I thought that the “Virtual Virus” article was pretty interesting. It revolved around MMORPG’s (World of Warcraft, in particular), which I have had limited experience with in the past (although it was Runescape and I played it when I was in 8th grade). At first it seemed completely ridiculous to me that players on a virtual game would freak out so much over a ‘virtual plague’. The virus clearly wasn’t real, and it wasn’t going to harm them or do any sort of long term damage. I also found it equally strange that a doctor who studies infectious disease would be interested in a virus that didn’t even exist in real life. The whole thing made no sense to me.
However, I then started to compare this experience to something that we have been discussing and learning about in class: Second Life. In SL, many users become very attached to their avatars. They often either base the characters off of themselves, or off of something that they wish their real world selves had (e.g. being thin, tall, muscular, etc.) Either way, the characters they create are a part of them. They are an extension of their real world selves; their online identities. Once I realized this, it became much more apparent to me why these WoW players would be so upset over a plague: part of their identity was being compromised.
I think that is one of the reasons that Dr. Nina Fefferman was so interested in a virtual plague. Since these players associate their avatars as an extension of themselves and their identity, to some extent the way they react to the disease might actually be a somewhat realistic response to how they would act in the real world. It might also be an indication of how other people who are not infected might react to the infected. However, observing these situations online takes out many of the ethical concerns of such research that might be conducted in the real world, because characters in WoW can resurrect and heal. Being a bystander in the real life to such a tragedy would be highly unethical, and morally wrong. However, since it is online, there might be some important information on human interaction and decision making during a pathogenic crisis that could be obtained without the ethical or moral repercussions.