Can we use virtual worlds to study crowds?

01 July 2012


Can we use virtual worlds to study crowds?


Clifford - Certainly. We've heard from Steven Bishop there about the mathematical modelling of crowd behaviour. That's a big industry in the study of crowds, looking at crowd flows and so on, but I think there is a need to start thinking in a more sophisticated way about the way in which we can mimic crowd environments.

There certainly are some people doing work about that. John Drury for example has done some very good work looking at creating simulations, exercises, or experiments of underground stations with crowds and put people into what we might call a virtual environment. Steve Reicher as well at St. Andrews University has got what we call an immersion lab where there are screens on each side and you put an individual in there to replicate the environment of a crowd. But the extent to which we've got computers that can model crowd behaviour and mimic crowds and what they're going to do is very, very limited.

Part of the reason for that is because the mathematical models that are used to underpin these formula haven't really taken into account properly this collective psychology that we've been developing over the last few decades.

Chris - Chris is waving his hands. World of Warcraft are you saying Chris?

Chris W. - Of course, this has nothing to do with Health Protection Agency's response to the Olympics, but from my time in Germany, a colleague Florian Burkhardt who's still there pointed out in World of Warcraft, they introduced an infection into it in one small part of this large online world.

Chris - That really is a computer virus, isn't it?

Chris W. - It is, yes. And the idea was it was only supposed to stay in this one particular part but because people could teleport from one bit to the other, it soon spread to the rest of the world. My understanding is, I think they had to reset the whole of the game because it spreads so widely! But more practically, certainly, the HPA has done lots of modelling in terms of large groups of people and infectious diseases. And a lot of that informs the debate on what you do in terms of influenza pandemic. Is it worth closing schools and is it worth closing airports, that kind of thing.

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