Thursday, April 18, 2013

Searcher: Infectious Disease

Disease and illness are not cool. In fact, reading about epidemics and things shutting down my bodily functions has a tendency to terrify me. As an avid gamer, however, I've chanced upon these topics in a few rather unusual places. One such place is with the game Pandemic, which now has two sequels. Pandemic is a game in which you play as a virus, with the aim of infecting the entire globe. You can choose different evolutionary paths along the way, and each choice has varying trade offs for your survival. I personally have never beaten the game, but it has become an incredibly complex and fascinating simulation of how evolution and adaptability functions.
Another place I've seen talk of disease is in World of Warcraft. I don't personally play World of Warcraft, but I stumbled upon an article one day discussing an accidental plague which spread through the several million player online world, wreaking a great deal of havoc along the way. This virtual pandemic was so widespread and well documented that scientists decided to use it as a model for studying epidemics in the real world.
Unfortunately, the real world doesn't allow respawns, which alters the risk-taking behaviors of those involved. However, it turns out that scientists in Chicago (along with some from our very own campus!) set out to make their own virtual world, one with alterable parameters, allowing for control over variables in a large scale social science experiment. Their focus will be mainly on trade and economics, but they most certainly could move to introduce an epidemic similar to that of World of Warcrafts. I feel that studies such as these may provide much needed data on how people react to a pandemic, and as such, look forward to seeing what they will produce.

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