Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.
20051102 03
photo from The Mirror
[004] Snowly of The World of Warcraft (Xinhua) A young girl nicknamed "Snowly" died last month after playing the online game "World of Warcraft" for several continuous days during the national day holiday. Several days before Snowly's death, the girl was said to be preparing for a relatively difficult part of the game (namely, to kill the Black Dragon Prince) and had very little rest. She told her friends that she felt very tired. A big online funeral was held for Snowly one week after her death (see photo from The Mirror).
With 4.5M users there are bound to be deaths in the World of Warcraft and gauging by the relationships I'm building with fellow gamers I can definitely see how an online funeral would be a very big deal. I often see players playing until they pass out, especially when they are questing in a group where their participation is required for the group to hold together as a team. (I've passed out a few times as well.) There is also a lot of pressure to catch up if you drop behind a group of friends in order to play your role in the quests.

However, I don't see this as a reason to bash these games. Clearly the addictive nature of these games are a risk from a productivity and health perspective, but I think that the sense of responsibility and teamwork that is built by the games exceeds this cost. I've seen a lot of coaching of young players by older players about behavior, responsibility, sharing and kindness that is crisp and makes a lot of sense in the game context, but might be lost in a conversation in the real world. Players typically stay up all night helping other players, not out of peer pressure, but out of a sense of teamwork and comradarie. The structure of the game and the rules make it very easy to measure the value of this teamwork and when a team isn't working. Most of the difficult quests require a very large group of people training and working together. It's hard to describe the sense of responsibility players gain to people who don't play, but I urge people not to discount it with playing.

I feel sorry for Snowly and everyone else whose lives are taken or ruined by games, but I think there is a social benefit. Like all new things, I think we will have to work on ways to support people who play to mitigate risks and manage addiction, but there is so much there that I hope news like this doesn't cause parents to prevent their kids from playing online games.

via Boris via Rebecca


I feel sorry for Snowly and everyone else whose lives are taken or ruined by games, but I think there is a social benefit.

I'm skeptical of this. I love MMORPGs as much as the next guy, but what do you see as their social benefits as being?

Personally I played them in middle school because I was basically imprisoned in school for 8 hours a day and then was too young to be allowed to do anything meaningful when I got home so they were a good escape. It was fun, although I'm not sure my middle school addiction was beneficial to society in any way.

that xinhua story was originally from here

Even though this is a fourth-hand story based on a friend of a friend's blog reports of other blog reports of incomprehensible web stories in Chinese, despite the total lack of authoritative evidence to establish the facts, I am convinced this story is true. Because we all know that internet addicted little girls would never lie or create a hoax. did she finish the quest?

First, I am a bit unclear if you mean that the person died in real life, or her character died in the game... I am assuming the former.

Sounds very much like the pressure I felt in my last company. There is tremendous pressure to put your health as risk. And it is always defended and glorified as being "a team player". The arguments you used to defend this aspect of gaming are almost the same as those that everyone used in the company -it almost makes it sound heroic. Although, when a fellow associate dropped out (luckily no one died while I was there, but there were some breakdowns) there was never a fantastic funeral to glorify it, or, perhaps the funeral is a way to ease any guilt the other players may feel... like saying "we have exalted you to a place of great honor... something that we should all strive for. You are one of the lucky ones".

There comes a time when we have to step back and look at ourselves from outside of our world (real, imagined, or any combination thereof) We have to ask ourselves if, even with the short term benefits, we are doing what is best for us, BUT ALSO, even if we personally can handle it, are we are making it difficult for others to do what is best for themselves.

Joi, it reminds me something similar (Amy Jo Kim used this example in her book) in Ultima Online in 98 or 99... and even the staff build a memorial.

Despite the fact of the adiction this is something i really think its great, i mean.. the mourn one player in the "universe" where they knew him/her and it implies a lot of social bonding that sometimes you wont find in the "real world"

pHatidic: I guess the only thing I can say to your point is that I played MUDs and many other MMORPGs, but the scale and complexity of WoW is at another level. I wouldn't argue that this is a fundamental difference, but I think that the reason people play is not just escape or peer pressure. There is a lot of fundamental social interaction that is going on that I believe teaches people many things and can improve their behavior in real life. Not everyone, but I think enough to make it worthwhile.

Plague, war, and now this ?

People gotta be a bit more choosy about where their escapism takes them... :-P


i love your game-storys and play online games too.

in german we have a new free online browser game with the name "The Pimps".

if you love strategic games ... try it, it is free.

nice greetings from Germany, Berlin

in case any of you haven't read julian dibbel's A Rape in Cyberspace it does a great job of teasing out the complexity of attachment to online social groups.

"I'm skeptical of this. I love MMORPGs as much as the next guy, but what do you see as their social benefits as being?"

I agree with Joi that they're are benefits - but I think that there's many more benefits that can be incorporated into these games - for example around groups, simulations, and user-driven learning. There are many (10-50) projects world-wide which re-skin RPG's like Neverwinter night so that they become 3d immersive, interactive educational tools. If this were done using MMORPG's there would be many possibilities for capitalizing on interaction with others.

ex: Hadziomerovic, A., Whitworth, E., Dormann, C., & Biddle, R. (2005). Exploring global warming through computer gaming: Relocating ``neverwinter nights'' in Antarctica. (sorry - no url)

Joi... you pass out while playing a video game?

What I find shocking that the people around this girl let her get this far. I have worked sometimes full 48 hour shifts at work, I have danced in nightclubs for a full 36 hours in the past. I can't even begin to imagine how many hours I would need to sit on my behind, playing a game to pass out.

Gerard: One of the reasons you pass out in WoW is you spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting for people to show up and flying across the continent on various animals and vehicles. These trips can take almost 10 minutes... as you stare at the serene scenery waiting to land... you often get sleepy. Then you land and you're asleep and everyone wonders why you're just standing there. ;-P

And I will also add that I've passed out blogging, at conferences, at dinner, watching TV and taking exams.

mtl3p: Agree there is much more that can be done, but I think identifying the potential is the first part.

Games are getting complex enough that I think the very name is misleading. No one doubts that pong is a "game" and has very little importance or potential benefit. It's just an amusement, and someone who pongs themselves to death seems insane and very few would question that.

However, online games are far more complex. I don't think many people who have not played an mmorpg understands how much preparation is involved in organizing some of these activities... there are large missions called "raids" that require an immense amount of planning. Reputations are made and lost, and while it's not the most challenging thing ever and stakes are somewhat low, they are enough to matter to the people playing. Games have taken on a very human aspect.

As Jon mentioned, anything that requires a certain level of time and involvement, especially if it fails without teamwork, can set up some really unhealthy expectations. When a game design starts to require blocks of time that approach the time most people spend at their jobs, it's only natural that similar pressures apply.

I myself an a burnt out fps competition player so I have very mixed feelings about the "value" of any reputation and friends I've made online. I have several friends I have kept for nearly 10 years, many of whom I have never seen but I know better than I know my neighbors and many real life friends. On the other hand, I've had many other online communities vanish like a stopper was pulled from a drain, leaving me with nothing. That's made me question the personal value of too much game time, even if it's becoming rather challening. The practical value is even harder to justify (but it sure is fun).

The sadness of this post, if true, and if this particular instance isn't true there are others that are inevitably true. Is that online worlds are becoming a substitute or a replacement for the real world, instead of a supplement. For most who are blessed with people who care in the real world, the online world provides a supplemental outlet.

For whatever reasons, there are those in the wetworld, who have a huge vacuum that is consumed by the virtual one. The earlier comment, was where were her parents, her local world friends? Press accounts of the hyper competitiveness of China make me wonder if her parents were swept up by the "necessity" of success and neglected her. There was a NY Times article about the increasing use of day cares as boarding houses for kids, so parents could work more effectively.

Joi, from your posts, I sense you have a very active real world, you probably have dinner with friends and family regularly, etc. Having lived in Denver during the Columbine shootings, there is a profound irony in the masses of people and connectivity, we find ourselves in a vacuum more than not. We live very much more in a world of surfaces, because we can create them more effectively, and as a result expect them. Unfortunately, I think there is a tendency toward norming that makes the exclusion these days that much more intense.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, after seeing 'Good Night and Good Luck', 'the fault lies not in the virtual world, but in ourselves' Good night and good luck, is not bad advice even today.

