War gamer dies after 50-hour virtual battle

A South Korean man who played online war games almost non-stop for 50 hours has collapsed and died of heart failure, just minutes after his session in a local internet café timed out.

The 28-year-old man, identified as 'Lee,' had reportedly spent three days playing online battle simulations, leaving his computer only for brief naps and toilet breaks.

Authorities in the Southern city of Taegu believe Lee recently quit his job to be closer to the frontline action of Starcraft, an intergalactic war game that pits the world's gamers against each other in multiplayer mode.

According to City newspaper reports, Lee had eaten very little food during his 3-day virtual battle and refused to return home, resting instead on a makeshift bed at the cyber café.

The JongAng Daily reported that concerned about his well-being, Lee's mother asked his former work colleagues to bring her son home, but he refused.

It added that Lee claimed he would finish his session before leaving, yet he reportedly collapsed just moments later, before he was rushed to hospital where he was confirmed dead from heart failure.

"We presume the cause of death was heart failure stemming from exhaustion," a Taegu police official told the Reuters news agency.

Virtual gamers and players of MMORPGs - massively multiplayer online role playing games – have reached iconic status in South Korea, where sponsorship deals are available for up to $100,000 a year.

Players can often enjoy a near-cult status not just with their in-game counterparts, but nationally as well as across the globe.

Edward Castronova, associate Professor of telecommunications at Indiana University, says Lee's case represents a tragic example of the increasing appeal of synthetic worlds.

"This kind of event is more evidence that the world inside the game is getting better and better than the world outside the game," he told Contractor UK.

"What does that say about that 'real' world, the one most of us spend all our time in?" Castronova asked.

"Nothing good, I'm afraid. We should think about redesigning the real world so that people don't risk their own health just to get out of it."

Castronova's comments come in the same week that a new study published in the British Medical Journal questions previously accepted effects of online games, which "have shown to be very addictive to certain types of people." (Michael Efford)

On the contrary says Mark Griffiths, Professor of gambling studies at Nottingham Trent University, who argues that video games can be useful in health care and research by effectively distracting players from the sensation of pain.

"Video games can also provide cognitive distraction for children during chemotherapy," says the study, "and have been used as a form of physiotherapy or to help develop social and spatial ability skills in many different groups of people."

Griffiths acknowledges there is the "risk of video game addiction ," particularly in young men but notes that reports of adverse effects, such as auditory hallucinations and repetitive strain injuries are "lacking in firm evidence."

"On balance," Griffiths concludes, "there is little evidence that moderate frequency of play has serious adverse effects, but more evidence is needed on excessive play and on defining what constitutes excess in the first place."

He also argues that long term studies of the course of videogame addiction need to be carried out, in order to deliver gamers, and their parents, a final diagnosis.

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