Everyone play video games, even ISIS with their unlicensed modded version of Grand Theft Auto, named GTA – Salil Al Sawarem. So it’s a pretty big thing, and occasionally the video game industry does make some considerable contributions to the world as a whole, in allowing psychologists to study human behavior in certain simulated situations, technological innovations or just simply being a huge chunk of a country’s GDP (Here’s looking at you Belarus).

The most memorable contribution, at least in my view at the moment, is World of Warcraft’s experience with bio-terrorism.

Yes the NSA was right, there are terrorists in video games. Kind of.
You see, World of Warcraft, or WoW, is an MMORPG game, which means it’s a massive online virtual world were people, or players, from all over the world all connect and play together. Fighting, Adventuring, Looting and Dancing together.

In September 13 2005, Blizzard, the creators of WoW, added a new boss (a challenging enemy) with a hit-point draining spell that affected players which got close to the boss. Blizzard thought that since most people would die anyway, they saw no harm in making the spell contagious, like a disease which infect you when you get close and then spread between all the players fighting the boss. But like all diseases, it spread. And it spread in completely unexpected ways.

A group of players belonging to a guild/group called Domus Fulminata discovered a way to move the disease from the dungeon (the enclosed area with the boss) to the rest of the virtual world. Lead by a man named “Robert Allen”, they infected themselves with the disease while using high level characters with a lot of hit points, and then teleported out of the dungeon while carrying the disease into a town called Iron Forge. From there they then moved into areas heavily populated by other players, like other towns and villages and cities, and started infecting other players.

The disease even infected NPCs, which is non player characters, i.e. characters in the game controlled by the game. NPCs can’t die since they are an essential part of the stories and the virtual world. They were turned into permanent carriers of the disease, constantly infecting new players who talked to shopkeepers, tavern-keepers, quest-givers and more.

If you know the definition of bio-terrorism, you might start to see some similarities here.

From Wikipedia:

Bio-terrorism is terrorism involving the intentional release or dissemination of biological agents. These agents are bacteria, viruses, or toxins, and may be in a naturally occurring or a human-modified form.

“Intentional release” is the key point here. Allen and his guild Domus Fulminata, who discovered how to transport the disease, dedicated themselves to continue the spread of the disease using commonly known terrorist tactics. The disease would instantly kill low-level players and over time kill higher level players. Entire areas were decimated which prompted moderators from Blizzard to start enforcing quarantine and asking players infected to stay in the area until death to avoid infecting new players. Members of Domus Fulminata who were behind it all started breaking quarantine, hiding in mountain areas to hide from moderators and teleporting around the virtual world to spread the disease as much as possible. A major outbreak quickly turned into a virtual global pandemic which forced Blizzard moderators to purge individual servers to get rid of the disease. The ISIS-esque group Domus Fulminata even started jumping from server to server to keep the disease spreading, and they even discovered a way to incubate the disease and hide it when a server was being purged.

In WoW you have pets, animals and creatures which you can summon, where they magically “poff” into existence, and disappears when you no longer need them. Domus Fulminata started to infect their own pets, having them function as incubators and simply summon them when the purge was done in order to keep spreading the disease. This forced Blizzard to reset several servers and blocking off areas which were constantly targeted, but it didn’t help and eventually the entire game had to go under  a “hard reset” in which WoW, that is the entire multimillion player game had to be removed, and reinstalled on Blizzard servers. It worked, and despite the complaints the now dubbed ” The Corrupted Blood Pandemic” has given incredible insights into bio-terrorism and behavior during disasters in general.

You see, epidemiologists have several models to predict what would happen in the case of a pandemic or outbreaks of diseases, but there is a significant difference in what people say they would do in surveys and what they would really do. For example when asked “a natural disaster is heading your way, do you leave?” To which most people answer: “Yes, I leave immediately.” However when it actually happens, a lot of people have the emotional responses or non-logical ones such as thinking to themselves: “You know what? I’m going to guess it’s going to be OK. I’m gonna try to stick it out and wait for the authorities.”. Human traits like curiosity, altruism, disbelief or suspicion doesn’t fit into the models used for studies since we can’t really apply these traits to mathematics. And the players did act naturally, some didn’t believe the stories about the disease and ended up spreading it themselves, some were altruistic, venturing into the infected areas and using healing potions and spells to try to cure infected players, some became suspicious of all players and there were accusations and in-game attacks on people suspected of being infected, and some were curious and just wanted to take a closer look at the whole thing.

This is the closest we get to actually releasing a deadly virus in the real world and then just watch what happens. Which is why the WoW pandemic is being studied by research centers like the Tufts Center for Modeling of Infectious Diseases, universities like the University of Pennsylvania, governmental departments like Homeland Security, FEMA, CDC, and the private sector like CETI (Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies), CCRND and more.