One Video Game Could Have Stopped Coronavirus (If We Had Listened)

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Fifteen years ago, the world faced another pandemic, and yet, few remember. Not our world, but World of Warcraft. And it wasn’t a pandemic like you see today with Covid-19 wreaking havoc in the world. No, it was a…digital pandemic. However, the way it manifested closely resembles what we are experiencing in real life today. In the next few paragraphs, I will tell you exactly how World of Warcraft could have stopped Coronavirus… if only humanity had learned the lesson.

This article takes its inspiration from a video posted on YouTube by The Game Theorists.

What I’ll try to present in the shortest form possible, these awesome folks talk about in great detail. For the sake of our non-gamer friends who want to fully grasp the information, I’ll try to be as easy with the technicalities as possible. So, where do we start?

Let’s dial back to 2005.

The popular MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) WoW was only just about a year old. To put it simply, the goal in the game is to level up your character of choice from a selection of classes. To do that, there are quests. Other than that, the game works like the real Earth: socialization, duels, commerce, cities but in a fantasy setting.
In February that year, Blizzard (the company behind the game) added un update containing a new raid.

What is a raid? In short, a new boss in a dungeon that you team up with friends and try to take down for a reward. The boss in question here was called Hakkar – The Soul Flayer. To take him down, you’d need 19 more people alongside you and each of you would need to have attained level 60. At that moment, level 60 was the max level any player could have.

To fight the boss, you needed to go to a remote area with your crew. Now comes the thing that resembles the SARS-CoV-2 in this story. The enemy was pretty basic in almost every aspect.

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Something about him stood out, though.

Hakkar The Soul Flayer – Source: Wowhead Classic

He could inflict a special effect on players called a “debuff”. Translation: a debuff is a condition that hinders a player in some way. It might chip your health away, for example. And that’s exactly what the debuff “Corrupted Blood” did. It drained away 250-300 Health Points every few seconds. It wasn’t that big of a deal for a level 60 player because they can heal immediately using potions. And they also have a 4500 health pool.

The problem? Corrupted Blood was contagious. If another player were to stand close to the player with a debuff on them, they would also get Corrupted Blood. And so, all 20 players needed to fight Hakkar while also dodging the other players. Eventually, they would kill the boss and the debuff effects would wear off after a few seconds.

And that’s the story…Haha, just kidding.

The developers of the game made sure that the debuff would only manifest in the dungeon area. So, after quitting the raid, players were guaranteed to be debuff-free. There was a major oversight on the developers’ part. The players weren’t the only ones leaving the dungeon.

Remember that WoW has classes? Well, one class is called Hunter. And they can use animals as pets. The pets could get the infection as well. However, since they were not player-controlled, pets still had the disease even out of the dungeon. Once returning to the city of origin, the pet would immediately reinfect the player. And from there…every single other player nearby.

It became a virtual pandemic.

The infection even got to the NPC’s (non-playable characters). These are just AI with the shape of characters designed to do commerce or other activities. They, too, came down with “Corrupted Blood”. And you didn’t even know they had the infection because they were asymptomatic. They didn’t show signs of the debuff like players did.

Multiple skeletons of players laying on the ground – Source: Engadget

Worse, the raid was accessible both to the Alliance and to the Horde. These are the two main factions in the game from where you can choose. Also, the dungeon was situated in the neutral zone. So really, you got the worst from every possible choice. Are you wondering how many players got infected? The answer is 3 servers and over 2 million (!) players.

Why can we compare Corrupted Blood with Coronavirus?

Firstly, it came, just like our virus, from an animal (if indeed this is the case about Wuhan). Then, it first spread in a major city (again, just like Wuhan). And now the funny part: if the players had practiced social distancing, Corrupted Blood would have gone away fast. However, the gamers acted just like real citizens.

You had every single type of citizen that you see on the news right now: some players used their healing capabilities to heal the sick until the infection went off. Others neglected its danger. Due to a lack of social media and streaming platforms, some wanted to see the infection for themselves. Needless to say, they got infected as well. A few were even griefing, running around trying to infect others. Moreover, a lot of players started leaving the highly populated cities to run away from the virus, much like we go to the countryside now, for example. But they were only spreading the virus further…

It got attention from real-world publications.

Reuters, PC Gamer, and BBC were all jumping on the subject. Reuters quoted that “Blizzard Entertainment tried to quarantine the infected zones.”

Shane Dabiri, producer of the game said that they even got calls from the Center for Disease Control. The CDC wanted to study the simulation to see how they can learn from it for real-life situations. Epidemiologist Ran Balicer stated in an article that the outbreak in this game can be compared to the SARS infection that took place in the early 2000s. Remember, SARS is also a Coronavirus just like our current virus.

So, what do we learn from this?

To put everything in perspective. World of Warcraft had a debuff that got out of control and infected millions of others. The infection took advantage of high-density areas and manifested in both aggressive and asymptomatic ways. Just imagine the numbers of low-level players who instantly died due to the debuff, too strong for their small health pool. In a way, they were a risk group. The authorities (namely the developers) tried to quarantine the areas by isolating them. The gamers behaved just like real people would. Finally, the devs came out with a patch and deleted the whole issue.

But we can’t delete Coronavirus, can we?

We can’t just patch it away. However, if we can learn something from the WoW community, is that the virus has the potential of infecting a lot of people, and I mean A LOT. And also, social distancing may be the key to getting out of this mess. Just a few meters, a few extra measures, disinfecting, wearing a mask, this can be the key to foiling this pandemic. Stay safe, people.

Source of featured image: Otakukart

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