This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee discusses World of Warcraft and the Corrupted Blood incident.
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Way back in the aughts, when Live Service was still just a term travelling business people used to put back alley suck jobs on their expense reports, there was a little game called World of Warcraft. It’s not so popular these days now all the kids are wearing ironic hats and giving each other Live Services in Fortnite, I’m sure some people are still playing WoW but I’m afraid to look it up for the same reason I don’t want to lift one of the big rocks in my garden for fear of what might crawl out, but back in the day, WoW was the frontrunner in the field of games that are second jobs where you have to pay to come to work. And you can’t be that popular for that long and that full of fancy twats like a cosmetic gynaecologist’s example catalogue without generating a few jolly interesting moments in gaming history.
Like that time someone tried to hold a funeral for a real person and it got invaded by trolls, because what the fuck did they expect. Hey, Mr. Troll, here’s an opportunity to be the most inappropriate you’ll ever be in your life, pinky promise not to take it? It’s like asking the school bullies to please not kick you in the balls because you have a tendency to make very embarrassing squeals. And then there’s the subject of today’s video, a suddenly relevant incident from 2005 in which World of Warcraft had to deal with an insidious globe-scarring plague other than itself.
Corrupted Blood: The Plague’s The Thing
On September 13th 2005, players joined the server of Archimonde – World of Warcraft had this thing where they named servers from a 19th century book of baby names for very out of touch upper middle class people – and spawned in their preferred hub city to bask in the new glow of patch 1.7.0. Then, all of a sudden, one of them coughed. Then coughed again. Then their health bar turned inside out and all their blood exploded. Soon every player in the near vicinity was turning into an ebola fountain as the unkillable NPCs smilingly plied their trade awash in infected phlegm, ensuring that not even constant mass player genocide could stop the breakout.
What the fuck was going on? An unannounced world event? The fanboys began dutifully praising Blizzard’s innovative spirit and chiding the complainers for not getting it as they died in helpless agony over and over again, and meanwhile the Blizzard offices became ankle deep in anxious urine trying to figure out why this was happening. The answer it turned out lay in a newly introduced raid instance called Zul’Gurub, which you’ll note is an anagram of Buggers Up if you spell it completely wrong.
The infection was in fact a debuff called Corrupted Blood, intended to spread from player to player but NOT intended to exist outside of Zul’Gurub’s final boss fight with Hakkar the Soulflayer. Yeah, everything in World of Warcraft was named like that, you have to remember, Fortnite players, that this was before your generation invented irony. The disease was supposed to go away after the subject died or killed Hakkar the Ballfondler, but like an irresponsible holidaymaker, Blizzard forgot about the fucking pets. Players whose pets contracted Corrupted Blood during the boss fight would despawn the pets before they died, and said pets would be preserved in stasis, infection and all, until the next time they were let out to go plop plops in the overworld.
But knowing where it came from didn’t help much once it was out there and turning all the major population centres into oceans of skeletal corpses on a scale rarely seen outside fashion model conventions. Blizzard suggested that players observe quarantine protocols, but not enough people took them seriously, presumably because they had nine panther clitorises for a questgiver in Ironforge and no public health order from the actual all-knowing gods of the universe was getting between them and their slightly better pair of adventuring trousers, god dammit.
But when it became clear that the plague wasn’t stopping anytime soon and it began spreading to other servers, and players were faced with the hideous prospect of having to log off for a while and perhaps even leave the house god forbid, the really interesting behaviour started. Players started channelling their inner white suburbanite and fled the cities for the relative peace of the countryside. With no apparent organisation, cordons were formed to advise others away. Healers coordinated to keep people alive. Higher level players with enough health to ride out the infection voluntarily went into the cities to see if they could get a handle on things.
All of which might give one optimism for humanity were it not for two things – one, it was in World of fucking Warcraft, and two, it was ultimately as much use as bubble gum toilet paper because of all the other players. On the one hand, there were the rubberneckers, people logging in who wanted to see all this interesting carnage they’d heard about, because this was only four years since the 9/11 attacks and there’d been nothing since then that had made for quite as good television. And then there were the trolls.
The griefers. And oh boy, this was like all their snow days had come at once and they were going to do everything they could to keep it going. Some of them started hiding out in the mountains continually reinfecting each other so at the first sign of the infection clearing up somewhere they could run down and lick all the doorknobs. So between them and the tourists, it was clear that the plague was never going to get a chance to clear up.
And so Blizzard had no option but to contact one of the figureheads of the quarantine effort and have him construct a giant wooden boat in which he was directed to place two of every monster, so that they could send a rainstorm for forty days and forty nights – nah I’m fucking with you they just hard reset the servers. Bit anti-climactic, really. But Blizzard were inspired by this debacle and in 2008 orchestrated a deliberate not quite as contagious global plague of zombie virus to promote the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. Whereupon the player base agreed in one voice that global plague events are actually kinda lame. Bit anti-climactic, really.
THE LESSONS NOBODY LEARNED
If you enlightened viewers in the modern age of less blurry screenshots are seeing some eerie parallels between the Corrupted Blood incident and certain real life current events, you aren’t alone. In fact, academics took an interest in the incident for what it might tell us about real-life pandemics, particularly the sociological effects. But others argued that it taking place in a video game with zero real-life consequences limited the usefulness of the data. After all, it’s not like people in the real world would just casually blow off an official quarantine order when there’s honest to goodness life and death on the line.
Dear me no. And as for the people who’d get the infection and try to pass it to others deliberately, why that would require nothing less than a fundamental breakdown of education and governance. Surely people understand that there are no hard resets in real life, unless you count tactical nuclear strikes. Yes, I suppose this episode was more of a “let’s all laugh at a humanity that never learns anything, tee hee hee,” but for me it’s nice to see something confirmed that I could have told these academics at any time – that if they want a case study for the most irrational behaviour of which human beings are capable then a good place to start might be the people who willingly pay a monthly subscription to waste their free time scraping up imaginary Murloc bellends.