Saturday, April 06, 2002

Death of a game addict

Shawn Woolley loved an online computer game so much that he played it just minutes before his suicide. The 21-year-old Hudson man was addicted to EverQuest, says his mother, Elizabeth Woolley of Osceola. He sacrificed everything so he could play for hours, ignoring his family, quitting his job and losing himself in a 3-D virtual world where more than 400,000 people worldwide adventure in a never-ending fantasy.

On Thanksgiving morning last year, Shawn Woolley shot himself to death at his apartment in Hudson. His mother blames the game for her son's suicide. She is angry that Sony Online Entertainment, which owns EverQuest, won't give her the answers she desires. She has hired an attorney who plans to sue the company in an effort to get warning labels put on the games.

This is exactly the type of attitude that enforces peoples' misconceptions of gaming. Doom doesn't make kids open fire on their classmates, and online roleplaying games cannot take all the blame for a person's death. People unfamiliar with gaming find it easy to make games into the scapegoat for all problems. The truth of the matter is, mentally healthy people understand the difference between reality and fantasy. A person who lets a fantasy game govern their real life probably should have gotten help long ago.

That's not to say that deaths are incidental or trivial; just that blaming the games is a fallacy which is constantly reinforced by sensational media and stupid Congressmen. The proof is in the numbers: for every social unadjusted fellow who makes it onto the news, there are thousands of other people throughout the country who have been playing video games for over twenty years with no misanthropic tendencies. Gaming is a lot more mainstream than many people believe as well, with sales of the popular computer game, The Sims reaching over 6.3 million copies worldwide in two years. That's enough to give one copy to every person in the state of Massachusetts.

It will be interesting to see if people can be convinced that online roleplaying games are addictive in the same manner as drugs and cigarettes, and how many types of games would get warnings. Would they all be issued by the Surgeon General?

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