Some months ago it was mentioned World of Warcraft, a MMORPG being used to study how diseases can spread in the real world. Turns out that there are more lessons to be learnt from studying the role playing game universe that are applicable in real life. One of them is how terror works, especially terror cells and the dynamics of crimes.
If you have ever played WoW or heard about it you would know that it has a mind bogglingly diverse set of characters with varied powers and capabilities. The players mimic real life behavior, both good and bad. The bad side includes crime and terrorism, including bio-terrorism. Now, researchers have zeroed in on this specific trait and have found that studying the in-game behavior can tell them a lot about how bad guys can operate in real life. In fact, the insights gleaned are much more significant than those from AI simulations or mathematical modeling, the traditional tools of choice for analysts when studying phenomena like the possible spread of diseases like anthrax, or the probability of suicide bombers attacking a particular place.
The crowd behavior, approximating real life after an act of terrorism can also be predicted by observing, for example, what surviving characters do after an explosion in a crowded area.
Some researchers however believe that WoW needn’t be taken too seriously by spooks. This is because dying in the game is no big deal and you can easily take another new avatar or simply return after a specific period of time. Obviously that’s not going to happen in real life and so players tend to take more unrealistic risks. However for all its flaws WoW is the closest researchers have got to real life conditions that can be controlled and they are not letting it go unstudied any time soon. Oh, and they also get the chance to mix business with pleasure, which is another added bonus.