185656 Epidemic models in online computer games: Applications and lessons learned

Wednesday, October 29, 2008: 1:30 PM

Eric Lofgren , School of Public Health, Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, Chapel Hil, NC
Nina Fefferman, PhD , Center for Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science, Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ
In September of 2005 the best-selling online computer game World of Warcraft was swept by a wave of disease accidentally introduced along with game content. Hundreds of players were infected with a virtual disease, which spread from person to person within the densely populated cities of the fantasy world, eventually forcing the developers to reset several servers to halt the epidemic. Surprisingly similar to real world epidemics, the outbreak of “Corrupted Blood” represented the first opportunity to examine the potential use of persistent virtual worlds in the advancement of public health.

Online game worlds hold a great deal of potential for the validation of simulation modeling parameters that depend on human behavior. The Corrupted Blood outbreak was heavily influenced by player behavior during the epidemic. Some players rushed to help their peers, breaking quarantines put in place to control the epidemic, while others fled the cities to avoid infection. Unlike real-world epidemics where the biological parameters of the disease must be estimated, the study of virtual epidemics allows the use of known values.

Translating virtual outbreaks into epidemiological practice is not without its difficulties. Experience has shown that traditional interview techniques are impossible; data collection mechanisms must be in place before a disease is introduced. However (ha! put one in for you) further research and a body of methodology will allow the use of simulated pandemics in online worlds to become a valuable contributor to the body of epidemiological knowledge.

Learning Objectives:
Recognize the potential use of virtual game worlds in public health research. Identify the challenges in translating virtual epidemics into viable public health research. Develop new methods and techniques to utilize online games in the pursuit of research.

Keywords: Infectious Diseases, Information Technology

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have first authored publications and conducted extensive research on the use of these games, including publication in Lancet Infectious Diseases and extensive media and press interviews.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.