After reading a post on Too Much Gaming blog about a gamer who died due to a pulmonary embolism after playing his XBox for too long, I decided to do some research to see how many deaths could be directly attributed to gaming. The answer, however, is not so simple. The reason being that I find it hard to directly attribute the deaths I found directly to gaming. Sure, gaming was related to it, but I think the people involved were more at fault than the actual game.
Just to list a few of the more interesting cases:
- South Korea, 2005: a man goes into cardiac arrest after playing StarCraft for fifty hours straight in an internet cafe. His friends reported that several weeks prior his girlfriend had broken up with him & he’d been fired for repeated tardiness. Verdict: conceivably someone who continually engages in sedentary activities for long periods of time isn’t going to be in the best shape. Also, why did no one say anything? Fifty hours? Where I live people will call the cops if you’ve been loitering for just a few hours. If his friends knew he was an “addict” why didn’t they try to help him?
- United States, 2005: two ten month old boys drown in a bathtub when their father left then unattended for 30 minutes to play his GameBoy Advance three rooms over. Verdict: extremely neglectful parenting. Also completely avoidable, as the point of GameBoy is that it’s portable.
- Philadelphia, 2010: a sixteen year old boy beats his mother to death with a chair leg in her sleep (after beating her with a hammer & then trying to cremate her in the oven) for taking away his PlayStation. Verdict: while I’m sure many anti-game advocates would like to cite this as evidence that gaming makes you violent, I find it hard to believe that this was the boy’s first time in trouble. You don’t go from perfect angel to bludgeoning your parents to death overnight.
- Ontario, 2008: a fifteen year old boy runs away from home after his parents take his 360 away for falling grades & stealing money. He’s later found dead, & an autopsy reveals he died falling from a tree. Verdict: the parents were correct in trying to correct the boy’s behavior, but realized they went about it in the wrong. An article in the Times quoted the father as saying he understood now that he’d taken his son’s identity away. Surprisingly, Microsoft offered a reward & manpower to find the boy.
- Philadelphia, 2008: a man is convicted of third-degree murder of his seventeen month old daughter after she broke his XBox. Verdict: articles also state that the daughter’s autopsy revealed she had a broken arm two weeks before her death, & that Child Protective Services were involved with the family. Clearly this is a case of bad parents, rather than gaming addiction.
- Florida, 2010: a woman is convicted of second-degree murder of her baby when she shook him to death because his crying interrupted her on Farmville. Verdict: one article stated she shook the baby, stopped to smoke a cigarette, then shook him again. Clearly this is a woman with low frustration tolerance, & as such, anything could’ve set her off. She could have just as easily got frustrated while watching tv.
- Vietnam, 2007: a thirteen year old boy murders an elderly woman by strangling her with string & then burying her head in the sand at his house. His motive was to rob her for money so he could play a game online. He ended up stealing the equivalent of $6.20 US. Verdict: no background on the boy is given, but there’s clearly a violent tendency if you can strangle & bury someone. It also appears spur of the moment.
There are other incidents, of course, but the point I’m trying to make is that it’s unfair to say video games caused any of these. That’s like saying, “The Devil made me do it.” An convenient scapegoat. Certainly these behaviors are not the norm.
But the main underlying question is: is there such a thing as videogame addiction? The short answer is, No. There is no clinical definition for videogame addiction yet. The issue was recently decided by the American Psychiatric Association when they were debating whether to include the diagnosis in the next version of the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (which lists every mental disorder you can have, including addiction). They determined that there weren’t enough studies to properly diagnose the addiction. Looking at the research, I have to agree. Some research says the addiction exists, but others don’t support it.
However, I do believe the addiction exists, it just hasn’t been properly identified. Personally, I think you can become addicted to just about anything. Clearly when you can be so focused on online gaming that your child dies from malnutrition, you have an addiction. The most important criteria for any disorder is that it has to cause “significant problems to a person’s life.” If you get fired for always being late because you stay up all night playing WoW, you have a problem. If you don’t eat for three days because you’re too busy playing Call of Duty, you have a problem. And if you kill someone in real life because of something that happened in a game, you definitely have a problem.
If you think you have an addiction to gaming, there are places to go for help. Seek support at local addiction support center. There’s also an organization called “Online Gamers Anonymous,” which is a twelve-step program specifically designed to help with gaming addiction.
Remember, no matter how realistic gaming may be, it’s no substitute for a real life. Happy (& safe) gaming.