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Death of a game addict
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ^ | March 31, 2002 | STANLEY A. MILLER II

Posted on 04/02/2002 8:07:13 AM PST by Darkshadow

Death of a game addict

Ill Hudson man took own life after long hours on Web

of the Journal Sentinel staff
Last Updated: March 30, 2002

Shawn Woolley loved an online computer game so much that he played it just minutes before his suicide.

Elizabeth Woolley, who says her son, Shawn, was addicted to EverQuest, wants to sue the makers.
EverQuest is played by more than 400,000 people worldwide.

The 21-year-old Hudson man was addicted to EverQuest, says his mother, Elizabeth Woolley of Osceola. He sacrificed everything so he could play for hours, ignoring his family, quitting his job and losing himself in a 3-D virtual world where more than 400,000 people worldwide adventure in a never-ending fantasy.

On Thanksgiving morning last year, Shawn Woolley shot himself to death at his apartment in Hudson. His mother blames the game for her son's suicide. She is angry that Sony Online Entertainment, which owns EverQuest, won't give her the answers she desires. She has hired an attorney who plans to sue the company in an effort to get warning labels put on the games.

"It's like any other addiction," Elizabeth Woolley said last week. "Either you die, go insane or you quit. My son died."

In the virtual world of EverQuest, players control their characters through treasure-gathering, monster-slaying missions called quests. Success makes the characters stronger as they interact with other players from all over the real world.

Woolley has tried tracing her son's EverQuest identity to discover what might have pushed him over the edge. Sony Online cites its privacy policy in refusing to unlock the secrets held in her son's account.

She has a list of names her son scrawled while playing the game: "Phargun." "Occuler." "Cybernine." But Woolley is not sure if they are names of online friends, places he explored in the game or treasures his character may have captured in quests.

"Shawn was playing 12 hours a day, and he wasn't supposed to because he was epileptic, and the game would cause seizures," she said. "Probably the last eight times he had seizures were because of stints on the computer."

Woolley knows her son had problems beyond EverQuest, and she tried to get him help by contacting a mental health program and trying to get him to live in a group home. A psychologist diagnosed him with depression and schizoid personality disorder, symptoms of which include a lack of desire for social relationships, little or no sex drive and a limited range of emotions in social settings.

"This fed right into the EverQuest playing," Woolley said. "It was the perfect escape."

Vulnerable to addiction

Jay Parker, a chemical dependency counselor and co-founder of Internet/Computer Addiction Services in Redmond, Wash., said Woolley's mental health problems put him in a category of people more likely to be at risk of getting addicted to online games.

Parker said people who are isolated, prone to boredom, lonely or sexually anorexic are much more susceptible to becoming addicted to online games. Having low self-esteem or poor body image are also important factors, he said.

"The manufacturer of EverQuest purposely made it in such a way that it is more intriguing to the addict," Parker said. "It could be created in a less addictive way, but (that) would be the difference between powdered cocaine and crack cocaine."

Parker doesn't make the narcotics analogy lightly. One client - a 21-year-old college student - stopped going to class within eight weeks after he started playing EverQuest his senior year.

After playing the game for 36 hours straight, he had a psychotic break because of sleep deprivation, Parker said.

"He thought the characters had come out of the game and were chasing him," Parker said. "He was running through his neighborhood having hallucinations. I can't think of a drug he could have taken where he would have disintegrated in 15 weeks."

Common warning signs

There are several questions people who think they are addicted to computers and the Internet can ask themselves to see whether they might have a problem, Parker said, including whether they can predict the amount of time they spend on the computer or have failed trying to control their computer use for an extended period of time.

Parker said that any traumatic setback to Shawn Woolley's character in EverQuest could have traumatized an already vulnerable young man.

It may be that the character was slain in combat and Woolley had trouble recovering him. Or, he could have lost a treasured artifact or massive wealth, or been cast out of one of the game's social clubs, called guilds.

"The social component is big because it gives players a false sense of relationships and identity," Parker said. "They say they have friends, but they don't know their names."

Elizabeth Woolley remembers when her son was betrayed by an EverQuest associate he had been adventuring with for six months. Shawn's online brother-in-arms stole all the money from his character and refused to give it back.

"He was so upset, he was in tears," she said. "He was so depressed, and I was trying to say, 'Shawn, it's only a game.' I said he couldn't trust those people."

Sony Online Entertainment declined to comment for this story, but EverQuest fans say the game is a fun diversion that is much better than watching television.

