SEEKING THERAPY ONLINE
The Internet is so big, so powerful and pointless, that for some people it is a complete substitute for life.
More than 400,000 people across the globe regularly log on to EverQuest. The online game, created by the online entertainment branch of the media giant Sony Corporation, creates a virtual environment where players not only engage in complex fantasy scenarios, but do so in real time with other players online. Like its MUD forebearers discussed in chapter 1, EverQuest is a highly interactive, social environment. Unlike most early MUDs, though, EverQuest is visually intensive, not limited to text-only interaction. It is a interactive environment that never shuts down and, theoretically, never ends, with the game continuing even when more than 1 or even more than 100,000 players log off. This never-ending quality has made some players label EverQuest as “EverCrack, ” for in the lure to keep on playing, some claim to have found the experience “addictive” (Patrizio, 2002). Whether or not a computersimilated experience can be addictive in the same sense as crack cocaine or any other chemical substance is a topic of substantial debate, but in terms of EverQuest having measurable negative effects on the lives of some of its players, even as a drug might, there is clear support. Among the consequences is the creation of a support group for EverQuest Widows, those who love the players but feel abandoned by them because of the time that they devote to the game. This loss of companionship is regrettable, but accusations that EverQuest might have led someone to lose his life are even more serious.
That is the claim made by Elizabeth Wooley of Wisconsin. Her son, Shawn, committed suicide in the fall of 2001, and Elizabeth claims that EverQuest contributed to the decision Shawn made to end his life. Just prior to his death, Shawn had been ignoring his family, had lost his job, and had taken to playing the game up to 12 hours a day. Although his mother acknowledges that Shawn had other problems in his life, she still holds Sony responsible for creating a product that, in her opinion, addicted her son. “It's like any other addiction. Either you die, go insane or quit. My son died” (S. A. Miller, 2002). Like Elizabeth, some scholars and therapists have argued that case studies like Shawn's and the results of survey research support their claims that for some people, overreliance on online interaction can have detrimental effects, little different than if one were suffering from any other behavioral disorder. Although some surveys place the number of affected people at a high of 6% (Donn, 1999), conservative estimates place 3.5% of the Internet's population in the group of addicts