Child Neglect Is Not Gaming News

I would like to propose that the gaming press stop posting stories like this one:

Man Let Son Suffocate Because He Was Playing WoW

Before I go on, I'd like to say that I do not now, nor have I ever, worked in the gaming industry in any capacity.

Any number of children lose their lives each year to causes relating to parental neglect or abuse. Each one is a personal tragedy, and indeed, many may have been entirely preventable if the parents behaved differently. In many cases, there may have been circumstances relating to some other activity that led a parent to believe, temporarily, that their unjustifiable actions were justifiable, or that some other activity they were engaged in was more important than attending to the child.

However there is also no justification for the peculiar attention paid to gaming when the other activity is somehow gaming-related. I'd wager that any number of infants smother, suffocate or strangle on pillows or bedclothes all over the world each year while an inattentive parent is performing some other activity: watching television, speaking on the telephone, working out, gambling, drinking, perhaps even reading a good book. When the parent was watching TV, I'm not going to read about this tragedy in TV Guide. When the parent was watching a film, I'm not going to end up reading about it in Premiere magazine. When the parent was eating or drinking, I'm not going to read about it in Gourmet. If they were reading a book, I'm not going to read about this death in the New York Times Review of Books, along with a sidebar about whether or not reading is addictive or leads to child abuse. If an inattentive parent leaves a child locked in a hot car on a summer day, I'm not going to read about it in Road & Track.

That's because all these activities, even ones that are inherently risky, like driving a car, are considered normal and acceptable. That they are sometimes involved in otherwise unrelated tragedies do not lead to calls for those activities to be restricted, regulated, reformed, or companies engaged in producing related products somehow held responsible for the parents' actions.

Gaming is no different and should be no different. It is time for the gaming press to acknowledge this fact by treating these stories for what they are: stories of personal tragedy that are, at best, tangential to gaming. I know there's going to be resistance to that position. It will feel, to some, like a cover-up. I don't think most, if any, of the contributors and editors at the Escapist believe that developers are somehow responsible for these deaths, no matter how engrossing or even addicting their products and services are. Still, they feel these incidents should be acknowledged so that seemingly legitimate questions about the nature of these games can be discussed.

I'm not sure that is productive, however. Even when parental abuse is contributed to by the use of dangerous, addictive, illegal substances, and the mainstream media reports on such events, the substances are mentioned in the context of the story not because they are addictive but because they are illegal-- because an apparently victimless crime, drug use, can lead to one that is most decidedly not victimless-- the death of a child. A child can just as easily die while his or her parents lies passed out on the couch from heavy drinking, but this will not lead to widespread calls for a return to prohibition, nor will anyone write about it in a wine tasting magazine.

If the Escapist is about gamers, game developers, and gaming culture, it's time to recognize that not every event that happens to a gamer is relevant-- even when that event is high profile, tragic, and used by those who consider gaming culture as a negative influence to justify their position. Continuing to post these stories at best is preaching to the choir, and at worst, gives credence to the industry's most stalwart and irrational critics.