World's first virtual pandemic

Ransom Riggs

It sounds eerily like the Ebola virus: dying victims ooze blood, and anyone who comes into contact with them is immediately -- and fatally -- infected. It all began when a group of adventurers encountered a deadly virus while exploring a labyrinth of caves. When surviving infected explorers made it back to civilization, they initiated the outbreak. Travelers spread the word, and the disease, only boosting the carnage and the outbreak to epidemic scale. In the busiest towns, bodies piled high.

Luckily, the virus is virtual, and the world is that of Warcraft -- the immensely popular massively multiplayer online game World of Warcraft, that is. Known as the "Blood Plague" to more than four million devotees of the game, it was unleashed in the orc capital city of Ogrimmar and, by no design of the game's creators, quickly spread through the game's many realms. Like rats during the Black Plague, computer-controlled characters could not themselves succumb to the disease, but acted as carriers and infected human-controlled characters, who died en masse. Online discussion sites were buzzing with reports from the disaster zones with some describing seeing "hundreds" of bodies lying in the virtual streets of the online towns and cities.

Game developer Blizzard has started resetting its servers in an attempt to fix the problem, but it hasn't been solved completely. It's a frightening digital simulation with details that sound like they're straight out of a nightmare -- and if it happened in the real, rather than virtual, world, you can bet that resetting our servers wouldn't do anything to help.