Addicted: Everquest Overload?

Online Hobby Leaves No Time For Family

By day, Jerry Griffin works as a cardiac catheterization specialist at a Seattle hospital. By night at home, he becomes a giant lizard who likes to kill things. Griffin is consumed by an online role-playing game called "Everquest."

Is he addicted? Susan Spencer reports.

"He's on it constantly," says his wife, Renee. "He has got to play the game the minute he gets in the house. Jerry often eats his dinner in front of the computer.

Jerry plays with people from all over the world. About 100,000 people around the world are playing Everquest at any given moment.

Everyone pays a monthly subscription fee, usually about $13, to get in on the action, joining other made-up characters on wild adventures.

The game is sort of an online interactive scavenger hunt - you kill enemies, and vanquish rivals, and overcome obstacles along the way. But along the way to what? Well, to more Everquest. This game never ends. No one ever wins.

"The reward is in the play - and that just goes on forever!" Jerry says.

These games didn't exist a decade ago, but it's projected that in three years, more than 100 million people will be playing them. And one in 10, researchers say, will have trouble quitting. For some, it can be as hard as giving up an addictive drug.

As the most popular such game ever, Everquest, ought to be called "Evercrack," critics say. Some fans call it that, as a form of praise.

Jerry, who has been playing for three years, says the game "can be" addictive. His wife says her husband is "definitely addicted. He won't admit it. He is. He can't live without it."

Jerry admits to playing at least 20 hours a week. "He gets up in the morning and plays before he goes to work," Renee says. "I want my girls to be able to have him, you know, as a father, not as a fixture in our house in front of the computer."

Jerry admits to being a little ashamed of his constant playing. Sometimes, he says, he feels he cannot control how much he plays.

Hundreds of Everquest fans gather four times a year for "Fan Faire." "I'm nobody in real life, but I'm somebody in Everquest!" says one attendee.

The game's maker, Sony Online, promotes the game as "a living breathing fantasy world, live on the Internet."

It's easy to see how you might be drawn in to the enchanting world of Everquest and then have trouble ever getting out. After all, here there are chances for adventure and heroism and romance rarely found in real life. It's all great fun, unless, of course, you start to think that it is real life, or at least a more interesting place to be than in the real world.

Ben Stein, speechwriter turned comedian, has firsthand experience with the game's dangers. He says it almost destroyed his 15-year-old son, Tommy. Tommy agrees that he was addicted.

"It's a game. But it's a game that's a dangerous game. This one is different. This one is so intoxicating, so seductive," he says.

Ben Stein says his son regularly stayed up all night playing. "It was as if he had a demon living inside him. I mean, it was as if he had some kind of evil spirit living inside him," he says.

"He became moody, solitary. Except for the computer. And obsessed with it to the extent it excluded everything else in his life," says Ben Stein of his son.

Desperate, the Steins sent him away to boarding school, where such games are not allowed.

The strategy worked, says Ben: "He became more interested in real life, and less interested in the conjured up fake life on Everquest. And I think if Sony really searched their heart about it, they would stop making it."