Saturday, November 17, 2012

An Unintended Plague

Darling and I played World of Warcraft for over five years. We enjoyed it immensely, though we quit because it eventually became a little ... trite. I'm not sure what the word I want is. Boring fits, but it was boring for us, and others didn't get bored with it, so I don't have a good analysis. I miss playing the game because of the interactions with my brother, his family and my son, but I really don't miss playing WoW. I even get a free week occasionally and don't use more than an hour dropping into the world and looking at it.
There were some things that happened in the virtual world of WoW that still make me grin, though. Recently some players exploited flaw in the game and started wiping out the entire population of all the major cities, player and non-player alike. There are some YouTube videos on it.
Of course there was the classic Leeroy Jenkins video, which still makes me grin. As a quick overview, a team discusses their next battle encounter and makes meticulous plans. The odds of survival are slim, but certainly plausible. The Leeroy character obviously returns from a short break, having missed the entire discussion, jumps up, shouts "Leeeeeeeeeeerooooy Jenkinnnnns!" and runs into combat. The ensuing massacre still makes me laugh out loud.
Blizzard added the Jenkins achievement to commemorate that occurrence, acknowledging the exploits of some of the in-game adventurers. They also added a card to their card game.
Blizzard is noticeably silent, however, on the plague that swept through the entire World of Warcraft realms. Like a true pandemic, it was unintentional and swept through the worlds, leaving nothing but ghost towns.
That's a lesson - an unintended reflection of possible reality - I don't want to disappear. Here then, is the entire article from Gear Factor in 2005, written by Robert Strohmeyer. (The misspelled word is his, not mine.)

by Robert Strohmeyer
Thursday, 22 September 2005
Warcraft Plague Runs Amok
Topic: Games
In a bizarre case of art imitating life, players of the Blizzard Entertainment game World of Warcraft suddenly found themselves dying from a mysteriously rampant plague that ravaged their virtual world.

The plague began innocently enough. Blizzard introduced a new dungeon area in the world, intended to give high-level players a bit of a challenge. But when players reached the boss at the end of the dungeon, they got more than they bargained for -- and unknowingly took a little something back to town to share with their friends. The dungeon boss, called Hakkar the Soulflayer, cast a spell called Corrupted Blood. The powerful spell caused about 280 damage points to anyone it hit, and spread to other members of the attacking party as well. Such powerful spell attacks aren't unusual in the World of Warcraft game world. But what happened next was just plain weird.

When infected adventurers returned to town at the end of their quest, they inadvertently passed along the Corrupted Blood infection to those nearby. In short order, the plague ravaged the population. Soon entire cities fell victim to the artificial disease. And while 280 damage points may be easy for a level-58 Night Elf warrior to contend with, it's enough to kill a lower-level player in seconds.

Game administrators were baffled. As they scrambled to quarantine areas of the game world, the disease quickly spread beyond their control. Partially to blame was the game's "hearthstone" feature, which allows players to essentially teleport from one area to another, and which made it possible for the plague to reach the most distant regions of the map in just minutes.

Eventually the game's administrators came up with a "spell" to cure the plague and managed to distribute it to the players en masse. But the legacy of Corrupted Blood remains. While software viruses are nothing new, Corrupted Blood is unique in that it's the first such infection ever to spread through a virtual environment without being deployed by malicious intent. It was, in a certain sense, naturally occuring in its environment. You might even say it evolved and sought self-propagation, just as any lifeform would do.

In the days since Blizzard eradicated the plague, the company has remained surprisingly quiet about what happened. But you can still find plenty of players willing to talk about it. One 14-year-old Orc told me openly of the incident: "Humans were dying left and right. We just laughed and laughed."

I still laugh about it.

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