Halting HIV/AIDS with avatars and havatars: a virtual world approach to modelling epidemics

Gordon, Richard; Björklund, Natalie K; Smith, Robert J.; Blyden, Eluemuno R.
January 2009
BMC Public Health;2009 Supplement 1, Vol. 9, Special section p1
Academic Journal
Background: A major deficit of all approaches to epidemic modelling to date has been the need to approximate or guess at human behaviour in disease-transmission-related contexts. Avatars are generally human-like figures in virtual computer worlds controlled by human individuals. Methods: We introduce the concept of a "havatar", which is a (human, avatar) pairing. Evidence is mounting that this pairing behaves in virtual contexts much like the human in the pairing might behave in analogous real-world contexts. Results: We propose that studies of havatars, in a virtual world, may give a realistic approximation of human behaviour in real-world contexts. If the virtual world approximates the real world in relevant details (geography, transportation, etc.), virtual epidemics in that world could accurately simulate real-world epidemics. Havatar modelling of epidemics therefore offers a complementary tool for tackling how best to halt epidemics, including perhaps HIV/AIDS, since sexual behaviour is a significant component of some virtual worlds, such as Second Life. Conclusion: Havatars place the control parameters of an epidemic in the hands of each individual. By providing tools that everyone can understand and use, we could democratise epidemiology.


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