A programming error in an online fantasy game gave researchers a profound insight into how a deadly epidemic spreads and how to combat the crisis. The London Times reports a glitch occurred in World of Warcraft, which has millions of online players. A disease aimed at a handful of characters spontaneously spun out of control to infect thousands.
Players, responding to the epidemic among their fantasy characters, provided a means of studying an epidemic without putting people at risk. A study by researchers at Tufts and Rutgers universities is published in next month's Lancet . “By using these games, we may be able to gain deeper insight into the incredible complexity of epidemiology," the authors say.