In the year since her son’s death, Woolley still doesn’t
know why Shawn killed himself. But, she wants the owners of
EverQuest, Sony Online, to help her
figure out what Shawn’s character was doing in the game
in the days just before his death. She says Sony Online owes
her an answer. She holds the company accountable for designing
a game is so powerful, she says it’s addictive.
Woolley says EverQuest is like a drug.
"When it gets to the point where it's not fun anymore,
if you have to play because you’re driven to play, and
it’s no longer a choice, then it's an addiction.”
Back in B.C., Tracy and other players read about what happened
to Shawn and their game being blamed – and they didn’t
“We just said 'oh here we go, somebody is blaming EverQuest.'
It’s too bad but how can they blame EverQuest when they
In Redmond, Washington, addictions counsellor Jay Parker
has met a lot of people he says are EverQuest addicts.
“They have an expression that they use for their game
amongst themselves. They call it ‘Evercrack.’ That’s
Parker councils his patients to be responsible for their
behaviour, but says the game's design is partly to blame.
“You don’t just press exit and you are gone.
It’s a game that never ends. So it never says 'game
over you won.' It just keeps going."
A study done in the U.S. found that 45 per cent of EverQuest
players believe they are addicted. Sony Online uses the word
"addictive" in several pieces of its marketing material
for the game.
At the Montreal Neurological Institute, Dr. Alain Dagher
has studied the brains of video game players.
Dagher found that a chemical called dopamine is released
in the brain when video game players perform goal-oriented
tasks. He suspects, that in a game like EverQuest –
a burst of dopamine may be released every time a quest is
fulfilled. Just like in the video games.
As long as players like Tracy keep playing, Sony makes more
money - about $8 million a month.
Marketplace spoke with Harvey Nightengale, Executive
Director of the Canadian Digital Software Association, a group
Sony belongs to:
Wendy Mesley: Does
the industry think online games could be addictive?
I don’t think there was ever any intention for any
game to be addictive in any way shape or form. They are
meant to be all entertainment products.
Wendy Mesley: Because
we got this off Sony websites and some of the marketing
material – and look at this, this is Sony material
– "let Sony feed your online addiction,"
another here – "online games for hours of addicting
game play." Here’s another one: “maintaining
highly-addictive immersive and persistent gaming environments.”
I’m sure somebody said that, that’s what they
say in their literature. I have no doubt it’s part
of their marketing tool.
Wendy Mesley: But,
this would suggest that Sony knows that EverQuest is addictive.
It suggests they would – you should speak to Sony
Wendy Mesley: We wanted
to. The only person we could get to talk to us was you.
My answer to you will always be take control, with television,
Wendy Mesley: What
about Sony, should it take a little more responsibility?
As I said, I will try to confirm these details with Sony.
And They may have to if in fact it bears out that what you
are saying. They may have to.
Liz Woolley thinks players and their families should be warned
about the power of these games. She’s set up a Web site
called Online Gamers Anonymous, a support group for addicted
players and their families.
"I couldn’t help him, but I can help others,"
Woolley told Marketplace.
Marketplace kept trying to get Sony to agree to
an interview for this story, but the company declined. Sony
said its executives were too busy. A team of them has been
in China, cutting a deal to bring EverQuest to millions of
new players - and maybe some new addicts, too.