By Alyssa Jarrett
City on a Hill Press Columnist

Daniel Petric, a 17-year-old from Ohio, shot his parents and killed his mother in October 2007.

The reason? She refused to let him play Halo 3, which he would regularly spend 18 hours a day playing.

Sadly, this is not an isolated case.

Over 5 million children may be addicted to video games, according to a 2007 American Medical Association report.

Addiction is clinically defined as when a person needs more and more of a substance or behavior to keep him or her from being irritable and miserable, according to WebMD. Compulsive gaming absolutely follows this definition and has the potential to increase violent behavior.

In the past few years, more and more violent crimes related to video games have been increasingly reported in the media.

In July 2007, Jahmir Ricks, 13, of Pennsylvania stabbed his 16-year-old brother to death with a steak knife after a dispute over whose turn it was to play a video game.

But it’s more than just teenagers committing these kinds of murders.

While most studies are concerned with children playing video games, adults are also at risk of addiction. The Entertainment Software Association reported that the average American video game player is a 33-year-old male. According to its data, 44 percent of all players are between the ages of 18 and 49.

Tyrone Spellman, 27, of Philadelphia beat his 17-month-old daughter to death in September 2006 after she pulled down his Xbox console, accidentally breaking it. Spellman often played six to seven hours a day, according to an assistant district attorney.

As incidents like these continue to appear in the news, the inevitable question of blame comes up: Who and/or what is at fault — the individual, the parents, or the game?

Usually when someone blames violence on video games, I’m one of the first to defend this beloved pastime.

My 16-year-old brother loves to annihilate my dad in Halo or Call of Duty. But rather than isolate himself in a fantasy world, he started a paintball team with some friends to bring the video game experience to life in a harmless way.

This was an effective outlet to prevent addiction, because he found a social activity that didn’t deprive him of the excitement that video games offer.

The Center for On-Line Addiction lists some warning signs for video game addiction: gaming to escape from real-life problems, lying to friends and family to conceal gaming, and feeling irritable when trying to cut down on gaming.

An addiction to anything is obviously a problem, and the international community is slowly discovering that compulsive gaming deserves to be treated like alcoholism or anorexia. The Smith and Jones clinic in Amsterdam has even founded the world’s first and only residential video game treatment program, complete with a 12-step system.

There are also groups like On-Line Gamers Anonymous, a support group created by Liz Woolley after her 21-year-old son shot himself in 2001 while playing an online game.

Battling people in an online multiplayer game does not provide the same effect as playing with real friends, since it is distanced and impersonal. That detachment makes it easier to spew racial or homophobic slurs at opponents. After enough game play, it can be easy to forget how to deal with actual human beings and not just avatars of them.

And that’s the scary part.

Abstaining from video games is not reasonable in such a technological society. They can be a fun, healthy hobby, as proved by consoles like the Nintendo Wii.

But no matter how exhilarating it is to slaughter Nazi zombies, without social interaction a person will only become lonely or destructive to themselves or others.

And regardless of how much we love video games, the danger that they can carry must not be denied — there have been deaths to prove it.

As the media recently proved with these numerous tragedies, video game addiction is a growing, worldwide issue that needs to be taken seriously. If we can just put down the controller more often, we can regain control of our lives.

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