• March 30, 2023

When a bug in World of Warcraft caused the Zul'Gurub Tainted Blood debuff to spread across Azeroth in September 2005, wiping out the population of entire servers, no one would have guessed that the incident would have much use in the real world - except for a small group of researchers led by Dr. Eric Lofgren. Eric Lofgren.

Lofgren, who is now an epidemiologist at Washington State University doing research on the coronavirus, wrote a scientific paper in 2007 about the Zul'Gurub plague and the possibilities of using it as a model for future real-world epidemics. The researcher spoke in an interview with PC Gamer (via Wowhead) about how that paper and his experience with the plague in World of Warcraft (buy now €14.99 ) inform his work in the fight against the coronavirus.

The Zul'Gurub Plague as an Epidemiological Model

The original outbreak of the Zul'Gurub pandemic in Azeroth was caused by a bug with a debuff called Tainted Blood, which was cast on players by the boss Hakkar.


players were close to each other, the debuff would transfer from one character to the next.

The problem: The debuff also affected hunter and warlock pets


By releasing the pets and later summoning them again, the plague spread from Zul'Gurub to the rest of Azeroth, such as the main cities of Orgrimmar and Ironforge, on September 13, 2005. There, the debuff jumped back to other players and killed low-level characters especially quickly because the damage of the DoT spell was designed for high-level heroes.

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The even bigger problem: The debuff also spread to NPCs, but because of their high health, they did not die from it, but instead infected other player characters.


a result, hundreds of characters kept dying in the main cities, while players tried in vain to revive themselves and leave the infection zones.

Blizzard eventually had to perform a hard reset of the servers to get the problem

under control


Lofgren's observations of the Zul'Gurub plague

The Zul'Gurub plague provided Lofgren with the opportunity to observe the spread of The boss Hakkar from Zul'Gurub triggered a pandemic on Azeroth in 2005 that killed the population of entire servers. Source: buffed of a disease in a safe environment. In his research, he equated the low-level characters with people who would be at particular risk in the event of a real-world epidemic outbreak, and compared the NPCs to organisms that carry the pathogen but show no symptoms.

Lofgren explained in his interview with PCGamer how he applied this research to his work on the coronavirus:
"For me, [the Zul'Gurub epidemic] was a good example of how important it is to understand human behavior. When people react to public health crises, how those reactions affect the way things go. We often think of epidemics as these things that just happen to people. There's a virus and it does things. But in reality, it's a virus that spreads among people, and how people interact and behave and obey authority figures or not, all of those are very important things. And also [the Zul'Gurub plague showed] that these things are pretty chaotic. You can't just predict, 'Yeah, all right, everybody quarantine. Everything will be fine.' No, they won't.


back to the tainted blood analogy, and something I've been thinking about - one of the criticisms we've received [in relation to our paper], both from gamers and academics, relates to the idea of griefing. Namely, that griefing had no equivalent in the real world. People don't intentionally make other people sick. And they may really not be intentionally making people sick, but knowingly ignoring the possibility of being able to infect other people is pretty close to it. You see people say, 'Oh, it's all not so bad, I'm not going to change my behavior, I'm going to go to the concert and then I'm going to visit my elderly grandmother anyway.' You better not do that. That's the most important thing. Epidemics are a social problem. Downplaying their seriousness is a kind of real-world griefing. "

Those interested in learning more about Lofgren's research and the role of the Zul'Gurub pandemic in Corona research should take a look at PC Gamer's article. Zul'Gurub itself will also be returning to WoW:Classic soon in April - though presumably without the plague and at the level of the subsequent patch.

Otherwise, the rule is: stay home if possible, wash your hands, and stay away from real-world griefing - and most importantly, stay healthy!

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