Teamwork and camaraderie are the reasons why soldiers storm machine gun nests, too. No one ever died heroically "for his country," but lots of people have died heroically for the "other guys in the foxhole."

My point being that the motivational drive supplied by teamwork is well known, but dead is still dead. And, unlike dying heroically while storming a machine gun nest, dying from exhaustion while playing a video game is about as pointless a waste of life as I can imagine.

Very Interesting post, only one thing which popped up a question in my mind.

Joi said: “I've seen a lot of coaching of young players by older players about behavior, responsibility, sharing and kindness that is crisp and makes a lot of sense in the game context, but might be lost in a conversation in the real world. Players typically stay up all night helping other players, not out of peer pressure, but out of a sense of teamwork and comradarie.”

Do you think this behaviour is part of emerging small communities? For example, what you are describing, I have seen that with Usenet in 1990 and again with weblogs in 2000.

1. Time of pioneers
They are discovering things, explore, try to create things, deals with technical issues, create unwritten policies, just by "common sense"

2. New comers with first minor abuse
The pioneers take them under their wings and "educate" the newbies. They share the knowledge, they share the "rules", eventually they will write down the rules to make them easier to understand to others.

3. Mass democratization
The system is exploding at many levels. Rules are not anymore respected. Communities are identifying themselves with new totems, they try to get empowerment, newbies don't want necessary to respect old rules because they want to be part of the process of decision, or they just don't care. The initial philosophy is lost. The pioneers bang their head on the table.

4. Time of Civil Society: Regulation, Real democracy
Organization creates system to have policies, and organization, groups to enforce these policies. It's called finally the society, the real representation of a large group not necessary for the better in terms of what have thought the pioneers, but more realistic in terms of the reality of human society.

I'm not an sociologist or anthropologist, and I'm pretty sure my comment is very very naive. But it's the impression I got from the different communities so far.

It's a bit like ICANN-UN Storm these days. It's not necessary good that ICANN is being more controlled by states, but it seems to be a natural path if we want to acknowledge the reality of the social environment.

But what do I know… nothing.

Joi: "of what use is it that a man saves another soul, but yet loses his own?"

This is a game which has strong emtional and social bondings. In one way we have reality and gaming getting fused into WoW.

But to what use ? To pass out to stave? To die ???

Where does the "thin red get established" ? Who establishes this and for whom ??

Do you know that in. Such games, its like conjouring up a true "play misty for me" act in reality ?? Yes the horde can actually run a player into the ground by playing their emotions!!

I think that all online gaming should be banned - session time out theory at least !!

I don't get this. I've stayed up for 3 days without sleep before, and only got an average of 3 hours a night for the first year of law school. I don't think I was close to dying, although it may have felt that way a couple of times.

What the heck does someone do to die from fatigue? She must have not slept at all for over a week or something...

Haaa, so you fell asleep ^_=

I think falling asleep and passing out is slightly different. Dying is another matter alltogether though. I am with Trevor here, what the must she have been doing to die from fatigue behind a computer with no one to interact.

Didn´t we just have a little discussion here about whether the internet changes our way of thinking ? That wasn´t too long ago, was it ? Well. That discussion also touched on topics of locality.

This death casts some major paradigm shift onto the former discussion, wouldn´t you agree.

Joi, this is reflective of "hikikomori" which in Japan (and S.Korea) is something that many families deny is happening to their children/youth - in a high number of cases this goes on for many years at a time shutting oneselve away from society for fear of failure (plus numerous other factors) - where these online "social" games allow the player to adopt another identity and in some cases due to obsessive gaming become the leaders and champions - whilst in mainstream society these children are not fitting the "requirements"

whilst I love the concept of such gaming World of Warcraft - I wonder if such games simply perpetuate "hikikomori" in society!

I tried leaving a trackback, but HaloScan is acting up. -_-;;;

Seems MostlyVowels had the same idea as me when reading this one. Good old Karōshi (過労死)! Truth be told, I have zero sympathy for this.

Call it darwinism in action or filtration of the gene pool, anyone who takes themselves out by overwork or overgaming or just plain ol' "over anything that benefits others at your expense w/o any gain for your society" just couldn't have valued life very much to begin with.

