Studying human behavior in Virtual Worlds

Terra Nova has an interesting debate going on the WoW virus and how we can learn more about the spread of disease and the panic that follows, by studying it. They question whether gameplay can be trusted for such studies as many WoW players were having fun spreading the virus and basically bringing this into the play element. So therefore these smart academics are wondering what has to go into the game design for such studies to be relevant. It’s an intriguing subject, and I’m sure it’s been covered extensively at Ludium, but I just haven’t gotten around to reading the conclusions there yet.
On a more personal note, discussions like this are just pure gold for such a lost academic soul as myself. I’m starting to get a much clearer picture of why defining gameplay and gamedesign is so important for understanding these virtual worlds. The panic light is however flashing franticly in my mind because I fear that those painful months of ignoring a ‘real’ life and playing tso are wasted cause I’ve conducted my research on such a completely wrong angle. What is this mess that I’ve tangled myself into?

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