Life imitates computer games

So unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so, you’ve at least heard of “World of Warcraft,” the Blizzard game where players create characters on a Blizzard server and play simultaneously with other people–LOTS of other people–in real-time. At any given moment in time, thee are over 200,000 people logged on to the World of Warcraft servers playing the game; Blizzard has over two million subscribers total, making WoW the most popular computergame…well, ever.

I play myself; I have five characters, including a level 60 warrior named Ragnarokkr on the Medivh server.

Recently, Blizzard released a new WoW patch. They do this from time to time, often to add new content–new quests, new areas to explore, new dungeons for groups of characters to adventure in. The last patch, which was released about a week ago, introduced a new elite dungeon designed to be played by groups of 20 high-level, powerful characters.

The main adversary in this new high-level dungeon has an ability to infect a player with a disease called “Corruption of Blood.” It kills the payer rather quickly and it can be spread to other, nearby players. Blizzard didn’t think a player infected with this disease would have the opportunity to leave the dungeon before dying of it. (Death in the game is a minor nuisance; if your character dies, you become a ghost, and you can reincarnate by returning to the place where you died or by having a priest or shaman player ressurect you.)

They were wrong.

Last Thursday, someone infected with this disease and playing on the Eonar server, where two of my characters live, managed to make it to one of the capital cities in the game world, a place called Ironforge. At any given time of the day or night, you can reasonably expect to see about a thousand players running around in Ironforge, meaning that this virtual non-existant city has a larger population than almost every real city in the world through three-quarters of human history.

Anyway, the capital cities have a very high population density, and the disease can be transmitted from character to character. You can tell where this is going, right?

My character died almost immediately when I entered the city. The entire place was littered with corpses. People would die, resurrect their characters, and then promptly die again–or worse yet, become infected just as they were leaving the city. It took hours before it was safe to move in Ironforge.

Well, it turns out that the problem has totally run away from Blizzard. On some servers, it’s impossible to go to ANY city without becoming “infected.” It’s bad enough that there’s an article about it on The Register:

It’s said that attempts have been made to quarantine the infected, but the efforts of what might be called the World of Warcraft Health Organisation (WWHO) appear to be ineffective. Plague-carrying players escape the curfew to lug the lurgey out into the wider WoW world.

The Corrupted Blood disease is, in short, out of control and rapidly taking on epidemic status.

Of some interest is the fact that when I read the article, Google Ads paced an ad for a site which sells online game currency for genuine real-world currency. There are many such sites, and they have become big business. How big? People make six figures a year doing nothing but generating online currency and then selling it for real money. That big.

It really is a World of Warcraft world.