heise.de had an article this morning about another application for virtual worlds: to be a platform to model spreading of diseases. While mathematical models fail to model social behavior with a reasonable accuracy virtual worlds could help to better simulate and understand how disease would spread in social groups. The Lancet has an article about a US science team discovering this.
It has happened in World Of Warcraft accidentally in a special game area called Zul’Gurub for high level characters: A virtual opponent named Hakkar started infecting other players with contaminated blood. It was never planned that this disease would spread like this and there was no way to control it. After more and more avatars passed away the only solution was to restart the virtual world with a “version” before this “feature” had been applied by programmers of World Of Warcraft ( something not possible in real worlds of course to travel back in time ).