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Finite Lives: Deaths During Gaming Continue to Occur

You don't tend to think that video gaming is a particularly hazardous hobby. After all, what's safer than sitting in a chair letting Batman do all the dangerous work for you? As it turns out, though, death can lurk as nearby for you as it does for your computer-generated counterpart.

Just last month, a man in Taipei, Taiwan, was found dead in an Internet cafe. Chen Rong-yu, 23, had apparently expired while playing League of Legends, and his body sat undisturbed, hands stretched towards the keyboard, for nine hours before any of his fellow patrons realized that he had died. The current belief is that cardiac arrest, exacerbated by blood clots formed from lack of movement and cold weather, was the ultimate cause of death. According to news reports, Chen had previously been treated for heart problems.

Clotting has been linked to at least one other death during gaming. British gamer Chris Staniforth, 20, was a marathon player, often spending 12 hours playing Xbox uninterrupted. At some point, a blood clot formed in Staniforth's left calf and progressed to his lungs, where it cause the blockage that killed him.

Staniforth's father has used the death of his son to try and bring more attention to the heightened risk of deep vein thrombosis, the formation of blood clots in deep veins that occurs from long-term immobilization. Microsoft addresses these dangers as well through its Play Smart, Play Safe program, and recommends frequent breaks for movement and stretching.

Extreme overuse of video gaming is typically called video game addiction, though there is as yet no formal diagnosis of the condition. Regardless, there are many cases of people who have cut off social ties, ignored their health, lost jobs and otherwise exhibit many other characteristic behaviors of addiction while focused entirely on a game world. And yes, some of these addictions are fatal.

In China, the government has gone on the offensive against video game addiction with state-sponsored clinics. Patients are usually brought in by parents and spouses, and the treatments consist of electroshock and physical beatings. One patient was a boy named Deng Senshan, who had begun playing World of Warcraft at the age of 13, and would disappear for hours to play the game at local cafes. He gained weight and his grades failed, matters that prompted his parents to enroll him at Qihang Salvation Training Camp in order to put a stop to his gaming, according to reports in chinadaily.com and others.

Senshan spent his first night in a confinement cell on the top floor, and was struck when he refused to face a wall. Then, when the rest of the Camp went to bed, he was forced to run laps until he collapsed, at which point he was beaten with a chair leg. Bleeding from ears, eyes, mouth and nose, he was carried to his room, where he was pronounced dead at 3 a.m.

That video game addiction is a problem in China is hard to deny. Xu Yan, a local teacher from Jinzhou in Liaoning province, died after a 15-day gaming marathon, as did another unnamed man who dropped from exhaustion after three straight days in a cafe. However, many feel that the paranoia regarding it has been vastly overstated, and tragedies such as Senshan's are the result. Even the father of the boot camp, Tao Ran, has tried to curtail the hysteria that has resulted in so many parents sending their children for treatment at the camps.

Death from cardiac arrest also claimed a South Korean man named Lee Seung Seop, who died of heart failure brought on by exhaustion and dehydration after playing Starcraft for 50 straight hours, according to the Los Angeles Times.

To be clear, gaming did not kill any of these people. Some overused the entertainment medium, some died because of gross misunderstanding of treating an addiction, and others were people who were clearly depressed or otherwise felt a need to disconnect that overwhelmed their systems. It's important to remain aware of the fact that a game cannot kill someone, despite some belief to the contrary.

When German office worker David Heiss stabbed a British man to death (86 separate stab wounds), headlines about the story alluded to the attack having been prompted by the two men competing in an online war strategy game called Advance Wars, and that competition from playing the game had made Heiss fly to Britain and kill Matthew Pyke in real life. Pyke managed to write D-A-V on the side of his computer in his own blood before expiring as a clue to his killer.

It was subsequently revealed that Heiss had become obsessed with Pyke's girlfriend, Joanna Witton, who he'd met through the gaming site. Heiss began messaging Witton soon after the murder offering condolences.

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Another death that garnered headlines was the suicide of Shawn Woolley, a 21-year-old Wisconsinite who committed suicide, a move that prompted his mother to blame addiction to Everquest. Woolley had previously been diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder and depression while staying in a group home. Upon moving out of the home, Woolley earned enough money to buy himself a computer, then immediately cut ties with his family and doctors. He was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound on Thanksgiving day, 2001.

Though accused of manufacturing a highly addictive product, Sony Online Entertainment denied any part in Woolley's death, or that playing Everquest caused his mental problems.

"When I spoke with Ms. Woolley, I expressed my condolences," said John Smedley, one of the creators of Everquest, in an interview with CBS. " And it's really one of those terrible things that happens. And there's just nothing to suggest that Everquest had any role in his death. EverQuest is a game. And I don't see any connection between a form of entertainment and somebody's tragic suicide. It's entertainment. Is a book dangerous? Is a TV show dangerous? I think the answer is no. People need to take responsibility and say, 'Hey, you know, this is too much. Enough's enough.' It's a game."

Gaming remains one of the most popular forms of modern entertainment, and there is no doubt that it has been a player in the tragic deaths of some. However, it remains simply a forum like any other, one where people bring their own problems with them. We encourage loved ones to be on the lookout for problems resulting from too much video gaming. Frequent breaks and exercise can stall health problems from inactivity, and be on the lookout for signs of societal withdrawal that can be an indicator of depression and addiction.

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