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Killer Games

Losing a loved one is never easy. When that loved one takes their own life, it makes the pain especially piercing. Questions will abound; Why? How could this happen? What did we do wrong? When self-inflicte trauma eliminates the one person who can answer these questions for us, it's natural to seek something or someone else for answers... and sometimes for blame. This is exactly what Elizabeth Woolley is going through right now. Her son ended his life last Thanksgiving, and she feels that Sony, makers of the hit PC game Everquest has some answers, and she's suing to get the answers she needs.

Elizabeth's son, Sean, was an avid Everquest player. So much so that it seemed to consume much of his life, to the point where he shut out friends and family, quit his job, and rarely left his apartment. Now that he's gone, his mother is requesting that Sony provide her access with her son's online activities. Access, due to Sony's confidentiality and privacy policies, she cannot get to.

Ms. Woolley, and her lawyer, claim that Everquest is addictive, much in the same way that a narcotic drug is. They claim that it can take over a life, and prevent the user from stopping. "It's like any other addiction," Elizabeth Woolley said last week. "Either you die, go insane or you quit. My son died."

Those of us who has spent hours and hours playing one game or another cannot argue that point too much. But unlike crack or heroin or even cigarettes, video games do not introduce a chemical into your body and make it dependent. It's a mental addiction, one that, although difficult to break, does not require a stay at a rehab clinic to rid one self of. Uninstalling the program or unplugging the computer is one way.

According to his mother, Sean also had various mental difficulties, such as depression and a form of schizophrenia. He tended to avoid and even shun social contact. He had a job at a pizza place, but no real amibition, it would seem. She says that for years she attempted to get him medical help and to place him in a group home. This presents the real issue. Was it the game, that Ms. Woolley claims took over her son's life in an iron grasp? Or did the depression become too much for him? No one will really know, and we can't expect Sony or those who ran the Everquest servers and the online world itself to answer it, either.

It was stated before that Sean avoided social contact, keeping himself hidden away playing his game. Anyone who has played any online game know that social interaction, despite the fact that no actual physical contact is made, is a major part of the game. Everquest, or any game like it, is certainly no substitute for real life, but when avoiding social contact is your problem to begin with, interaction with ANYONE, be it on the street or on a computer, is a step in the right direction.

Sony is not to blame for Ms. Woolley's son's death, nor do I imagine they can provide her with any answers. Perhaps she might want to look at herself, and find out exactly why she wasn't able to get her son the help he needed before this happened? The world has come a long way, but we still have a ways to go when it comes to the issue of personal responsibility.

Kevin Sullivan is a staff writer for He welcomes any comments regarding this story, and will happily accept them at his e-mail address below. The original story published in the Milwaukee (WI) Journal Sentinal can be found here.

By Kevin Sullivan - 04/21/02

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