Ah, the great unexpected spin-offs of human enterprise. A new study suggests that large, virtual video game communities- such as World of Warcraft- can be used to study how human behaviour spreads disease.
The Tufts University researchers got the idea from a glitch- the so-called 'corrupted blood' disease that ravaged WoW killing thousands of players.
Said researcher Nina Fefferman:
"The players seemed to really feel they were at risk and took the threat of infection seriously, even though it was only a game."
Due to this profound geekiness, WoW and similar games are excellent simulators.
"Human behaviour has a big impact on disease spread. And virtual worlds offer an excellent platform for studying human behaviour."
In the past, scientists have been limited to observational or retrospective studies. Computer models can help model epidemics, but are government y mathematical rules. Video games, on the other hand, include the all-important human factor.
Another bonus: it would be unethical and/or homicidal to introduce an actual epidemic into an actual human population. Releasing a virtual pathogen avoids the sticky morality and lawsuits.
Of course, try telling that to the level 70 dwarf who has spent the better part of his waking life playing WoW. He'll likely be a little miffed when he goes down to Smallpox.