clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Researchers use online game to simulate the spread of infectious disease

New, comment

Researchers at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., recently conducted a study on disease control using an online multiplayer game, according to an article published on PLoS ONE.

Economists Fred Chen, Allin Cottrell, Amanda Griffith and computer scientist Yue-Ling Wong ran the study. Using an online game, players were monitored in an epidemic situation over the course of several weeks. Each day, healthy players could choose to be vaccinated, for a cost, to reduce the chances of being infected. Players earned a higher number of points, however, by avoiding a vaccination. At the end of the game, players received a gift card equaling the number of points earned in-game.

After running the experiment twice, once with a low protection cost and another with a high cost, researchers discovered that the low cost situation was more likely to draw players to vaccines. As the number of infected rose, more players opted for a vaccine.

"More people may be willing to take extra precautions if they know how many people in their community are sick."

The study's findings can be applied to real-life situations, including the rise of sickness during the winter months, according to one of the researchers.

"During a bad cold and flu season like the one we are in this winter, more people may be willing to take extra precautions if they know how many people in their community are sick," Chen said.

Researchers have used online games to study disease before. After the "Corrupted Blood" plague that ravaged the World of Warcraft population in 2005, researchers used the incident as a model for disease and the spread of infection.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon