Did Parental Addiction to Online Gaming Lead to Murder?

Filed under: In The News, Weird But True, Video Games

Perhaps I'm showing my age a little bit, but I don't get the appeal of Facebook games like Mafia Wars or FarmVille.

If you need to kill time, I suppose there's nothing wrong with a little mindless entertainment, no matter what form it takes. Yet I see people around me becoming increasingly obsessed with these games and spending way more time on them than makes sense.

Apparently it's possible for such obsessions to get way out of hand. Alexandra Tobias, 26, of Jacksonville, Fla., pleaded guilty last week to second-degree murder after having shaken her 3-month-old baby to death in January because, she says, his crying interrupted her while she was playing FarmVille.

Murder because of a silly online game?!

The initial public reaction was that something more must have been going on. One common assumption in the blogosphere, not surprisingly, was for people to assume Tobias had PPD. Someone on the website Feministing wrote, "While I do not condone her behavior, what jumped out at me was that this woman must have been experiencing some severe postpartum depression."

For the record, women with postpartum depression don't kill their babies. And while it's true that infanticide is a serious risk for women with postpartum psychosis, I have yet to see any information on this case that indicates Tobias was psychotic at the time of the murder.

It is possible, given the fact that FarmVille was at the center of this tragedy, that gaming addiction played a role. According to The Center for Online Addiction, "Online gaming addiction is an addiction to online video games, role-playing games, or any interactive gaming environment available through the Internet ... Like a drug, gamers who play almost every day, play for extended periods of time (more than four hours), get restless or irritable if they can't play, and sacrifice other social activities just to game are showing signs of addiction."

While people who are addicted to online games may withdraw from normal activities, hide how much they really play and have serious difficulty quitting, it is hard to imagine that it also could lead them to commit such crimes as murder. Yet it happens. Catharine Smith of The Huffington Post reported, in a story on the Tobias case, on "... several instances in which authorities believe children suffered due to their parents' unhealthy gaming habits. Earlier this year, a Korean couple was convicted of letting their child starve to death while they raised a virtual baby online. In September, a mother was banned from using computers after her she neglected her children and let the family dogs starve because of her 'obsession' with a game." These actions are extreme examples of what can happen, but serious negative consequences can impact anyone who overdoes it with online or video games. Gaming addiction has been shown to retard children's social development and negatively impact relationships and employment for adults.

Last year, a CDC study found that the average video game player in the US was 35, overweight and depressed. (Yikes.) And when it comes to female gamers, MSNBC reported that the CDC found "... among women, video-game playing 'may be a form of digital self-medication' ... An implication of that, researchers said, is that 'habitual use of video games as a coping response may provide a genesis for obsessive-compulsive video-game playing, if not video game addiction.'"

I'd like to think no ParentDish reader would ever take it as far as Alexandra Tobias. At the same time, it might be good to examine whether you are a mom who's a bit too obsessed with gaming. First, try taking this self-test from the Center for Online Addiction. If you answer yes to some of the questions, consider counseling or support groups that can help you moderate your internet usage and develop more effective coping skills. You're not a bad person if you're overdoing it, but you certainly don't want it to affect your life, or your parenting.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.