'It's like an adult playground'

Donna Cox of Schaumburg, Ill., has played for about two years and enjoys the adventuring and socializing. Cox and her husband, Bob, play together and team up against the game's challenges.

"It's like an adult playground," said Donna Cox, a professional who manages a team of computer programmers. "You can become anything you want. People only see the side of you that you want them to see."

Cox played about 40 hours a week at the height of her gaming but now plays only a couple of times a week. "Once you get into the high-end game, it takes a a lot of time," she said.

Dody Gonzales of Milwaukee has played the game for about three years and has more than a dozen characters spread across the EverQuest realm. Gonzales, who plays about four hours a night, knows EverQuest has been blamed for people's problems because it's a topic discussed in the online community.

Said player Vincent Frederico of Rochester, N.Y.: "It's almost like a drug. If you are not happy with your real life, you can always go in. . . . Someone who lacks social skills, they could find it much easier just to play the game instead of going out to a bar."

A game without end

How does it pull people in?

One key component is that the game can be played indefinitely, and there are always people populating the online world. EverQuest and other online games also have a social structure.

"The graphics are absolutely thrilling. They just haul you in," said Parker, who has treated several people for EverQuest addiction. "The other piece is that it takes time to leave the game. You have to find a place to hide to get out, and that makes people want to play longer."

For people who are unhappy, socially awkward or feel unattractive, online games provide a way to reinvent themselves.

Shawn Woolley - who was overweight, worked in a pizza restaurant and lived alone in an apartment the last months of his life - may have depended on EverQuest to provide the life he really wanted to live.

"People like to create new personas," Parker said. "You see a lot of gender-bending."

Hooked on 'EverCrack'

Interest in online games grew in 1997 with Origin Systems' Ultima Online, now with about 225,000 players. Microsoft's Asheron's Call, with around 100,000 subscribers, provides a virtual world similar to EverQuest's. Most online games require an initial software purchase plus monthly fees of about $10.

The games have roots in Dungeons & Dragons, the role-playing game created in 1974 by TSR Games in Lake Geneva. But D&D requires human contact to play; its digital counterparts do not.

David Walsh, president of the National Institute on Media and the Family in Minneapolis, said many EverQuest players refer to it as "EverCrack."

Walsh, who didn't know the details of Woolley's suicide, thinks mental health problems linked to playing online games, especially EverQuest, are growing.

"Could a person get so engrossed that they become so distressed and distraught that it could put them over the edge?" Walsh said. "It probably has something to do with the game. But your average person or average gamer won't do this. It's a coming together of a number of circumstances."

Walsh and Parker both said online games as a whole are not inherently bad, and Walsh compared playing online games to drinking alcohol. Both can be harmful if abused.

A call for warning labels

"I've seen a lot of wreckage because of EverQuest," Parker said. "But they are all the same. It's like cigarettes. They need to come with a warning label. 'Warning, extensive playing could be hazardous to your health.' "

Warning labels are exactly what Jack Thompson, a Miami attorney and vocal critic of the entertainment industry, wants to result from a lawsuit he plans to file against Sony Online Entertainment for Elizabeth Woolley.

"We're trying to whack them with a verdict significantly large so that they, out of fiscal self-interest, will put warning labels on," he said. "We're trying to get them to act responsibly. They know this is an addictive game."

"I am sure we are going to find things akin to the tobacco industry memos where they say nicotine is addictive," he said. "There is a possibility of a class-action lawsuit."

John Kircher, a professor at Marquette University Law School and expert in personal injury law, said a negligence action might be won if plaintiffs could successfully argue EverQuest's publishers "should have foreseen an unreasonable risk of harm, that people could potentially hurt themselves.

"Then there is the issue of First Amendment rights," Kircher said. "Does the First Amendment right trump the rights of the plaintiff? If the Internet is a form of publication . . . there is a balance the courts try to strike, and it's not an easy question."

Journal Sentinel correspondent Joe Winter contributed to this story.

EverQuest's Web site is The Web site for the National Institute on Media and the Family is Internet/Computer Addiction Services is at

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on March 31, 2002.

TOPICS: Computers/Internet; Health/Medicine; Music/Entertainment; Society; Weird Stuff
KEYWORDS: everquest; game; suicide

1 posted on 04/02/2002 8:07:13 AM PST by Darkshadow
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To: Darkshadow
I put the blame squarely on the mom. She should of kicked the slacker out. Learning to fend for him self would of probably been the shock that he needed. I imagine that the only reason he quit his job is because he didn't depend on it. I'd call this an assisted suicide.

And in addition, game manufactures would love to put "This Game Is Addictive" warning labels on their boxes. In fact I imagine they would start competing to see who had the most dangerous sounding label.

2 posted on 04/02/2002 8:27:04 AM PST by avg_freeper
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To: avg_freeper
3 posted on 04/02/2002 8:30:32 AM PST by rko1933
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To: Darkshadow
Jack Thompson

THE Jack Thompson????

Jack has quite a history on Free Republic...including the best OPUS

4 posted on 04/02/2002 8:37:41 AM PST by Dan from Michigan
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To: Darkshadow

"Game over, man! GAME OVER!!"

5 posted on 04/02/2002 8:42:17 AM PST by RippleFire
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To: Dan from Michigan
I think so
6 posted on 04/02/2002 8:52:42 AM PST by Darkshadow
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To: Dan from Michigan
Good catch! Thanks. ;^)
7 posted on 04/02/2002 9:17:09 AM PST by headsonpikes
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To: Registered
Take a look at the attorney behind this case....
8 posted on 04/02/2002 9:21:32 AM PST by Dan from Michigan
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To: Dan from Michigan
Thankfully for Jack, I now wear a warning sticker.
9 posted on 04/02/2002 9:31:54 AM PST by Registered
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To: Dan from Michigan
Jack Thompson, a Miami attorney and vocal critic

Good old Jack.
Off on another one of his hopeless quests.
"Look out, windmills".

PS....I kind of liked the made-for-TV movie on the dangers of D & D starring Tom Hanks.

10 posted on 04/02/2002 9:36:57 AM PST by eddie willers
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To: rko1933

Wish you had told my wife this about fifteen months ago when she started playing. It was the catalyst that made me file for divorce this January. She had an online affair with a minor (yes, I know she may have broken the law) who lived on the opposite coast. I snooped on her computer because my instincts told me she was cheating. I suppose I should be glad for the game, in a way, because it made me take a good hard look at the way she was using me. She even wrote in one of her love emails to her 'cyberlover' how she was just using me to pay bills for her until she could save up enough money to move out to be with him.

Sorry for the sob story, I'm actually pretty well over it now. I just wanted to add my thoughts and say that this game can be addictive in ways other games aren't, because it makes it hard/inconvenient to stop playing, since it happens in real time. Perhaps it isn't medical addiction in the clinical sense, but it is psychological addiction, I remain firmly convinced. There's even a Yahoo! Group called Everquest Widows, for people who have been abandoned/ignored by their EQ-playing significant other. My wife would spend literally fifteen to twenty hours at a time in this game (after losing job after job), getting up only to grab unhealthy food or use the bathroom. It drove me nuts.

11 posted on 04/02/2002 11:15:40 AM PST by TrappedInLiberalHell
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To: Darkshadow
Parker said people who are isolated, prone to boredom, lonely or sexually anorexic are much more susceptible to becoming addicted to online well as places like FreeRepublic.

The kid was obsessed with the game. But the game wasn't his problem.

12 posted on 04/02/2002 11:26:09 AM PST by Ward Smythe
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To: TrappedInLiberalHell
I forgot to mention that she met her 'lover' in the game. And this was no casual flirting. The emails were filled with I love yous and sexual titillation. It nearly drove me to suicide, I was so despondent.
13 posted on 04/02/2002 11:26:52 AM PST by TrappedInLiberalHell
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To: Darkshadow
Title should read.

21 year old moron kills self. Mother of said 21 year old moron flails about wildly in an attempt to find reason.


14 posted on 04/02/2002 11:45:54 AM PST by EBUCK
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To: Darkshadow
Wow, for the first time in over 20 years the goombah are picking on a hobby I don't have (I burned out on online gaming a LOOOONG time ago, I still play lots of computer games mind, just not online shared universe type stuff).

Since, for once, they aren't picking on me I feel it is my duty to agree with them completely. EQ is dangerous and should be controlled with federal legislation.

It's nice to be on the other side of this arguement for a change.

15 posted on 04/02/2002 12:30:51 PM PST by discostu
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To: Darkshadow
Anorexic sex?  That's a new one for me.

