A 330-pound man was found dead at his PC in Jinzhou last month towards the end of the Chinese New Year festivities. He’d played games near-constantly for the entire holiday, and died of exhaustion. It’s a sad, strange way to go, but it’s becoming less unusual. We’re at the dawn of a new genre in which the game’s success relies on keeping players hooked - not necessarily happy. The precise details of this death aren’t known, but those of five others are. What can be done to prevent more people dying like this?
The game: EverQuest
The victim: 21 year-old Shawn Woolley, who suffered from epilepsy and learning difficulties.
The problem: After becoming increasingly addicted to the game, Woolley abruptly quit his job and bought a gun a week before his death. He played non-stop after his resignation, according to his mother, who found him dead at his keyboard - the game still running - a week later.
Cause of death: Self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Who’s to blame? Shawn’s mother Elizabeth said that events in the game near the end of his life left him extremely upset, but she didn’t know what precisely had happened. Sony Online Entertainment has refused her access to her son’s account to investigate what might have happened with his character, “iluveyou,” citing privacy reasons. “If somebody shoots themselves in front of a computer screen of this game,” she told CBS News, “they’re trying to say something.” It’s possible, but if Shawn was playing the game all day, it would almost seem more notable if it were not running when he died. Elizabeth has since set up Online Gamers Anonymous (olganon.org) to provide a 12-step program for those recovering from game addiction. We’ve also come to understand that Shawn had gone off his prescribed anti-depressants before the incident.
The moral: We need better guidance available to friends and relatives of gamers whose habit threatens to overwhelm them, and it wouldn’t be out of line to expect the game companies to provide it. Casinos already provide helpline numbers to gambling addicts.