A Menagerie of Outspoken Opinions on Science, World Politics, and Geek Culture

Thursday, January 06, 2005

We Got Too Much Game

Yeah, yeah, the review is late, I know. It’s mostly written and will be up tomorrow or Saturday. For now I have something much more interesting.

Longtime readers will know that I play EverQuest II, a massively-multiplayer online roleplaying game (or MMORPG). It’s like Dungeons and Dragons, except the game itself is the referee and the people you play with – many thousands of them – come from all across the world. The graphics are amazing and the story quite immersive. EQ players often joke about being addicted to the game … sometimes we even call it “EverCrack”.

A couple years ago a young man named Shawn Woolley killed himself while playing EverQuest. You can imagine what then ensued: Blame and lawsuits aimed at Sony Online Entertainment, EQ's owners and marketers. In an orgy of responsibility-shirking that must have had both the big-government liberals and the cultural conservative prudes cheering like mad, his mother – who I really do feel bad for – sued SOE, demanded advocacy groups be formed, and even burned a few barrels of EverQuest CDs.

It was anyone and everyone’s fault but Shawn’s. Or hers.

Perhaps because EverQuest II recently hit the market, Fox news recently revived the story (the original Wired article is here, Fox’s update here). The EverQuest II BBS has been alive with buzz about all this, a lot of it condemning Fox for resuscitating a dead horse that most gamers thought had finally rotted away. Of course I had to add my thoughts to the general fray … and here they are:

Interesting that so many feel the need to bash Fox news, yet don't say a word about the original Wired story; the truth is that Fox is no worse and no better than any other news organization. They have their slant, but so do CBS, NBC, and CNN (especially CNN). Take it all with a grain of salt and stop trying to shoot the messenger.

As for the story about the unfortunate Mr. Woolley and his Mother, it is, as others have said, old news. I do feel bad for the lady because of her loss, and I pity Woolley for the bizarre little hell his life must have become for him to want to end it in such a way. But blaming EQ for killing him is like blaming food for making Michael Moore fat. Anything can be abused ... it's up to us as individuals to exercise personal responsibility and a little restraint.

When I was in high school back in the late 80s, the Big Story of Tragic Death was a couple kids who killed themselves while listening to heavy metal records (I'm fairly certain Ozzy Osbourne was the offending musician). About a zillion parents were up in arms, blaming everyone from Ozzy to his record label to the guy who did the cover art for Diary of a Madman. Only a few of us bothered to look in the right direction: The kids themselves and their parents. Both teenagers were drug users, both were poor students and social outcasts. Both exhibited signs of depression. Neither had the legal right, nor the proper training, to own or use a gun.

Where were the parents through all this? When your kid is depressed, constantly stoned, failing his classes, has no friends, and buys a gun, it might be time for you to get more involved in his life.

The same applies to the tragic story of Mr. Woolley. He was a deeply troubled person, and his troubles should have been brought under control by either 1) his parents, when he was younger, or 2) himself, when he became a free adult. All of the responsibility lies right there. Sony cannot control how their game is played anymore than Toyota can control how their cars are driven or Breyers how their ice cream is eaten. But people - or parents, in the case of kids - can control how games are played, cars driven, and ice cream eaten. Blaming the game, the car, or the food for its misuse is at once stupid and useless.

Unfortunately there will always be those who abuse a privilege, causing the "It's Everyone's Fault But Mine" crowd to begin bleating for advocacy groups, government regulation, or outright censorship. It's nothing new, and as the media frenzy begins and the legal battle ensues, those of us who believe in (and exercise) personal responsibility will simply shake our heads in puzzled disbelief and get on with our lives. The case of Mr. Woolley and his Mother is no different.


I am continuously amazed – and appalled – by the unhealthy tendency of many people to put the blame for various tragedies on things like music, or books, or art. Or games. Folks, I assure you the end result of such thinking is a million volunteers shoveling copies of Catch-22 and Stranger in a Strange Land into an incinerator. America will become such a place over my bullet-riddled corpse, so can we please, for the sake of my life, head off such trouble long before it begins?

All together now: I am responsible for my own well-being and behavior. The bon-bons do not make me fat – me eating too many bon-bons makes me fat. The tequila does not make me start fights with bouncers – me drinking too much tequila makes me start fights with bouncers. The game does not ruin my life – me playing the game to the exclusion of all else ruins my life.

I still agree with Heinlein: Screw moderation, take big bites.

But for heaven’s sake chew thoroughly and know when to stop eating, because if you don’t it’s you that's going to choke.