In mid-2005, the MMORPG, World of Warcraft, made by Blizzard Entertainment, found itself in the midst of a near biblical plague. A virulent virtual in-game plague nobody spread across the numerous servers of Azeroth, leading to the death of tens of thousands of player characters.
This plague was known as “The Corrupted Blood Incident”.
It all started on September 13th, a new update had just been dropped that introduced a new dungeon and boss for high-level players to combat against, this boss was an ancient blood god called Hakkar the Soulflayer.
Now, Hakkar was a very sore loser and as such did not play fair, if he should be brought to near death, then any player who got too close to Hakkar would be afflicted with a potent debuff called “Corrupted Blood” which caused great initial damage and would cause additional damage every 2 seconds for a total of 10 seconds.
The initial attack is noteworthy for being so strong that it could near instantly kill any low-level player. If only to make it even worse, the debuff was also highly contagious and could be spread to any nearby player if they similarly got too close while a given player was still being affected by it. Also any player who survived an initial infection could be re-infected by an ally, so there was no form of immunity.
Originally, this very nasty debuff was intended to remain exclusive to the encounter with Hakkar. Though as Dr Ian Malcolm, of Jurassic Park, once said: “Life, uh, finds a way.”
It was eventually discovered that player companions could become infected and take the affliction out of its intended confines, if they were dismissed while infected. The infected companion could then be called upon in a different area, though they would still have the infection. Also to note is that the companions were asymptomatic, that is to say they showed no symptoms of infection.
No one, not even Blizzard, knows if the initial spread was intentional or purely by accident, all that’s known is the first server to be struck by the virtual plague was the “Realm of Archimonde”, which was devastated when an unknown player unleashed Corrupted Blood on the city of Iron Forge.
First it wiped out all low-level players with the initial damage, then it began draining the higher-level players with the additional damage. It spread and spread, aided by the non aware NPCs that were symptomless carriers of the plague. For days the cities throughout Archimonde were littered with skeletons and news of the virulent, deadly plague sweeping across the server caused confusion across the game world. It wasn’t long, however, before the plague spread to other servers and soon entire cities were devoid of life.
Players, of their own accord, began quarantining entire cities and population centres, in-game, to stem the spread of infection, with low-level players standing guard to warn others not to enter while the higher-level players explored the abandoned cities, trying to figure out how it happened. Players, with characters that had access to healing magic, rushed to help in any way they could, working in shifts to heal infected players as entire in-game cities evacuated to the countryside for fear of the plague.
Some players began actively spreading the disease in a form of bio-terrorism, getting a kick out of watching the pandemonium. Groups began forming in-game with the goal of mass terrorism, circumnavigating quarantine zones and adapting to the measures Blizzard put in place to combat the plague.
It took Blizzard about a month to stop the plague, which they ended up doing by quite literally resetting the entire world, as well as issuing a patch to get rid of the bug that allowed companions to spread the disease beyond its intended original boundary in the first place.
This whole ordeal has proven to be a supremely interesting event to epidemiologists for its implications of how human populations could react to a real-world epidemic. For as is often the case with real life epidemics the in-game plague originated in a remote, uninhabited region and was carried by travelers to urban centres; hosts were both human and animal, such as with avian flu; it was spread by close spatial contact; and there were asymptomatic individuals, in this case, invulnerable NPCs.
It has even proven to be of use in the study of terrorism as the game and the mentality of players who willingly engaged in spreading a virtual plague could potentially be used “to study how terrorist cells form and operate”.
So there you are, a video game bug actually ended up providing valuable insight into what may happen if a large scale plague were to appear in modern times.
Some men just want to watch the world burn...
Further Info: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corrupted_Blood_incident