Camus, Snitter, Rowf...the Plague Elves?

Plague broke out this week. Originally thought to be well contained, a carrier made it out to the general population and infected someone who survived long enough to spread the disease through the wider community.

Fortunately, it was eventually contained and the plague was wiped out.

Even more fortunate, of course, is the fact that the plague was virtual. While this isn't the first virtual plague to hit massively multi-player games, it's the first time I've heard of the phenomenon getting out of control of those who monitor the games. An example of ingenuity and spontaneous disorder? That is to say, the efforts of numerous distributed individuals out-maneuvered the best planning of the experts who dilligently (intelligently?) designed the system. Waxing hyperbolic, some are making a great deal of the "world" moving beyond the intentions of the designers and calling it a true "world event."

For reactions to the breakout and the eventual attempt to control the situation, read through the forums linked to from the site I mentioned above. There's also some entertaining stuff on the official World of Warcraft forums. Sift through the numerous "in-character" posts and boastful ramblings, and you'll find a good deal of people arguing to keep the plague in the game.

If I seriously want to consider these kind of environments as potentially appropriate for testing and experiments, is this an argument against my position that people take in-game situations seriously enough that experiments might yield results with some level of verisimilitude? I'm not so certain. To be sure, these people aren't terribly worried about real life results from plague infection, but what I think they're ultimately asking for is the opportunity to act and react to ever-increasing levels of realism.

With the threat of true viral outbreaks looming large, what might be learned by watching the pattersn of behavior and interaction among the WoW gamers? The ongoing efforts of the game operators to respond to a situation that quickly ran out of their control? What if the programmers had, instead of rolling restarts of computer servers, tried modeling response teams, distributed to various locations, burdened by finite supplies and personnel?

UPDATE: Here's an article on the plague from IGN. From the end of the article:

[...] when a player's character dies, their gear suffers a 10% reduction in durability, unless they were killed by a player from the opposite faction. This reduction can be repaired, but it costs money, and a reduction to zero renders the item completely unusable until it has been fixed by certain NPCs.

Further complicating the problem is "griefing," a habit of some players in online games to harass others in a way that slows down their characters' progress. So certain individuals will not cooperate with Blizzard's attempts to quarantine certain areas of the world. This is particularly vexing for a game that makes almost every attempt to be the friendliest, most approachable MMO on the market.

There are, at least, some economic consequences to plague exposure beyond the hassle of restarting your game. Additionally, there are those who, as in any troubled situation, exhibit less-than-charitable characteristics.

(Please note that I do not, by any stretch of imagination, wish to suggest any sort of equivalence between this and something like the Katrina floods. Rather, I am fascinated by the extent to which one could model disaster and see potentially realistic results.)

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This page contains a single entry by published on September 23, 2005 10:56 AM.

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