The gaming business has grown to such massive proportions that there are now multiple Game Developers Conferences worldwide. Still, the San Francisco edition of GDC is the granddaddy of them all, and this year marks the 25th anniversary of the show that began in Chris Crawford’s living room as the Computer Game Developer’s Conference.
This year’s GDC is actually multiple conferences under one umbrella. The first two days, which are actually before the main conference begins, include tutorial sessions, the Serious Gaming Summit, the Artificial Intelligence Summit, and the GDC Smartphone Summit. I dropped in on some of the serious game sessions, plus sat in on several Microsoft-sponsored sessions on the technical underpinnings of its hot new Kinect peripheral.
Epidemiology And the World of Warcraft
The first session I attended dealt with the spread of infectious disease.
More specifically, Dr. Nina Fefferman, a mathematical infectious disease epidemiologist with Rutgers University, discussed using World of Warcraft as a tool for studying the spread of infectious disease.
In 2005, Blizzard introduced a new zone for players seeking end-game content called Zul'Gurub, with a final boss named Hakkar. One of Hakkar’s attacks was a disease called Corrupted Blood. A level 60 character would take damage from the disease during the Hakkar encounter, but would usually stay alive long enough that a team of characters working together could kill the boss. At that point, the players infected would be cured.
What Blizzard didn’t predict was that high level characters, infected with the disease, would teleport out of Zul-Gurub while still afflicted, returning to major cities and spreading Corrupted Blood to not only other high-level toons, but also low-level characters that died much more quickly. Blizzard actually had to push patches and force server restarts in order to stop the spread.
Interestingly, when a character died of the disease, it would leave a skeleton. This allowed Feffereman and her colleagues to track its progress, as well as observe player behavior. The data collected helped modify mathematical models used by epidemiologists to simulate the spread of an infectious disease.