged, wreaking social chaos, despite quarantine measures.
The experience provides essential clues to how people behave in such crises, Lancet Infectious Diseases reports.
In the game, there was a real diversity of response from the players to the threat of infection, similar to those seen in real life.
The players seemed to really feel they were at risk and took the threat of infection seriously Professor Nina Fefferman, from Tufts University School of Medicine
Some acted selflessly, rushing to the aid of other characters even though that meant they risked infection themselves.
Others fled infected cities in an attempt to save themselves.
And some who were sick made it their mission to deliberately infect others.
Researcher Professor Nina Fefferman, from Tufts University School of Medicine, said: “Human behaviour has a big impact on disease spread. And virtual worlds offer an excellent platform for studying human behaviour.
“The players seemed to really feel they were at risk and took the threat of infection seriously, even though it was only a game.”
She acknowledged that a virtual setting might encourage riskier behaviour, but said this could be estimated and allowed for when drawing conclusions.
Of course that seems like a bold statement, as any of us who drive on the wrong side of the street in video games, but never in real life, can attest to. The level of violence and disregard for human life present in virtual worlds would seem like a major impediment to studying human behavior in cases of real pestilence – but the scientists press on.
More at the BBC…