SUNDAY TRIBUNE 14 APRIL 2002
(c) Adam 'Amp' Jewell
The blame Game
THE death of the 21 year old Shawn Woolley [www.jsonline.com], the Everquest addict, while unfortunate is nothing new. It is the latest in a long series of "gaming related deaths" where it's inferred that playing the game caused the behaviour. Shoot up the school and it must be because whoever did it played Quake, or Counter-strike or whatever.
This is especially prevalent in America, where distraught parents trying to understand why their child was killed or in fact did the killing, attempt to sue the manufacturers of games.
And it's not even exclusive to gaming. Movies have also been attributed to causing people to commit crimes. In the brutal murder in the UK of the three year old Jamie Bolger, some tabloids claimed this was due to the fact that the boys who killed him watched the films, Child's Play 3 and Juice.
In most cases where such terrible things happened, the people involved in murder or suicide had problems before they watched movies or played games or listened to music.
At the moment there is no clear evidence to suggest that today's culture of games, movies, or music have such a profound influence on a child's development. It's easy to blame these things because it provides a simple answer to an incredibly complex problem.
Shawn Woolley had a history of mental problems yet his parents are suing the people responsible for Everquest. Is it easier to blame a faceless corporation for causing a son to kill or be killed?
Does it absolve from the natural guilt felt from being unable to prevent it? Does it explain why it happened?
Electronic gaming can be addictive to certain people. It provides a world in which a user can forget real world problems. The user becomes a different person, changing his or her name and indeed who they are. They can become a powerful master of their world, and the return to reality can be very hard.
Is Sony at fault for providing such a pleasant alternative reality to be in? Is reality to be blamed for being such a terrible place to return to?
And the wish to escape reality has not come about with the advent of electronic games or movies or music, when people went to see Shakespeare's plays when they were first performed, they were entering a different, often brutal reality.
Yet Shakespeare's plays and sonnets are taught in schools. Books, as examples of literature, can often contain pleasant or brutal realities because they are a reflection of the human race. They help us understand the nature of humanity, even if sometimes that can be something to be ashamed of.
Books have been around since writing was developed. They provide an escape from reality. Some people accumulate vast collections of books and devote their entire lives to that pursuit. And probably some of them even kill themselves after reading a book.
The book is rarely connected with the suicide. And this is because books are known, most people have read, or been read to, at least one book, even if it's just a children's story. Books are not feared because they are understood, they are known.
The hub of the media's focus on the entertainment industry's relatively recent innovations is one of fear of the unknown. Online gaming has only been with us a few years, but it's only now that it's growing so fast that it is deemed newsworthy.
And gaming has yet to reach the same sort of mainstream activity that books have reached in which books have blended themselves so seemlessly into the culture that they are hardly noticed.
The unfortunate truth is that if someone commits suicide or kills someone there has to be an angle if it's going to be reported on. Unnatural death is unnaturally common so if it's going to make the newspaper or six o'clock news it needs something unique for people to be interested in it.
If Shawn Woolley had killed himself after reading Hamlet, would he have ever been heard of?
Adam Jewell is an MCSE and has been involved in gaming since the Atari 2600. He is a co-moderator of the games forum on Boards.ie