RuneScape is a fantasy role-playing video game that has 200 million registered players. It's set in a medieval fantasy world and players have a choice of what character to play. They compete with, or work together to fight monsters, complete tasks and earn new skills. But the game never ends, it goes on for as long as you want, and tearing yourself away isn't easy.
When Aussie mum Karen's 17 year old son Sam started spending 16 hours a day playing RunEscape, she knew it was out of control. She tried everything to get him to stop and finally, at her wit's end, she took his computer away. He couldn't bear it and left home. Sam is one of the new age addicts, he's a RuneScape junkee.
He went to internet cafes and slept rough to save money. You can play RuneScape for up to 13 hours straight for just $10 at some cafes.
Two years ago, Karen's son was a bright teenage boy with a normal social life and an interest in team sports, then half way through Year 10, he dropped out of school. She enrolled him in TAFE but he dropped out of that too. He withdrew from family and friends and his mother was afraid he was developing schizophrenia and went looking for help but there wasn't any.
She called emergency mental health services, but they couldn't help because Sam was under 18. Police couldn't help either and their only suggestion was to lock him up in a cell overnight, but Karen couldn't bring herself to do it.
Sam is entitled to $407.50 a fortnight youth allowance and when his mother got his bank statement, he was spending most of it on internet cafes, fast food and gambling games within RuneScape itself. When she finally tracked him down, he looked terrible - gaunt, sad and dirty. She pleaded with him to come home and worked out a plan to break his addiction that has not yet been proven.
She bolted the computer to the wall of the lounge room and for the past few weeks has given him free reign, just to keep him at home. The next step will be to install an internet lock to restrict access at certain times of the day and gradually reintroduce him to regular meal times and sleep patterns.
Karen wants gaming addiction recognized as a serious problem, with advice for parents about how to prevent it getting to the addictive stage and what to do if it does.
In 2012, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) handed down its review into the classification system. "All online games remain exempt for classification for two years while the recommendations from the ALRC review are considered" a spokesperson for Justice Minister Jason Clare said. Hurry up people, we need this problem sorted.