Since Id Software released Doom (pictured above) in 1993—heck, even before that—people have been concerned over how much of an influence violent or at the very least immersive video games can have on the people who play them. The portrayal of violence, specifically explicit violence, has long been a contentious issue with any form of media, be it literature, movies or music, but video games are unique in that they allow their audience to directly participate in the action and, by extension, violence, rather than simply observe it.
The discourse surrounding video game violence hasn’t just been concerned parents or political punditry; studies from numerous universities and institutions—including the Secret Service!—have attempted to deduce the effects video games have on those who play them, and their compiled results don’t clearly swing one way or the other. But there have definitely been incidents in which violent and/or suicidal behaviour have been linked to excessive video game use, ones that can’t simply be written off as media sensationalism or political talking points. If nothing else, these following cases are food for thought.
5. 21-Year-Old Man Kills Himself Because Of EverQuest Addiction
Before World of Warcraft came to dominate massively multiplayer online roleplaying gaming, Sony Online Entertainment’s EverQuest was the MMO of choice. Players were immersed in the huge, multifaceted world of Norrath, very much your standard fantasy setting in the vein of The Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons. Besides pioneering many of the traits and practices that would become standard in future MMOs, EverQuest also brought the issue of video game addiction to light.
As columnist John Cheese of Cracked has noted, MMOs like EverQuest and World of Warcraft are designed to be addictive, to make players want to pursue the next big challenge even if they’ve been playing all day. Perhaps the most tragic case is that of Shawn Woolley, a 21-year-old Wisconsinite who fatally shot himself after a period when the game had come to dominate his life. According to a Wired article published in 2002, Woolley quit his job a week prior to taking his life, spending the vast majority of his time playing EverQuest alone in his apartment, which “was strewn with notes related to the game.” Woolley’s mother Sharon went on to found On-Line Gamers Anonymous, which its official site describes as a “12-Step Program of recovery” in the vein of Alcoholic Anonymous that helps addicted MMO players overcome their dependence on time-consuming games.
4. 2004: Chinese Man Kills Fellow Player Over Ownership Of Legend Of Mir 3 Weapon
An MMO like EverQuest, though utilizing 2D graphics and an overhead, isometric perspective, Legend of Mir 3 was known for its immense popularity in China and South Korea. Chinese player Qiu Chengwei won an in-game weapon with a fellow player, effectively giving them shared custody of it in the game.
Things turned sour when his partner sold the weapon for the equivalent of $871 American, according to China Daily, to Zhu Caoyuan. Qui attempted to bring police into the matter, but as the “Dragon Sabre” was not physical property it could not be treated as one. The player went to Zhu’s home and attempted to convince the man to give him back the weapon. When Zhu refused, Qui stabbed him in the chest; he turned himself into police shortly afterward.
3. 2005: South Korean Man Dies Of Heart Failure After Playing StarCraft Two Days Straight
Real-time strategy computer game StarCraft helped make Blizzard, the studio behind Diablo and eventually World of Warcraft, an industry figurehead. Set far away from Earth, StarCraft allows players to build armies and fortifications as the human Terrans, the insectoid, hive-minded Zerg or the religious Protoss. The game is known for its fiercely competitive multiplayer and heavily sponsored (and occasionally televised) tournaments, especially in South Korea.
Seungseob Lee had been struggling with his StarCraft addiction for a while before he died in the summer of 2005, according to GameSpot. Lee would skip going home after work and go straight to the café and play for hours. Perpetual tardiness at work led Lee to lose his job, and in time his girlfriend broke up with him as well. On August 3, he came to his usual Internet café in Taegu, where he sat down to play StarCraft and played for over 50 hours, practically starving himself and only getting up to go to the washroom. The GameSpot article said that a combination of “exhaustion and dehydration” led Lee’s heart to straight up shut down. Like MMOs, competitive online games such as StarCraft work in an addictive fashion. Brad Shoemaker of Giant Bomb, after playing Dota 2 for a whole weekend, said he was able to emphasize with how chasing after a “big ‘W’” (a win) could lead to psychological dependence and physical trauma.
2. 16-Year-Old Boy Shoots Parents Who Wouldn’t Let Him Buy Halo 3, Kills Mother
Daniel Petric was 16 years old when Bungie’s Halo 3 was released in 2007. Having been introduced to the series by way of a friend, according to an article in the Plain Dealer, Ohioan teenager Petric was excited to play the newest entry in the series. However, his parents balked at the idea of him playing such a violent game (Halo 3 is rated M for “mature,” which means that some retailers will not sell it to a minor without permission from a parent or guardian). Buying the game with neither their consent nor knowledge, Petric played Halo 3 for stretches of up to and including 18 hours, the Plain Dealer wrote.
When Petric’s parents discovered he had the game, it was confiscated and secured in a safe the parents owned, alongside a 9mm pistol. Petric was able to gain access to the safe several days later, and retrieved both the game and the handgun, using the latter to shoot his parents, fatally wounding his mother, Susan, and seriously injuring his father, Mark. During his trial, Petric’s lawyer argued that stress brought on by his staph infection negatively influenced his behaviour and state of mind, and that he did not realize how permanently he could injure his parents. Nevertheless, he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life.
1. 2008: Thai Teenager Emulates Grand Theft Auto On His Way To Buy Grand Theft Auto IV
A murder in Bangkok following the release of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto IV might have been one of the most accurate recreations of in-game violence. According to BBC Radio 1, 18-year-old Polwat Chinno needed funds to buy the open-world crime game—his parents couldn’t afford it—and he decided to earn money much in the way a character would in-game: by trying to steal a cab driver’s car and money. The driver in question fought back, leading Chinno to stab the man fatally. He was arrested shortly afterward while trying to drive backward with the body of the driver still in the car.
Chinno’s murder of the taxi driver led Thailand to ban Grand Theft Auto IV from store shelves—the BBC elaborated that Thailand’s Culture Ministry had been trying to increase regulations on the sales of violent video games. The Grand Theft Auto series is no stranger to controversy, with its first 3D entry, Grand Theft Auto III, earning considerable criticism for the types of violence players are allowed to act out, including murdering sex workers. Chinno is shown above and to the right, wearing red shorts, and re-enacting the crime for police.