Friday, September 23, 2005


Reading around, I recently encountered an unusual new plague that has sprung up in the most unlikely of places, an online computer game called World of Warcraft. Apparently, the developers added in a new character that has an attack that is supposed to give the affected player a disease that kills them. Unfortunately, the disease actually doesn't always kill the player in question and they have been able to drag it back home with them. The remarkable result (and utterly unanticipated) is that the disease has actually begun to spread, laying waste to entire areas in the game and basically instantly killing any character under level 50.

The interesting thing about the whole situation is how well it fits the natural way that diseases emerge and spread. You have a population of individuals who you could describe as immune naive (those under level 50 in this case) who are being wiped out and a considerable selection pressure for those players over level 50 (who are able to survive). Although these characters are unable to reproduce, in the analogous natural situation it would be those individuals over level 50 that survived would carry on to reproduce. Over time, the viral agent would either be forced into extinction as it wiped out its potential hosts too quickly, or alternatively it becomes 'domesticated' becoming less virulant so it has a better chance of spreading itself between more limited hosts.

Overall, it's a really remarkable and somewhat surprising result that shows that perhaps art can imitate life every so often.

Update: There is also a video of the plague in action.