We’ve barely seen the first month of 2015 out, and already we’ve seen a case of gaming related death. Based in Taiwan, a man died in an internet cafe after taking part in a gaming marathon. The 32 year old man died some time into his three day session. Rather gruesomely, CNN noted that police couldn’t tell when he’d died, as the body was already stiffening when they found him. Apparently, he’d died of cardiac arrest.
Family of the deceased mentioned that it wasn’t unusual for them to go off and game for days in a row, without speaking to or seeing anybody. Staff at the internet cafes were so immune to seeing patrons nod off at their stations, that they thought nothing of the dead man ‘sprawled across the table’. His death wasn’t a random occurrence, either. We’ve been hearing of dedicated gamers dropping dead since 1981, when Jeff Dailey died of a heart attack at the age of 19, following about 15 minutes on a Bezerk machine. Tragically, sometimes it’s innocent parties who die due to marathon gaming sessions, such as a baby girl who died in South Korea due to her parents’ addiction to an online game.
What causes these deaths to happen? Arguably, the Taiwanese man was suffering from a gaming addiction that led to him ignoring signs that he was becoming seriously ill. Gaming addiction isn’t recognised as an ‘official’ illness in the DSM-V, the holy bible of all mental disorders, but there is evidence to suggest it exists.
The Week investigated gaming addiction, and reported that the symptoms were very similar to more familiar addictions, such as to alcohol or drugs. They provide people with an escape from the real world, where they may be an outsider, struggling, or feeling like failures. In the gaming world, the player is a hero and is constantly told how wonderful and brave they are. Much like any case of substance abuse, the player needs more and more of the same reward in order to get the same satisfaction from it. Given long enough, an addict could easily meet a fate similar to the ones above.
The mechanics that can addict some people to games are openly exploited by developers, especially mobile game developers. Some have compared gaming addictions to gambling addictions, and it’s easy to see why. Playing any mobile game will give you the option to spend real money on virtual items at every turn. Some will assist you in the game, some won’t, but when you’re stuck on a certain level of Candy Crush Saga it’s sorely tempting to spend the money to get past it. For those who are addicted, such as the woman who stole £1000 of her mother’s money to do just that, it’s no longer a choice but a compulsion.
Despite protests otherwise, gaming addiction isn’t the fault of gaming developers or the games themselves, although they could play a part in reducing the addictive aspects of their titles. Vulnerable people will always find coping strategies, and some are much less healthy for them for others. It’s a pity the man in Taiwan wasn’t noticed sooner, or he could have found help. The same goes for the couple in South Korea, or for Jeff Dailey. Sadly, for them as most addicted people, the help comes too late.