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Gaming’s most memorable epidemics


Oregon Trail is a game that nearly everyone has fond memories of… at least, everyone who was in elementary school in the mid-80s. Who knows why the game had such an impact – maybe it was just the right game at the right time, when the medium was supposedly on its way to being the future of education – or maybe it was actually fun. We don’t remember, but what we do remember, and what everyone who has played it or likes wearing stupid t-shirts that reaffirm their retroness remembers, is how harshly it dealt with life and death.

Let things get out of hand and the next screen will tell you that Angela is dead. Dead, dead, dead, and it’s all your damn fault. Because the trail doesn’t take any prisoners - it’ll f-you-up with snake bites and typhoid and dysentery and fires and all the shit you aren’t afraid of because you live in a cotton-candy coated suburb. Stupid-ass kids.

Oregon Trail made otherwise normal third-graders to talk about dysentery, typhoid, and measles. That’s why it’s in this list.


What happens when the infection doesn’t attack the players, it attacks the game itself? Second Life, like EVE Online and other MMOs (especially free MMOs), is particularly susceptible to griefers. In such an open environment, however, the griefing goes beyond the typical “HAHA ur ghey” nonsense that we put up with on Xbox Live.

One of the most memorable moments was the invasion of floating phalluses during CNET’s interview with Second Life mogul Ailin Graef. While funny, that wasn’t nearly the most damaging bit of grief the game has experienced.


Above: Oh no! Flying pink tubes!

“Grey goo” is a sci-fi term which refers to an apocalypse scenario in which self-replicating robots, left unchecked, consume the entire Earth, converting its matter into “grey goo.” In an open-ended virtual world like Second Life, it’s not too hard to imagine how this scenario could be tested with a sneaky bit of code.


Above: The infection spreads…

In 2006, a golden ring epidemic required the game’s servers to be shut down to contain and destroy the infection. The rings were awfully similar to those collected by Sonic, and they multiplied every time a player interacted with them. This attack, while one of the most talked-about, wasn’t the first time the world of Second Life was infected with a self-replicating disease. Apparently Second Life hasn’t been taking its vitamin C.

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36 comments

  • breadlord - May 12, 2009 7:30 p.m.

    Oh man, i wonder what WoW would look like if that sever kept the disease going into WotLK, and infected the King himself. Some should try it :D
  • killemall - May 11, 2009 9:02 p.m.

    Don't eff with nerds... they'll DESTROY you!!! ReCaptcha: whens Rican
  • BurntToShreds - May 10, 2009 9:58 p.m.

    Ugh, typhoid was what killed me the most on the 'Trail. Maybe that 5000 pounds of animal meat I shot had to do with it....
  • CAPST3R - May 10, 2009 8:31 p.m.

    @MOOMAN; awww, don't kill the kittens. but kill the adult cats, i'm allergic to them. and kill the plants too, they give me hayfever. i will not be held responsible if he turns out to be a nutcase and actually does this. it is a joke. how the bloody hell are you supposed to write this recaptcha? it's 1/2 in 1 symbol! i'm changing it.
  • phoenix_wings - May 10, 2009 2:49 a.m.

    Ho hum. I'm watching a show on TB. Apparently, the number one killer of people who have HIV is TB. That's probably why HIV and AIDS haven't made it into video games. See, pixilated people dying of dysentery and invasions of giant penises, zombification and the like is kind of humourous (I suppose the Cursed Blood can be similar....) but AIDS/HIV is not. Plus, in looking at AIDS/HIV you generally have to look at the causes of it, which most video games really don't want to get into. Also, if people started transforming into gigantic floating penises, I'd consider myself significantly worried. But it's only Second Life, and that was hysterical.
  • noobeater - May 8, 2009 4:23 p.m.

    i never played wow, tho iv played some other mmorpg but that blood thing on there sounded really interesting, oh and funny coz noobs probably died, lots
  • Lucretiel - May 8, 2009 1:06 a.m.

    Not Left 4 Dead's Plague? Ah well. The WoW thing fascinates me to no end
  • Ded - May 7, 2009 6:07 p.m.

    Aw! You didn't mention the Zombie Plague intentionally released before WoW's latest expansion hit. Started off with a few infected bugs and crates, which spread to players. When the plague counted down to zero, you turned into a zombie, and could infect other players, friend or foe :D
  • StarbucksAssassin - May 7, 2009 11:01 a.m.

    Great memory with the Oregon Trail game. Who could forget dying of dysentery. Awesome!
  • Romination - May 7, 2009 3:13 a.m.

    a definite, glaring one that is missing! I'm sure Carolyn is going to start kicking your ass about it. The Pokerus from Pokemon! http://www.serebii.net/games/pokerus.shtml so there
  • big rudy - May 7, 2009 1:23 a.m.

    hey, *I* like luigi (referencing first dr. mario pic.)
  • Armyofnone - May 7, 2009 12:23 a.m.

    I think it's amazing how Goonswarm is being directly related to a virus. Awesome.
  • FlyinHawaiian13 - May 6, 2009 11:40 p.m.

    @fattestninjaever its more frightening now because virus names with mixed numbers and letters usually lead to the zombie apocalypse
  • Mavarious - May 6, 2009 11:26 p.m.

    I don't think there was an intentional pandemic put out with the 3.1.1 Ulduar patch, unless I missed it which I doubt because I've played for at least a half hour every other day.
  • GoldenMe - May 6, 2009 11:22 p.m.

    I live in Oregon. I don't get dysentary or snake bites. I'm fucking god.
  • Unoriginal - May 6, 2009 9:41 p.m.

    @Cyberninja That makes three of us. You, me and Good 'ol Luigi.
  • helix92 - May 6, 2009 9:39 p.m.

    lol. cool article, i'm pretty sure that there was a perposefull virus pandemic on WoW recently. To coincide with the newest expansion. Not 100% sure though, that game bores me
  • Corsair89 - May 6, 2009 9:25 p.m.

    I always died of dysentary in Oregon Trail.
  • Cyberninja - May 6, 2009 9:14 p.m.

    i like luigi so now im no one
  • Demonflare - May 6, 2009 8:33 p.m.

    Hahaha! The livin dead yo!

Showing 1-20 of 36 comments

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