So if this is true, I wonder if Blizzard will wave the charges for the gametime that resulted in this poor sap's death.

i am in china at the moment and i can tell you it is true, that girl did die from playing the game to much. it is really crazy but some players really do play the game for like 3-4 days without rest and they barely eat! in china now people are forced in the game to log off after 5 hours of game time, if they don't they everything will be set to zero like you never played it at all, losing all points, money, equipment, everything obtian in them 5 hours, also alot of people purchase gold from web sites that sell them so that they do not waste time farming for money and damaging health. which i think is a good idea now, companies like ige and wildcollections say that game currency is you health rather pay for your gold and keep you good health.

Have any of you read Otherland by Tad Williams...
Same idea....we are only just coming to it.

I personally hate MMORPGs because I find them too addictive :P. I've played things like Runescape (the free side) for months....but I finally got off it... thankfully.
Trust me MMORPGs waste your life needlessly-play FPS or RTS where there's some degree of skill involved...not persistence.
You tend to hear these problems of 'passing out' with MMORPGs and not of other games because the other games incur a good amount of boredom when you start losing ie. when you are tired. Thats actually their good point. lol.

Anyone that dies or even passes out from playing is just plain stupid, and rather than mourning we should just be plain thankful that we have lost another idiot.

I play a hell of a lot and I fail to see how it is possible to pass out from it let alone die.

Stupid person died, be thankful.

speaking for myself, i cherish obsessive phases, when i skip meals and work on something. mostly, i spend such time practicing and writing music, sometimes >12hrs at a time. everyday, i feel my nervous system handling the messages i send much better than the day before, and that gives me great joy. so i spend more time.

a friend of mine is currently obsessed with WoW. to me, it's just another game, and most games are ultimately pointless and boring, because i've accomplished nothing, gained nothing. (okay, this whole thing is; but i meant for the span of your life ;) )

so this girl died playing a game, in a manner in which some might say "she gave her life to the game." anyway, there may have been numerous underlying conditions to make her so vulnerable to kill her by lack of sleep and sitting pretty immobile for a few days. most people damage themselves irreparably by fatigue, but very few, i suspect, directly die from it. but i can imagine: surges of adrenaline in an immobile, hungry, tired person is just nasty. imagine that happening at a stretch of few days! the stress would be akin to running a marathon. and imagine the backache!

joi, doing these physical things to yourself is just bad survival sense. humans are ill designed to be seated for longer than 3 hours continuously--you need to exercise, and keep your muscles in check. there is no lesson here--none that weren't known before. even if some idiots are dualists, they can't deny that harm of this scale to one's body will likely result in a nasty "ultimate" experience. it seems stupendous to me that game makers would have to cater for these morons (i don't mean to offend, but they are). that would be like kawasaki and suzuki putting warnings on their bikes. ITS SHIT YOU SHOULD KNOW! and if you don't, or didn't, i guess you're listed for the darwin awards. matter of fact, these hard core gamers might categorically win that prize.

This is sad news I have heard about gaming. I feel sorry for snowy and kinda of ! at her online friends I mean I often tell people to go eat when they say they are hungry or when they are sleepy I say go sleep. I mean ppl should know there own limits. Although I not sure why her body didn't just faint of exhuastion before death she must have lots of will power. hmm come to think of it doesn't the body have a natural limitation like feeling extreme pain or stuff even an unintelligent animal's body will automatically shut down before dieing from complete system failure. I don't think a quest is the most important thing it the time you spend with your friends online.

did any one get her gold/epics ?

this is insane..

just an bugfix: Snowly was an boy instead of an girl.
I come from another big guild of China WoW.

I my self have been playing games like this for a portion of my life and i can relate to a lot of the people who have posted. I my self have many close friends on games JUST LIKE this one who i love more than some of my own family members, and to somone who has not played a MMORPG like this game might not understand why. You really get to know these people and care for them just like your real life friends or family, and you would do just as much for them as somone in real life. I do feel sorry for the friends of "Snowly" and her family members for her death. I do not play WoW though, although i do hear a lot about it playing a game that is just like it Everquest. From what i hear its highly addictive a lot more than the other games i my self have stayed up many of "all nighters" tryign to get something done for a epic or just a simple level.

that is just so sad, prayers to Snowly's family.

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