WoW as an epidemic model

21 08 2007

This looks very interesting; it is about using virtual online games as a model for studying behaviour during epidemics.

Obviously to release a contagious disease into the real world population is unethical and out of the question, but to study it within a virtual environment must be fascinating. You can observe people acting ‘normally’ from any angle because the whole environment is generated. Some people will argue that it is not a ‘real life’ environment, it is a fantasy one, but I still argue that people who have been playing the game long enough (and some of those people have been playing a long time!) have developed their own personas in that environment, become comfortable and therefore will act just as naturally as they would in the ‘real’ world.

This of course raises big questions about what else you can observe about human nature in a virtual environment, but then an ethical point is raised: If this virtual environment is just as valid as a ‘real world’ environment, surely we are intruding on their privacy by observing them? People would object if in the ‘real world’ certain individuals were observed (without their knowledge) for scientific study, so why does the fact that the individuals operate in a ‘virtual environment’ make it any different? It again raises the Big Brother Nanny state debate, but in a slightly different context.

I can see that this debate is going to get interesting.




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