Order Sexual Anorexia

They suffer silently, consumed by a dread of sexual pleasure and filled with fear and sexual self-doubt.  They feel profoundly at odds with a culture that tirelessly promotes sex but is strangely unconscious about sexuality.  It is not inhibited sexual desire they are experiencing, although often they possess a naiveté, an innocence, or even a prejudice against sex.  It is not sexual dysfunction, although their suffering often wears the mask of physical problems that affect sex.  It is not about being cold and unresponsive although that certainly is a way in which they protect themselves against the hurt.  It is not about religious belief, although religious sexual oppression may have been a place to hide.  It is not about guilt and shame, although those feelings are powerfully experienced.  Nor is it about sexual betrayal or risk or rejection, although those are common themes.  It is simply the emptiness of profound deprivation, a silent suffering called sexual anorexia.

Sexual anorexia is an obsessive state in which the physical, mental, and emotional task of avoiding sex dominates one's life.  Like self-starvation with food or compulsive dieting or hoarding with money, deprivation with sex can make one feel powerful and defended against all hurts.  As with any other altered state of consciousness, such as those brought on by chemical use, compulsive gambling or eating, or any other addiction process, the preoccupation with the avoidance of sex can seem to obliterate one's life problems.  The obsession can then become a way to cope with all stress and all life difficulties.  Yet, as with other addictions and compulsions, the costs are great.  In this case, sex becomes a furtive enemy to be continually kept at bay, even at the price of annihilating a part of oneself.

The word anorexia comes from the Greek word orexis,meaning appetite.  An-orexis, then, means the denial of appetite.  When referring to food appetite, anorexia means the obsessive state of food avoidance that translates into self-starvation.  Weight concerns and fear of fat transform into a hatred of food and a hatred of the body because the body demands the nurturance of food.  food anorexics perceive bodily cravings for sustenance as a failure of self-discipline.  The refusal to eat also becomes a way for food anorexics to reassert power against others, particularly those who may be perceived as trying to control the anorexic, trying in some manner to prevent the anorexic from being his or her "true" self.  Ironically, many food anorexics are driven by a powerful need to meet unreal cultural standards about the attractiveness of being thin.  A terror of sexual rejection rules their thoughts and behaviors and is a primary force behind this striving for thinness.  The irony here is that sexual anorexics share precisely the same terror.

Specialists in sexual medicine have long noted the close parallels between food disorders and sexual disorders.  Many professionals have observed how food anorexia and sexual anorexia share common characteristics. In both cases, the sufferers starve themselves in the midst of plenty.  Both types of anorexia feature the essential loss of self, the same distortions of thought, and the agonizing struggle for control over the self and others.  Both share the same extreme self-hatred and sense of profound alienation.  But while the food anorexic is obsessed with the self-denial of physical nourishment, the sexual anorexic focuses his or her anxiety on sex.  As a result, the sexual anorexic will typically experience the following:

a dread of sexual pleasure
a morbid and persistent fear of sexual contact
obsession and hyper vigilance around sexual matters
avoidance of anything connected with sex
preoccupation with others being sexual
distortions of body appearance
extreme loathing of body functions
obsessional self-doubt about sexual adequacy
rigid, judgmental attitudes about sexual
excessive fear and preoccupation with sexual
obsessive concern or worry about the sexual activity
of others
shame and self-loathing over sexual experiences
depression about sexual adequacy and functioning
intimacy avoidance because of sexual fear
self-destructive behavior to limit, stop, or avoid sex

Sexual anorexics can be men as well as women.  Their personal histories often include sexual exploitation or some form of severely traumatic sexual rejection-or both.  Experiences of childhood sexual abuse are common with sexual anorexics, often accompanied by other forms of childhood abuse and neglect.  As a result of these traumas, they may tend to carry dark secrets and maintain seemingly insane loyalties that have never been disclosed.  In fact, sexual anorexics are for the most part not conscious of the hidden dynamics driving them.  Although obsessed with sexual avoidance, they are nonetheless also prone to sexual bingeing, occasional periods of extreme sexual promiscuity, or "acting out in much the way that bulimics will binge with compulsive overeating and then purge by self-induced vomiting.  Sexual anorexics may also compensate with other extreme behaviors such as chemical or behavioral addictions, codependency, or deprivation behaviors like dieting, hoarding, saving, cleaning, or various phobic responses.  The families of sexual anorexics may also present extreme patterns of behavior and thought.  Finally, the sexual anorexic is likely to have been deeply influenced by a cultural, social, or religious group that views sex negatively and supports sexual oppression and repression.

