Pandemic in video games: What games has taught us about virus infections

Image courtesy of World of Warcraft


In this Covid-19 pandemic situation, everyone is looking for solutions. From researches to real-life events, people are digging information to “solve the puzzle” to save the humanity. When it comes to games, there is one example that have been used for studies in case of pandemic. The event is known as the “Corrupted Blood Incident” in World of Warcraft.


In the year 2005, the raid (40 man dungeon for end-game content and max-level character) called “Zul’Gurub” has opened and many people have faced many challenges and fought many bosses inside. The final boss, Hakkar the Soulflayer, in particular, has the ability called “Corrupted Blood” which applies the debuff (a type of penalty) on the player, dealing a lot of damage over time. The spell also spreads to other players who are near. But this spell only has a few seconds duration and only intended for this raid only.


But players found a bug in the systems. In this game, Hunter and Warlock could call their pets and demons to fight for them respectively. They found out that their pets and demons could be affected by the debuff, and if they called their pet or demons back before they die, the debuff would not go away from them. That meant their pets could spread the debuff even if they were not in the raid.


Image courtesy of GamingDose


The debuff then spread into the main city of both the Alliance and Horde faction. As this debuff was intended for max-level characters, that meant the low-level characters would not be able to survive long enough for the debuff to finish its duration. Worst, after they die, the debuff spread to nearby characters. Even the Non-Playing Characters(NPC) in the city also got the debuff, and spread to anyone who got near that NPC.


While Blizzard was trying to patch and fix the issues, the community tried to find a way to quarantine the debuff. They quarantined those who get infected into 1 area, while the lower level stayed in the other area. The healer who could cleanse the debuff tried to cure or heal the infected to prevent them from dying and spreading the debuff further.


But there were those who wanted to “troll” other players, by intentionally getting infected and running into the group of low-level players to spread the debuff. Some people who didn’t know about the incident also get infected and ended up spreading it more. The situation was so critical that Blizzard decided to “reset the server” to reset everything and fixed the bug.


Hakkar the Soul Flayer. Image courtesy of Nautilus/Blizzard Entertainment via Slick Science


After this event in game occurred, many organizations foreseen and took it as a case study. The World Health Organization (WHO) asked Blizzard for the statistics and information of this incident to predict how the pandemic would spread in reality. Another counter-terrorist organization also used this event as a simulation for bio-weapon: How it will spread and how to prevent.


Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened, many people used this event as one good example of how the virus spreads. But most importantly, how people’s actions in the game reflect the people’s actions in the real world.


For example:

  • Those people who don’t know about the incident or don’t think it’s real. They are like those people who have little to none information about the pandemic and end up spreading the virus without knowing it.
  • Those people who quarantine and separate the lower-level player to other zones and those who got infected into the other zone. They are like the government who try to set up the law to quarantine people, the first-responders who try to help with the situation, and the people who know about this pandemic and try to quarantine themselves or protect themselves and others to stop the spread of this virus.
  • The “trolls” (not the in-game Troll race, but the description of the action that some player did to “prank” other players) who intentionally took the debuff so that they can go and infect other people. They are like those people who know about the virus, but refuse to acknowledge the danger of this virus and just go outside without any protection.


Aside from the Corrupted Blood incident, other games also use the concept of virus or pandemic in some ways. Some of them come in the form of biological weapons or engineered viruses. Others come in the form of the virus similar to what is happening right now.

Here are some of the games that use these concepts in their games…


Plague Inc – The real-time-strategy game that involves players in creating pathogens to try to kill every human on earth. The game receives a good review from many sources and gained more popularity due to the spread of the virus.


Resident Evil 2 Remake – The remake of the classic Resident Evil 2. The game follows 2 main characters, Leon S. Kenedy and Claire Redfield as they venture in Raccoon City and try to survive the Zombie apocalypse caused by the T-Virus, the biological weapon created by the Umbrella Company.


Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 – The Divisions series take place in America, where a deadly virus is spread throughout the country during Black Friday and the whole world through the banknote. You play as one of the agents of the Division, an organization that tries to save the survivors in the aftermath of the global pandemic.


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