It's the sort of headline that temporarily takes my breath away. I'm the mother of a world-class gamer. He's spending the summer working for a major gaming company. I know (and try to think less about) what a dangerous place the world is. I understand that many people are concerned about the influence of violence in every form of media, including video games. But how could someone die just by playing a video game?
As it turns out, by playing for 40 hours straight.
According to news reports, a teenager was found dead in a Taiwan Internet cafe after reportedly playing video games for 40 hours. An attendant woke him on Sunday morning; the kid took a few steps and collapsed. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
It is the second reported death this year in Taiwan from (over)playing video games. In February, a man died after 23 straight hours of play. His arms were still reaching for the keyboard.
Are video games to blame?
Of course not. A few years ago, a local radio station made headlines after a woman died in a "Hold Your Wee for a Wii" contest from what was apparently water intoxication.
Is water dangerous, too?
And it wasn't just the family of the woman who died who went after the radio station in court. Another woman complained that the contest left her with a fear of water, and that she was unable to listen to the radio anymore. Yet another contestant claimed that as a result she gained 60 pounds and suffers from irrational mood swings.
I don't know how litigation-crazy they are in Taiwan, but if such things had happened here, no doubt someone would be suing the cafe for not providing adequate supervision and the gaming companies for making games that are too addictive.
We live in a society in which, whenever anything goes wrong, we automatically try to find someone to blame. It's the fast-food companies that make us fat, television that makes us violent, the Internet that keeps our kids from doing well in school.
We all need protection from certain dangers that you can't avoid by personal responsibility. No matter what I do, I can't — on my own — make sure the food I buy is safe. I don't know what additives go in, and I can't analyze them myself. I depend on the manufacturers and the government to protect my family, and on the courts to ensure that the rules are followed. But it's my job to wash the fruits and vegetables before I eat them, to teach my kids to wash their hands, to do our part.
Doing almost anything — other than breathing — for 40 hours straight could kill you, which is why you don't do it. Do we really need to demand that video game companies label their products "dangerous if played for 40 hours straight without sleeping"?
Once I found the story about the death of the marathon gamer on the Fox website, I found it everywhere. Maybe it's just because it's a "catchy" headline, or because everybody loves to hate gamers, or because it makes us feel a little bit smarter to think we wouldn't be that crazy. Only played 20 hours... See? What restraint!
Of course, my sympathies go to the families of the two gamers who died, and to the family of the woman who wanted that Wii so badly. (Now you can buy one anywhere. If only she'd held out for that.) We all make mistakes and do stupid things. As a lawyer and a law professor, I suppose I should be grateful that so many of these mistakes end up contributing to the incomes of attorneys.
But at the end of the day, stories like these aren't about video games or Wiis, and they aren't about lawyers and litigation.
It's about common sense, pure and simple — and the fact that it's not as common as it should be. That's the news, and it's a whole lot scarier than any battle in a video game.
To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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