Two years ago a disease ravaged the country sides of the World of Warcraft, an online virtual world in which players have to interact with one another to solve problems. The virtual disease effectively ‘killed’ the players and now researchers are thinking that they can examine these virtual outbreaks and compare them to real-world scenarios because in both cases the outbreak is treated as real by the humans involved.
Researcher Professor Nina Fefferman, from Tufts University School of Medicine, said: “Human behaviour has a big impact on disease spread. And virtual worlds offer an excellent platform for studying human behaviour.
“The players seemed to really feel they were at risk and took the threat of infection seriously, even though it was only a game.”
She acknowledged that a virtual setting might encourage riskier behaviour, but said this could be estimated and allowed for when drawing conclusions.