You've probably heard the rumors about people getting killed playing Pokemon Go. While some die-hard (pun intended, yes, it's awful) Pokemon fanatics got pretty close to dying, like two teens in California who were nearly shot for trespassing, Pokemon Go has, to date, caused a grand total of zero fatalities. Cynics say it's only a matter of time; after all, there have already been numerous tweets of people stopping traffic to catch a Pokemon (one person even got a mention on the front page of CNN.com for walking smack dab into a police car). Then there were those two men who were so immersed in their Pokemon tracking that they ignored not one, but two warning signs and wound up walking off the edge of a 90-foot cliff.
Whether it's genocidal aliens, sinister artificial intelligence, agents of a corrupt government, rampaging dinosaurs, or hordes of the walking undead, players are used to staring virtual death in the face. But as it turns out, the reality of what your body and mind are going through can be brutally intense while you're playing a game, especially as titles begin to push the level of immersion in graphics and storytelling. As a result, more than one unfortunate gamer has paid the highest price for their love of the game. Read on to discover some tragic stories about how some of your favorite video games have caused real-life Game Overs; only in real life, permadeath is always on.
Considered one of the first Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOs) to really hit it big in the US, EverQuest pioneered many staples of the genre, namely, requiring a significant time investment to accomplish anything. As far as business models go, it works wonders; many MMOs back in the day required players to pay a monthly subscription fee to keep playing, so it paid – literally – for MMOs to keep players busy and immersed in the "grind" month after month. And the social dimension to MMOs is not to be overlooked, either: you can't have the massively multiplayer experience without a massive amount of players online at any given time: at the height of its popularity, EverQuest was affectionately known as EverCrack among its legions of adoring, and hopelessly addicted fans.
In 2002, one EverQuest gamer took his passion to the extreme. Shawn Woolley, then-aged 21, quit his job so he could play EverQuest full-time. "He couldn't stay off it," says his mother. "That's how strong the game is. You can't just get up and walk away." When Shawn failed to show up for the family Thanksgiving dinner that year, his mom decided to check in on his apartment. What she found was her son slumped over in front of his computer, dead from a self-inflicted shotgun wound, with EverQuest still running on the monitor. Officially, it's on the record that Shawn took his own life for unknown reasons, but it was speculated that he may have been dumped after a tumultuous in-game relationship.
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I'd been a World of Warcraft (WoW) player myself at the time this crime showed up in the headlines, and reading about it now still gives me the chills. Another MMO in the vein of EverQuest, World of Warcraft took many gameplay elements from MMOs that came before it and refined them to a tee. It worked so well to engage its multi-million player base that it, and other MMOs like it, had garnered a reputation for attracting people with serious underlying addiction problems.
You'd hear stories about how people would skip school or call in sick to work just so they could grind "just out one more level", or complete "just one more quest", but the story of Rebecca Colleen Christie of New Mexico was the worst-case scenario every WoW player dreaded hearing about. In early 2006, Christie called 911 to report that her 3 1/2-year-old had become limp and unconscious. An official investigation revealed that the house had an overflowing litter box and reeked of urine. There was so little food that the child ate cat food, according to the U.S. Attorney's office. Most revealing of all was that investigators discovered that the computer Christie had been using showed "continuous activity" for 15 hours that day – apparently, Christie had engaged in a nonstop 15-hour World of Warcraft session before finally calling 911 to report that her daughter had become unresponsive. Christie was sentenced to 25 years in prison for child neglect.
Bet you didn't see that coming. As it turns out, MMOs aren't even the only type of games that prey on addictions; yes, even the mellow, pastoral click-and-wait Facebook game Farmville can turn deadly in the wrong hands.
Alexandra Tobias, a 22-year-old mom, had become so addicted to the game that she couldn't stand it when she had to get up and take care of the needs of her infant son. One day in 2011, when her son's crying grew so loud it interrupted her playing, Tobias snapped and shook her three-month-old son to death. Tobias received a 50-year prison sentence for her crime. At one point, she reportedly admitted to a fellow inmate that she hit her baby's head against her computer screen in an attempt to silence him.