The Corrupted Blood Incident was a virtual pandemic in the MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) World of Warcraft. It began on September 13th of 2005 and lasted for an entire week. The cause of the pandemic was a final boss inside WoW’s newest raid Zul’Gurub. The Corrupted Blood debuff was supposed to work only inside Zul’Gurub, but it spread across the entire world. However, it was not due to an accident. Players across many World of Warcraft’s servers figured out that the debuff also applied to Hunter’s and Warlock’s pets. So what they did is wait for their pets to be affected by the debuff and then dismiss them. Now, the debuff shouldn’t remain active when pets are dismissed, but due to an in-game bug, it did. So when Hunters and Warlocks would re-summon their pets in major cities like Stormwind, Ironforge, and Orgrimmar, the Corrupted Blood would spread to nearby players. Draining their HP bar to zero and killing the players, only to spread further across the world.

orgrimmar deserted by the pandemic
Orgrimmar deserted by the pandemic

At the time, World of Warcraft had over two million players worldwide. On official Blizzard Entertainment’s forums, people were commenting about how it was an awesome world event, even calling it “the day the plague wiped out Ironforge”. The people who intentionally spread the debuff were described by Security Focus editor Robert Lemos as “terrorists” of World of Warcraft.

Model for Real-World Pandemic Research

The Corrupted Blood incident was described as a fascinating yet accidental case study of modeling disease origins and control for Games for Health conference in Baltimore, Maryland by Gamasutra. They compared it to a real-life pandemic, which originated in a remote region and was carried by unsuspecting players to further spread the disease. The players who intentionally spread the disease and their behavior were studied by Charles Blair, deputy director of the Center of Terrorism and Intelligence Studies. He said that World of Warcraft could provide a powerful way to study how terrorist cells form and operate. But on the other side, Yale University terrorism expert Stuart Gottlieb admitted that while the outbreak was interesting and sometimes relevant, he would not base a counter-terrorism strategy solely on events in a video game. However, as commented by the editor of the article, “the biggest weakness for using a game as an analytical tool is that death is World of Warcraft is a nuisance at most”.

Blizzard Entertainment kept at a position that WoW is just a game and was never designed to mirror reality.


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