The UK print media has been yellower than the middle traffic light for a long time now. The News of the World scandal has cast that into particularly sharp relief of late. The Sun, one of the biggest newspapers in the United Kingdom, demonstrated it again last week when they ran the front-page headline "DEATH BY XBOX".
There's no misinterpreting that, is there? Yes.
The story behind the lurid headline is the sad one of Chris Staniforth, a 20-year-old Englishman who recently died of deep venous thrombosis (DVT). This condition develops when a blood clot develops in the leg and moves to the brain during a prolonged period of inactivity. It's increasingly common among sedentary Westerners, whether they watch too much television or work at a desk all day. Staniforth reportedly played video games as much as 12 hours at a stretch, so his lifestyle was certainly sedentary.
Since video games are popular media targets anyway, journalists have been quick to imply a causal relationship between gaming and DVT. Even Staniforth's father has launched a campaign to spread awareness of the "link" between games and the condition. He made this statement in the same article in The Sun: "Kids all over the country are playing these games for long periods - they don't realise it could kill them."
Did video games kill Chris Staniforth? Did they kill Snowly, a Chinese girl who perished after a 30-hour World of Warcraft session in 2005? Are they responsible for the death of an Ohio woman and her husband after their son shot them for taking his Halo 3 game? Is the first-person shooter DOOM actually responsible for motivating the two perpetrators of the Columbine Massacre?
The answer to all of these questions is no. Video games did not kill these people. They all certainly had profound addiction issues with games and probably a host of other issues as well. But saying Staniforth in paritcular was killed by his Xbox is absurd. He could have been doing any sedentary activity and suffered the same fate, from assembling model airplanes to trading stocks. DVT is most common in those who have recently spent time convalescing or are engaged in regular long distance travel, neither of which are described in the sensational news headlines.
The fact is that people spend a tremendous amount of time playing games. Anytime people spend that much time doing something, some of them are going to get problems from it. Some are also going to die while doing it. Not because they were doing it, but because they happened to be doing something they do a lot—and died during that time. Did any U.S. newspapers claim that baseball killed Shannon Stone, the man who tragically fell from the stands in Texas during a game earlier this year? No. But because video games are misunderstood by many older people, those seeking their favor will take any excuse to link them to social probelms, and that is exactly what The Sun has done. Staniforth played video games too much, no one can dispute that. But they did not kill him. A lack of support from those around him combined with deep psychological issues did that.