Reaching A New Low
by John Andril
Halo: Reach, the newest installment in the popular Halo Sci-Fi-shooter video game series, launched earlier this week. Hundreds of thousands of copies of the game had been pre-ordered prior to release, and it sold millions of copies on its first day on the shelves. Within hours of release, millions of players were online, playing against each other using the revamped multiplayer system unique to Reach. Thanks to the power of the internet in conjunction with Bungie Entertainment, Ltd., the whole world is united on a high-resolution virtual battlefield. Without a doubt the world is a better place. Isn’t it?
That depends on your definition of “better”. If a better world is a world in which one can engage in hours of action-packed entertainment and chat remotely with one’s friends while remaining as physically active as a baked potato, then the world is just fantastic. If a better world is one in which kids play sports, stave off obesity and have face-to-face contact with other live human beings, then we may have a problem or two. Since the launch of the first game in the Halo series in 2001, the incidence of obesity in the United States has risen about five percent. In other words, over 15 million more people are overweight now than were overweight nine years ago, and part of the problem is that people are replacing excercise with gaming. The introduction of the Halo games and a few others induced a spike in online gaming, and therefore caused a spike in the number of hours people spent playing, as well. This of course, meant a sharp decrease in the qualities displaced by video games, namely exercise habits, sleep habits, and even eating habits. In some cases gamers have developed very real addictions to online gaming, leading to serious health issues—including death.
In 2005, after having lost his job and girlfriend due to his video game addiction, a Vietnamese man named Seungseob Lee went to an internet café and played the online game Starcraft for fifty hours with virtually no breaks. Lee went into cardiac arrest and later diedAlthough Lee’s is an extreme case of video game addiction, it is not the only such case. Video game-related deaths have occurred around the world, even here in the United States. But for whatever reason, the notable deaths here in the States tend to be not the deaths of the gamers, but of those around them. In 2007 in Wellington, Ohio, Daniel Petric’s parents took away their son’s copy of Halo 3 due to the violent content of the game. They locked the game away in a secure box that also contained a 9mm handgun. Petric eventually found the key to his parent’s box. He reclaimed Halo 3 and took his parent’s gun, as well. He came up behind his parents, and said, “Would you close your eyes? I have a surprise for you.” The teen then proceeded to shoot both his parents in the head, among other places. Petric’s father survived. His mother did not. Daniel Petric was sentenced to twenty-three years to life in prison. At the time of the sentencing, the judge stated that he believed that Petric’s gaming had warped his perception of reality such that he did not realize that when he killed his parents, they would stay dead forever.
In 2008, Tyrone Spellman of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was convicted of third-degree murder after he beat his seventeen-month-old daughter to death in a fit of rage. Said fit came after the toddler pulled Spellman’s Xbox from its shelf and broke it. Spellman received the maximum sentence of twenty-two and a half to forty-five years in prison. The city of Philadelphia took custody of Spellman’s second daughter, who was born after her sister’s death.
There are probably people out there who have done nothing but play Halo: Reach since its launch four days ago. Because of games like Reach, online game overuse is at an all-time high. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the average amount of time kids spend playing video games has increased from forty-three minutes per day in 1999 to two hours and forty-two minutes per day in 2009. If this trend continues, what will be the next activity that video gaming dislodges from the daily lives of the world’s youth? Going to school? Going to the bathroom? Breathing? Video games have done enough damage to date. They do not have much more room to expand within the schedules of children and teens without greatly harming these individuals’ abilities to live productive and successful lives. And so here is a bit of advice: if you ever feel the urge to play Reach, maybe you should just reach for a soccer ball instead.