Video games don’t make kids suicidal — but watch for signs of addiction

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?


5 responses to “Video games don’t make kids suicidal — but watch for signs of addiction

  1. I think my ex was addicted to video games. He was 25 but still spent all his money on videogames. We used to have 6′ tall by 3′ wide bookshelves on either side of our couch, packed completely with DVD cases. He worked at a videogame store, attended midnight releases, and went to conferences. Every night, he’d play xbox from the time he got home until he went to bed at 2 am, hours after I’d go to bed. There were times he’d be playing a game, ask me a question while it was loading. I’d start to respond, but he was already not listening but cheering on his gamer friends in a group match of halo.
    After my scooter wreck, the doctor told me to stay off my feet while I was recovering from getting half of my foot ripped off. I have a skin graft that was applied 5/1. We had two cats. He couldn’t be bothered to clean their box or vacuum the scattered litter, even when the doc told me to not do housework. I was vacuuming one time in that condition, slinging my pulverized foot and brand-new flesh around clumsily around in a medical boot. Could he pause the damn game and help me? No, he continued to play– it took 20 minutes for me to do something that would’ve taken him 3 minutes.
    He was addicted to video games to the point of neglect. We’d go months at a time, going to bed at different times or falling asleep on the couch controller in hand.

    • Thanks for sharing all of that — did he have any other issues (depression, suicidal behavior) that some have tried to connect with video-game addiction? Not that the addiction isn’t bad enough….

  2. My brother Wayne had come up to me multiple times saying all kinds of things like ” To me I don’t think that killing people is hard”. And he plays many killing games. Also he had said ” Elise its like I’m in a video game and all the time I think about comitting suicide”. I would say he is very addicted to playing video games cause he is getting very sloppy on his chores and he is giving a lot of his family members anger. Ever since our parents let him play those type of games he has changed in his behavior always getting in fights at school. Getting distracted, it took him two days to clean our pantry almost three cause all he wants to do is play video games. After reading this article it made myself remember all of the different signs he comes to me not only at night in the morning to. He is always very disy he has headaches all the time. He Is just not the same anymore what is going on.

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