The history of video games is almost always written outside of it, in offices, events and awards. The protagonists are in the game but the memories are usually linked to people in the real world, or at least most of the time. The WoW Corrupted Blood incident is one of the few where the opposite is true.
A programming error by Blizzard facilitated the spread of an in-game “debuff” that functioned like a deadly virus. The Corrupted Blood quickly spread across at least three game servers when it was barely 10 months after its release in America. The event killed millions of players multiple times, but not the game.
The history of the Corrupted Blood
It all started with patch 1.7, which today is so far away in time, but so close in reality thanks to the return of WoW Classic. At that time WoW was just called WoW and Blizzard was launching a new raid on Zul’Gurub with a new boss, Hakkar. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until the Corrupted Blood did its job, perhaps too well.
Hakkar could infect a player with the “debuff” called “Corrupted Blood” that depleted a lot of health at once and then a lot more over time. Also, you could pass the Corrupted Blood to other players if they passed near you and the raid quickly became more difficult. The issue was made real by a bug that allowed hunter pets and warlock minions to be infected.
In theory nothing bad could happen since the Corrupted Blood was programmed so that its effect would cease if you left the dungeon. However, players have the ability to make their pets disappear after battle. These pets conserved the virus and when they were summoned again they silently infected everyone in their path.
The asymptomatic ones were the NPCs
If we learned anything from Plage Inc. and sadly from the coronavirus, it is that a disease cannot be too deadly to spread. If the infected person dies very quickly, they will not be able to spread it to the rest, so the infections stop. This could have stopped the Corrupted Blood brought in by the pets that were in Zul’Gurub, since the infected, above all low-level ones, died in a matter of seconds.
However, one more variant joined all this mess: the NPCs. Typical vendors and AI-controlled characters could also get infected, but not die. So they became silent propagators that basically ruined the game for many for a couple of weeks.
The streets of Orgrimmar were littered with bones, the representation of a recently deceased player in WoW. The gameplay changed, many stopped playing, but others tried to live it as a real role-playing game, to make as if they really lived a global pandemic. Unfortunately we had to live a real one, so the WoW one is a distant laugh.
The curious thing is that such an event led to several experts and researchers pointing out what happened as a good way to analyze human behavior in a pandemic. The most remembered are: Nina H. Fefferman, Eric Lofgren, Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad Y Charles Blair, since they came into contact with the game and considered that it could serve more than just for fun.
Perhaps the most remembered work is that of the first two since they gave many interviews in their day. Both claimed that the playable simulation that WoW represents, with real people making real decisions, was a good template to prepare for global pandemics.
Unfortunately, several factors prevented the investigations from getting anywhere. The published paper for both in 2007 he mentions it, basically there are a series of data collection mechanisms that must be active during these events. Blizzard made it clear that at the time they were too busy trying to solve the problem to collect data on the incident.
The researchers were interested in how players were infected, their behavior, if their playing time was reduced or increased, or if there were behavioral changes. Those who were present narrate that there were and that there were even all kinds of hostile groups among themselves.
WoW as a mirror of reality
On the one hand, there were high-level players with abilities to heal, these focused on helping others not to die. Although their sacrifice was in vain, as they could not heal forever, as Corrupted Blood had no cure. There were also those who got the best way to spread the virus and sought to affect as many people as possible, these Blizzard called “bioterrorists.”
There were also those who sold “miracle cures” for a lot of money, the disinformers of the chat and those who organized to have safe cities without infected. The parallels with the coronavirus are several and the researchers ended up being right, in WoW we really could see almost all the elements that we saw with the real pandemic, and that the “virus” is not real.
Obviously you have to take into account that in WoW death is just a nuisance, you just revive. However, no one wanted against Corrupted Blood and die and probably die again because you were going to get infected again shortly after. Basically the gameplay turned to escape from the “disease”, because it was either that or to enter a meaningless death loop.
To all Blizzard tried to call for calm, close borders between cities to avoid contagion and, of course, solve the bug. However, after a few days they realized that it was not going to be easy, the “virus” had spread and the players did not even read the communications. In the end they had to “cheat”, they applied a reset to the servers and the “virus” disappeared from all those infected.
Blizzard does well
Almost a month later, on October 10, they were able to open Zul’Gurub again, but it was no longer possible to pass Corrupted Blood to pets, so it was all over. Incredibly, what could have been fatal to the public image of the game and Blizzard ended up being one of the most remembered events. One that has led to many other similarities, but now in controlled areas.
In fact, Hakkar has a card in Hearthstone where he infects both players. In the same game, a Hakkar card back could infect your opponent and force him to change his card back for Hakkar’s. According to Blizzard, in less than 24 hours, almost all Hearthstone players had the back against their will or not.
There were also more events in WoW, such as the 2008 zombie plague and the company has never hidden that what happened was a bug, never something intentional. Despite this mistake, it has become part of the identity of the company and perhaps the best promotion for an MMO that was just born.
For that reason and more things is that Eric Lofgren still considers that the environment that these types of MMOs create are parallel to that of real life. Your interview latest with PCgamer
Of course, in the interview he mentions that the representation of a pandemic in the game can be positive for those who suffer it now in real life. The researcher considers that observing what happens from a safe point can help us understand our surroundings.
Lofgren also recalls that in his day his research was criticized for the lack of parallelism in real life of “griefing”. By this he refers to the “griefers”, those who purposely seek to infect themselves in the game to create chaos in the cities. However, the epidemiologist considers that those who voluntarily ignore security measures and do not maintain social distance are the equivalent, and that their damage is much more real.
Lastly, he confesses that his time playing WoW and analyzing what happened to the Corrupted Blood has helped him better understand his work.
“All of this led me to think deeply about how people perceive threats and how differences in that perception can change their behavior. Much of my work since then has been trying to model the social construction of risk perception and I don’t think I would have come to that so easily if I hadn’t spent time thinking about the discussions WoW players had. “
The biggest event in an MMO
Now we are clear that at least one person did take advantage of what they lived in WoW more than 15 years ago and that their research is now helping to combat the coronavirus. We wish what happened would have been more helpful, but many investigators encountered Blizzard’s refusal when they asked for more information about the incident.
“As we’ve always said, World of Warcraft is first and foremost a game. It has never been designed to reflect reality or anything in the real world. “
Shon Damron, represents Blizzard
And it is worth noting that they are right, by then WoW was a novelty and we doubt that Blizzard even had the tools to have a record of what happened in 2005. Nobody suspected of a real pandemic, much less that WoW could be relevant to act better against is. Nor was it his responsibility
Now it is too late to learn about Corrupted Blood and it will be normal that you will learn from the coronavirus experience first of all. However, it is always good to remember and more this episode in the history of video games, when we lived through the first virtual pandemic, all because of Hakkar and his desire to corrupt the blood of his enemies.