Shawn Woolley became addicted to the video game EverQuest before committing suicide in front of his computer screen on Thanksgiving.
Liz Woolley, a Pennsylvania mom, recently appeared on Texas television to warn fellow parents about the dangers of video-game addiction. Her son, Shawn, committed suicide in front of his computer after years battling his addiction to games. He was 20.
When I first read this article, the scenario sounded worrisomely familiar. Parents faced with the unthinkable — a child who takes his or her own life — crave explanations. Often, their kids’ media interests seem like appropriate targets. But it’s not that simple.
Fortunately, Woolley seems to realize that. She doesn’t appear to think her son’s love of EverQuest caused his death. More specifically, she thinks his addiction to gaming may have played a role. And to that end, she has founded Online Gamers Anonymous to help other addicted players get help.
You may recall a recent study linking video-game addiction and depression. As I said at that time, it isn’t the video games — or even necessarily the addiction — that causes depression or suicide in gamers. If anything, video-game addiction (not gameplay, but actual addiction, which is rare) is a symptom of whatever else is going on in the player. Getting help for addiction is a good idea, and the article points out some key things to look for:
Some warning signs include performance dropping at work or school, grades slipping, even a change in hygiene. “They realize they can’t live without the game and they realize they have not life with it so either way they are sort of trapped,” [recovering addict Joel] Elston says.
To be clear, lots of games entice people to play for hours. They’re complicated, and sometimes it can take that long to finish a single level or raid. People get engrossed in the story, and that’s normal. Some people will even shirk household chores or skip a day or work now and then so they can play. But when people are routinely missing work or school, avoiding loved ones constantly, foregoing basic hygiene — then it’s time to start asking questions.
Not all game addicts will take their lives, as Shawn did. But game addiction can lead people into all sorts of other activities they wouldn’t otherwise consider, so there are plenty of good reasons to get help.
Parents, have your kids ever played so much video games that you thought they were addicted? What were the signs that made you think there might be something wrong? What did you do about it?