Liam Young, 15 12 08

One from the ‘I must write about this but never got around to it pile’. An article in the Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal and on BBC looks at how a recent virus outbreak in the online game community World of Warcraft is being used as a research tool to study and predict the patterns of a real world pandemic.

“On Sept 13, 2005, an estimated 4 million players of the popular online role-playing game World of Warcraft encountered an unexpected challenge in the game, introduced in a software update released that day: a full-blown epidemic. Players exploring a newly accessible spatial area within the game encountered an extremely virulent, highly contagious disease. Soon, the disease had spread to the densely populated capital cities of the fantasy world, causing high rates of mortality and, much more importantly, the social chaos that comes from a large-scale outbreak of deadly disease. These unforeseen effects raised the possibility for valuable scientific content to be gained from this unintentional game error, and it is this possibility that we will examine.” (vol 7, no 9, Sep 2007)

I am reminded of the chaos caused by the impromptu global warming and rising sea levels that occurred on an otherwise peaceful second life afternoon.

CGI fictions seem to be telling us more about the possibilities of our physical world than the very scientists who study it. These are more in the line of seminal moments that define the strangeness of our science fictional present. I can understand the sentiments in a letter written by science fiction author Bruce Sterling’s to his sci-fi author friend William Gibson after reading the news that Lisa Marie Presley just married Michael Jackson. With a news clipping attached he simply said “this makes our job harder”.

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