In China, a class action lawsuit is being brought against Blizzard, the makers of World of Warcraft. The suit is being filed on behalf of the parents of a 13 year old boy who they claim leapt to his death "imitating a scene from the game".
Most of the internet chatter you will hear about this is staunchly in defense of Blizzard, and falls back on the tried and true "Parents need to get more involved" argument. It is a legitimate argument, and any kid that throws himself out of a 24 story building to "meet his night elf hero" certainly has issues that go beyond simply too many video games.
But I DO think that people are writing this issue off way too easily. Video game addiction is a serious problem among the youth of China and South Korea, and it is easy to see why: in video games, ESPECIALLY RPGs (Role Playing Games for the truly uninitiated), there is a real opportunity to play in a world much better than the one you're living in.
It wasn't that long ago that a man in South Korea dropped dead of exhaustion and dehydration after over 50 straight hours of Warcraft.
The thing is, these are what appear to be reasonably normal, stable people up until their respective deaths. By all accounts, nobody really saw this coming.
Before anybody gets the wrong idea though, I want to make it clear that I do not feel that Blizzard is responsible for this. I don't feel that television or movies or music or any other media can be held accountable for the actions of somebody too screwed up to separate song lyrics from philosophical foundations upon which to build your lifestyle. If you need other people to tell you the right way to live, you'll find that in religion, political affiliation, or your workplace just as easily as you'll find it in mass media.
However, parents can't be held completely responsible either when a 13 year old kid does something this crazy. Should they have been more involved and monitored their son's video game habits more closely? Hell yes. But you can't tell me any parent can reasonably predict that a child is going to hurl themselves 24 stories to their death in the hopes of meeting their pixelated alter ego.
It is for reasons like this that I don't think the argument "It's the parents' fault" is entirely fair. When it comes to this, a LOT of people screwed up, not just the parents.
Parents need tools to be able to do their job. With TV, you can get a chip that blocks certain ratings of shows if you feel they are unacceptable. The shows aren't the problem in my opinion, but the option is important because its very availability makes parents think and talk about their child's viewing habits.
Similarly, Blizzard recently introduced parental controls (some speculate because of this incident) for World of Warcraft, whereby a time limit can be set on play time. This, too, is a good tool.. by itself it does nothing, but again its availability will make parents consider the issue.
The Chinese government is even talking about regulating online play time themselves. This is rife with a host of issues (economics being the least of them), but this would only cure the symptoms, not the problem. Remember, these people are dead because there wasn't happiness for them in the REAL WORLD. Without Warcraft, I would argue that the odds are very good they would have killed themselves some other way.
Which brings me (finally) to the real point: regulating online video games is no more ridiculous than regulating the radio airwaves, the television airwaves, or anything else that exposes people to content beyond their direct control. So it's time to stop chuckling under our breaths about how ridiculous China is for considering these measures and realize we do the exact same thing here.
And guess what? All the regulation in the world isn't going to stop a confused kid from making a really bad decision or an already depressed, recently unemployed guy with nothing to live for from ending his misery in whatever way he deems best.