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EverQuest Blamed In Suicide

The mother of a 21-year old EverQuest addict who killed himself last Thanksgiving morning is filing a lawsuit against Sony Entertainment on the grounds that the addictive nature of the game weakened her son to the point of suicide.
Elizabeth Woolley of Osceola, Wisconsin says that her son, Shawn, was so addicted to EverQuest that he surrendered everything - his home, family, and job - to play the game.

Shawn had more than his share of personal problems - in fact, if you've been reading this site for a while, you can practically recite them along with me. He was diagnosed with "depression and schizoid personality disorder, symptoms of which include a lack of desire for social relationships, little or no sex drive and a limited range of emotions in social settings." He was also an epileptic, and according to his mother, his last eight seizures were due to computer use.

Woolley's lawyer is the "colorful" attorney Jack Thompson, who is most famous for the 1990 debacle over rap group 2 Live Crew. Thompson attempted to get the members of the infamous rap group thrown into jail because their album As Nasty As They Wanna Be contained numerous instances of words that he just didn't like.

Elizabeth Woolley wants a label on games like EverQuest, to warn people of the potential dangers of playing them for extended periods of time. This has two problems with it:

Woolley herself had no need of such a label, as she was fully aware of her son's mental and physical problems, and knew that his game playing was getting out of hand.

Neither Woolley nor her son were likely to heed such a label if it did exist previously, since they both seemed to have ignored the epilepsy warning that came with EverQuest - the same warning that is voluntarily printed in the manual for practically every video game on the market.

One of the claims being made by Woolley and Thompson is that Sony has deliberately made EverQuest addictive - a claim similar to that made about tobacco companies - and that they know that their games make people come back for more.

It's a strange criticism, when you think about it. Of course Sony has made the game deliberately engrossing; if they didn't, no one would want to play for more than an hour or so, reviews and word of mouth would pan the game, and before too long no one would be playing. That's a poor business strategy.

It is in the company's best interests to make a game that holds the player's attention. Faulting Sony for making a game that's just too good for it's own good is downplaying Shawn's real problem. Elizabeth Woolley would do much better to start a group to help people with emotional addictions, rather than trying to slap a label that no one will read on a game that a lot of people enjoy. Unfortunately, in her grief, she may never see it that way.

So why all this ado about a video game, when this site usually focuses on tabletop RPGs? Well, it seems like history is repeating itself here, with a distraught mother who has recently lost a child teaming up with a professional who believes that most entertainment is evil. Last time, it was Patricia Pulling and Thomas Radecki, and they did quite a bit to convince many people that role-playing was dangerous and evil. Our next contestants, if they make it past the EverQuest round, may not stop there, and could attempt to carry on where Pat & Tom left off, if they are so inclined.

At the very least, the outcome of this trial, if it makes it that far, could set a precedent for future cases that involve games of any kind, even RPGs. A positive decision could be very beneficial for us. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

Special thanks to the long list of readers who brought this story to my attention.

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