Most people assume that World of Warcraft has only two practical applications: It teaches you to gain weight and also haggle for virtual money with impoverished Chinese sweatshop workers. But did you know the game is pretty good at simulating public-health crises? That's heady stuff for a game about gnome knights and she-cow sorcerers.
In September 2005, "Corrupted Blood," a virtual plague, spread through the fictional world of Azeroth, killing everything in its path. WoW's programmers designed the outbreak to infect only higher-level players, but a nasty glitch let Corrupted Blood jump from the elite players to even the lowliest Dwarven shoguns and Orcish taxidermists.
"I don't even know what the fuck we're talking about anymore."-Photo Research Department.
While the game's administrators struggled to quarantine the infected, some bright bulbs noted this virtual pandemic modeled the spread of real-world disease, particularly with regards to human response. Epidemiologists usually rely on past data and statistics to predict an outbreak's trajectory, but with the Corrupted Blood incident they had a digital terrarium filled with real people escaping cities, risking their lives to heal the sick and generally freaking the fuck out.
The Corrupted Blood mishap proved to be a blessing in disguise. Public health researchers gained a trendy new research tool, and Warcraft finally contributed something worthwhile to the canon of human thought (besides Leeroy Jenkins that is).
The human body does not age like a fine wine. Your skin prunes, your libido droops and you forget your own damn name. Not to worry, though, human ingenuity has come up solutions to all these problems. You have Botox for your face, Viagra for your junk and... Starcraft for your cranium?
That's right, world domination is great for grandpa's mental health, even if he's only conquering from behind a computer screen. Researchers at the University of Illinois instructed one group of elderly volunteers to play Rise of Nations for 23.5 hours and another group to sit around being old. After just a day's worth of real-time strategy games, the first group saw marked improvements in multitasking, concentration and short-term memory, all the while having fun and ignoring the looming specter of death.
The cognitive gains from gaming aren't exclusive to the Greatest Generation. In fact, whippersnappers like you can boost your attention span by living vicariously through the oldies. Researchers from the University of Rochester and University of Queensland studied the brains of gamers who played Medal of Honor and Tetris. The MoH players, who had to multitask in a 3D world, scored higher on cognitive tests than the Tetris players, who were busy zeroing in on single descending block at a time. Once again, the killing games worked better. We knew it!
Did you bomb your MCATs? If it was because you spent the prior evening dominating the Ms. Pac-Man leaderboard at your corner tavern, don't give up your med school dreams just yet. A 2003 Iowa State study says your drunken, cirrhotic ass is doctor material, dammit.
ISU researchers tasked doctors and medical school residents with three different games testing motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Those surgeons who got in at least three hours of gaming a week conducted laparoscopic surgery 27 percent faster with around 37 percent less mistakes.
Just to clarify, laparoscopic surgeons use fiber optic cameras and joysticks to navigate the body's cramped, blood-filled tunnels. So yeah, laparoscopic surgery is exactly like Doom 3.
The benefits of this gaming regimen are pretty significant. According to study participant Dr. James Rosser, the difficulty of laparoscopic surgery is on par with "tying your shoelaces with three-foot-long chopsticks."
Well, if you put it like that, Dr. Rosser, we'll revise our analogy: Laparoscopic surgery is like Ninja Gaiden, but you have to beat the game without killing anybody.
Want to be Internet famous? Cracked can help! Just go here and sign up. No experience necessary.
For more video games fun--as if you don't get enough already--check out The 7 Commandments All Video Games Should Obey and 10 Video Games That Should Be Considered Modern Art.
And stop by Twitter to get previews of upcoming articles and trick your friends into thinking you're psychic.