Magazine article Risk Management

Bad Blood

Magazine article Risk Management

Bad Blood

Article excerpt

By September 2005, Blizzard Entertainment's "World of Warcraft" had become one of the best-selling online computer games in history. However, Warcraft's imaginary swords-and-sorcery world of Azeroth also had a genuine pandemic on its hands. Blizzard software engineers had created a villain character who could cast a sort of life-draining spell on players who would in turn infect other players with it if they got too close to each other. Known as Corrupted Blood, the spell worked so well that panicked players teleported from the battlefield to large city areas where other players tended to congregate. In an instant, the spell became an epidemic, killing thousands of player characters unable to escape the contagion.

Blizzard advised players to voluntarily quarantine themselves until the virtual disease ran its course, but it was no good. Too many players loved the idea of being a virtual Typhoid Mary and intentionally infected themselves so they could spread the disease, forcing Blizzard to shut down parts of the game while recoding the Corrupted Blood spell so it could not spread beyond its point of origin.

Epidemiologists found the scenario to be a fascinating simulacrum of a real pandemic and used it to study the dynamics of contagious infection. Counterterrorism experts saw Corrupted Blood as a revealing case study in the dynamics of bioterrorism as well as the activity of terror cell structures, as small groups of dedicated "griefers" secretly maintained the disease among themselves so they could infect a city whenever they pleased.

And while Corrupted Blood wasn't entirely realistic (the dead came back to life in a few minutes), it proved something video game enthusiasts had been saying for years; that the complexity of the medium had grown to the point where it could be used for more than just pure entertainment. It could enlighten, instruct and train, even in a risk management sense.

Blitz Games Studios, for example, has garnered plenty of headlines with "Triage Simulator," in which players must respond in real time to the graphically rendered accident victims from a range of scenarios, including car crashes and explosions. The game trains its players both to handle the complex list of tasks required in triage situations as well as dealing with seeing gruesomely wounded victims who need help. …

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