Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Experts: Game Addicts Online Need Help, Too; Stress over FarmVille Led to a Child's Death, Investigators Say

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Experts: Game Addicts Online Need Help, Too; Stress over FarmVille Led to a Child's Death, Investigators Say

Article excerpt

Byline: KATE HOWARD

On a message board for online gaming addicts, the story of a young Jacksonville mother who admitted to killing her baby after he interrupted her computer game drew horror, skepticism, and in some cases, understanding.

"It is exactly like a drug addiction," one reader said. "Try interrupting a meth addict right before he/she is about to get high."

Alexandra Tobias, 22, is facing a possible life sentence after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in the January death of her 3-month-old son, Dylan Lee Edmondson.

Tobias told investigators her son was crying and interrupting her game of FarmVille, a hugely popular social networking game popularized through Facebook. She admitted shaking him, and then smoking a cigarette to regain her composure. When she returned, she told police, the baby was crying and she shook him again and he hit his head.

It's unclear what role online gaming addiction, if any, may have played in the infant's death. But those who work in recovery and advocate for acknowledgement of the problem say the addiction is as serious as any substance-abuse problem, but not always recognized that way.

"Anything can be an addiction, absolutely anything," said Jacksonville Beach clinical psychologist Ronnie Burak. "If it literally takes over your life and interferes with your ability to carry on, and you can't take care of responsibilities in the rest of your life, then it has taken you over."

Online gaming addiction has several support groups and practitioners who treat it as a specialty, but it's not officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as a disorder. But gambling addiction, which has long been recognized by society as a legitimate and serious problem, is only now a planned addition to the next version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, according to the APA. The American Medical Association has called for more research on the effects of online gaming.

Liz Woolley's son committed suicide in 2001 after an addiction to the role-playing game EverQuest left him jobless and evicted from his apartment. He was 20, and found dead in front of his computer.

"Before he started playing that game, he looked to his future and wondered what he was going to do with his life," she said. "After, all he thought about was playing the game."

Woolley, of Harrisburg, Pa., founded On-Line Gamers Anonymous a year later, where the 12-step program's message boards provide support for the 800 people who visit each day. Often, the participants have become addicted because they were isolated, lonely and reaching out over the Internet for electronic interaction. Sometimes they were sucked in by seemingly harmless habits.

But by the time they arrive at On-line Gamers Anonymous, they've realized they're disconnected from the real world and trying to latch back on, Woolley said. …

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