Last year, the international wires picked up the unbelievable story about a teenage Taiwanese gamer who, after playing Diablo III for 40 hours, died at an Internet cafe. He was found draped over a desk, and although he woke up briefly, he only managed to stumble a few steps before passing out, never to awaken again. It was a shocking, senseless tragedy. And afterward, the public did as it is prone to do in matters like this: It chalked up the incident to a freak occurrence and then forgot about it. It was just easier that way. And after all, it couldn't possibly happen again.
Except that it did. A few weeks ago, 21-year-old Xiao Jun from Guangxi, China clocked off work at a karaoke bar and decided to unwind at an Internet cafe. It was a late shift, but even at 2 AM Christmas day, he couldn't resist logging in to his MMO. Forty hours later, he was dead.
Given the details surrounding his death, it was clear that Xiao was sleep-deprived and inactive for extended periods during those two days. But he wasn't completely inert the entire time. People spotted him getting up to buy food and use the bathroom a few times. And other factors could have contributed to his demise, like maybe a congenital heart condition, deep vein thrombosis or something else that was exacerbated by the extreme gaming session.
Even so, governments in Asia aren't taking any chances. In Vietnam, online gaming is actually illegal between 10PM and 8AM. And in China and South Korea, gaming companies are mandated to integrate parental controls and time-scheduling settings to protect children from their own addictions. It wouldn't be surprising if Internet cafes started implementing stricter policies of their own, whether by law or by choice.
People in other parts of the world often look to Asia for signs of tech trends that eventually may come closer to home. But this is definitely one trend that no one wants to see spread. They do, however, want to understand it — the compulsion to play and the ramifications, both physical and psychological. This week, President Obama made it clear that he wants to study video games, specifically violent ones. (This, by the way, genuinely has the gamer community freaked out.) But that's only the latest talking point in a long conversation that covers everything from genuine inquiries (see "A Quiet Killer: Why Video Games Are So Addictive") to funny anecdotes, like the desperate father who tried to end his son's gaming addiction by hiring a virtual "hitman" to repeatedly kill his son's avatar. And somewhere in the middle, there are the tragic stories — like Xiao Jun's.
These are all different facets of the same simple, yet incredibly complex question: Are video and computer games dangerous? Tell us in the comments what you think. Should strict controls be legally mandated, or should users — or the industry — continue to self-regulate? Is further research necessary, or would they just be a waste of taxpayers' money? Weigh in.