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Video games: new addiction

by Mark Smith, staff writer

   

Addictions have taken many forms over the years. From drugs to alcohol to gambling, many people find themselves wasting their lives away over a simple pleasure that goes out of control. With advances in entertainment technology, a new dependency has formed: video game addiction.

 
Video games of today are much different than they were when they first hit the market in the late ‘70s. Back then games were simple. Pac Man and Donkey Kong were fun, but after a few rounds, they lost their appeal. Not so with today’s games, which have much more depth, better graphics, and more content to lure people in. They also require more time to play.
 

Two types of games on the market today have attracted many customers. Console games, such as Playstation 2 and X-Box, have found their way into the homes of many people and offer a large variety of games. PC games have also become quite popular and have become more addictive with the help of the Internet. One such game, called EverQuest, has become quite controversial since its release in March of 1999.

EverQuest, which was released by Sony Online Entertainment (SOL), is a fantasy- style game in the tradition of Dungeons and Dragons. It allows players to create a wide variety of characters and places those characters, in a fantasy environment that allows them to interact with real people from all over the world. Game play allows people to group with other players, join player-made alliances, and trade items, such as weapons, armor, staves, and magic jewelry.

The addictiveness of EverQuest has caused a big stir in the gaming community. Referred to by many of its players as “EverCrack,” the game currently has around 400,000 subscribers populating multiple game servers in the quest for fame and fortune within the game’s environment.

So how can something that seems fun and harmless be dangerous? People who have found themselves seriously addicted to EverQuest, as well as similar games such as Dark Age of Camelot and Asheron’s Call, have found themselves failing school, losing jobs, ending relationships, and in some cases, losing their lives.

On Thanksgiving of 2001, Wisconsin resident, Shawn Wooley, 21, an avid EverQuest player, was found dead in his apartment by his mother, Elizabeth Wooley. He had apparently shot himself with a gun he had purchased earlier that week. He was sitting at the computer at the time of his suicide. The room was littered with notes related to the game, but there was nothing written down that pointed to the cause of the suicide.

His family tried to gain information from SOL concerning her Wooley’s account, but found them to be unhelpful due to the privacy clause that protects the players and their accounts.

Prior to his death, Wooley played EverQuest at intervals of 12 hours a day. He had quit his job and was evicted from his apartment. He moved in with his mother and eventually checked into a group home that helped people with their addicitons. Against his mother’s wishes, he left the establishment and again got an apartment on his own. Shortly afterward, Wooley’s life came to an end.

After her son’s death, Elizabeth Wooley filed a lawsuit against SOL in an attempt to find out what role the game may have played in her son’s suicide. One of her goals is to prevent a repeat occurrence to other gamers. She wants to warn people of the dangers of video game addiction and would like to see warning labels on the covers of addictive games.

According to Jay Parker, a chemical dependency counselor and co-founder of Internet/Computer Addiction Services in Washington, D.C., certain mental health problems can result in addiction to online games. People who are basically introverted, easily bored, plagued with low self-esteem, and anorexic are prone to addiction.

Many cases seem to validate Parker’s diagnosis. A young Florida man tried to get social security for agoraphobia, a fear of open and public places, but was in fact addicted to playing EverQuest. Another man from Florida was so addicted to the game that he fatally neglected his child.

Another strange case, documented by Parker, involves a college senior who quit going to class after being introduced to EverQuest. After playing the game for 36 straight hours, he had a psychotic breakdown from sleep deprivation and was convinced he was being chased and attacked by characters from the game.

Signs of addiction are both psychological and physical. The psychological symptoms include a feeling of euphoria while at the computer, neglect of family and friends, lying about activities, problems with work or school, and an inability to pull away from the games. Physical symptoms include carpal tunnel syndrome, dry eyes, backache, headaches, change in eating patterns, failure to maintain personal hygiene, and sleeping disturbances.

According to one former gamer, the best thing to do to help break away from addiction is to create a daily schedule and to stick to it. Responsibilities such as work, school, family, and housework should receive top priority. People should schedule themselves at least four hours of personal time each day. During this free time, people should find something else to do other than sit in front of the computer or the television. For college students, activities such as attending sporting events or other school functions can help limit the time spent playing video games.

For those who get seriously addicted, help is available. Therapists and psychiatrists have successful programs to help people escape the addiction and have put many people back on track with their lives.

For more information on computer and video game addiction, visit: www.computeraddiction.com . Sources: www.jsonline.com, www.wired.com, http://news.com.com

*Sidenote-screenshots are courtesy of http://everquest.station.sony.com/ and game cover is courtesy of www.amazon.com .

 

 

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