Sexual anorexia, therefore, can wear many masks.  Consider the sexual trauma victim who takes care of her pain by compulsively overeating.  People focus on her obesity, not noticing the hidden anorexic agenda of avoiding being desirable to anyone.  Or think of the alcoholic who has never been sexual except when drinking.  The prospect of being sexual while sober is so intimidating that a broader "abstinence" is embraced.  For most sexual anorexics, however, a complex array of extremes exists.  When a person's appetites are excessive we use words like addiction or compulsion.  But excesses are often accompanied by extreme deprivations for which we use terms like anorexia or obsession.  In fact, these seemingly mutually exclusive states can exist simultaneously within a person and within a family.  Consider the case of a sexually addicted alcoholic heterosexual male.  The further his drinking and sexual behavior get out of control, the harder and more compulsively his wife works (the more she behaves hyper responsibly), and the more she shuts down sexually (anorexia).  These disorders are not occurring in isolation.  But the end result is that the problem of sexual anorexia is not likely to get addressed because it lacks the clarity and drama of the drinking, the sexual acting out, and the workaholism.

People minimize the problem of sexual anorexia.  After all, whoever died of a lack of sex?  Yet, as we shall see in this book, the physical and psychological consequences of sexual anorexia are severe, and the problem is central to understanding the entire mosaic of extreme behaviors.

This book focuses on the suffering of the sexual anorexic.  Sexual anorexia is as destructive as the illnesses that often accompany it, and behind which it often hides, such as alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual addiction, and compulsive eating.  It resides in emotion so raw that most sufferers would wish to keep it buried forever were it not so painful to live this way.  Sexual anorexia feeds on betrayal, violence, and rejection.  It gathers strength from a culture that makes sexual satisfaction both an unreachable goal and a nonnegotiable demand.  Our media focus almost exclusively on sensational sexual problems such as rape, child abuse, sexual harassment, or extramarital affairs.  When people have problems being sexual, we are likely to interpret the difficulty as a need for a new technique or a matter of misinformation.  For those who suffer from sexual anorexia, technique and information are not remotely enough.  Help comes only through an intentional, planned effort to break the bonds of obsession that keep anorexics stuck.

This book is intended as a guide to support that effort.  The early chapters help the reader understand sexual anorexia: how it starts, and how it gathers such strength.  The last twelve chapters present a clinically tested and proven plan for achieving a healthy sexuality.  This program has worked for many, many people.  It is safe.  It is practical.  It works if the sufferer follows the guidelines and has the appropriate outside support.  It will not be easy because the obsession was created in the first place by intimate violations and shattered trust.  Yet step by step, healing can be effected so that the sufferer can learn to trust the self as well as others.

The plan is designed to involve a network of external support made up of partners, therapists, close friends, clergy, and so on.  The book will explain the importance of having these "fair witnesses" along on the journey to health and freedom.  Breaking the isolation is essential to dismantling the dysfunctional beliefs and loyalties that keep people in pain.

The material in this book can be used in many settings.  Some people have used these materials in the Twelve Step groups dedicated to sexual problems, many of which now feature subgroups dedicated to sexual anorexia.  Couples groups dedicated to recovery such as Recovering Couples Anonymous have also used these materials as a guide.  Therapists have used them in individual and group therapeutic sessions.  Many observers, including myself, have noticed that sexual anorexics are generally competent and willing people.  As they face their illness, they begin to reclaim their creativity and start becoming the persons they were meant to be.  There is something fundamental about coming to terms with the sexual self, something healing and liberating.  In the "Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous one of the promises of recovery is "we shall know a new freedom!" This book is dedicated to making that so.

©Copyright 1997-2002 All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is

16 posted on 04/02/2002 5:19:17 PM PST by gcruse
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To: avg_freeper
I put the blame squarely on the mom. She should of kicked the slacker out.

Um, he didn't live at home.

Shawn Woolley - who was overweight, worked in a pizza restaurant and lived alone in an apartment the last months of his life - may have depended on EverQuest to provide the life he really wanted to live.
17 posted on 04/02/2002 5:24:13 PM PST by Xenalyte
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To: Xenalyte
Right, you are!

I guess I need to tweek my speed reading a bit.

18 posted on 04/03/2002 8:18:02 AM PST by avg_freeper
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To: Darkshadow
I'm sorry for this woman's loss, but the problem was her son's and no one else's. Everyone wants to know WHY when someone commits suicide. Mainly they want to be absolved of any guilt. Sometimes people just go over the edge for no discernible reason.
19 posted on 04/03/2002 9:05:02 AM PST by SuziQ
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To: avg_freeper
However, it was an utterly valid assumption - and the fact that he wasn't living at home actually surprised me.
20 posted on 04/03/2002 10:00:04 AM PST by Xenalyte
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