Take care with labels

A one-off tragedy is no reason to mark a product with a health warning.

Ray Crowley

Topics Politics

This is a bit of random text from Kyle to test the new global option to add a message at the top of every article. This bit is linked somewhere.

‘This isn’t just an online game. It’s dangerous.’ (1)

It sounds more like the tagline to The Matrix than a serious remark attached to a lawsuit. The game in question is EverQuest, a role-playing game apparently far more sinister than old-fashioned Dungeons and Dragons. Elizabeth Woolley, a mother from Wisconsin, USA, is suing EverQuest creators Sony Entertainment, because of the suicide of her 21-year-old son, Shawn.

In last week’s Kerrang! magazine, this story was accompanied by stills from the game itself. Skeletons, fire-breathing dragons and some kind of beast with an axe thing. Far too fantastical to be sinister. But, apparently, it’s not the content of the game that is the problem, so much as its addictive nature.

Kerrang! claims that over 400,000 people regularly play the game – which is also known as ‘EverCrack’ – online. Shawn Woolley apparently holed up for an entire week playing it, before shooting himself. There seems to be no news of other suicides among the 400,000 others who have played EverQuest. But Elizabeth Woolley still wants Sony to put warnings on the game packages.

Kerrang! may be the most popular promoter of all things that should be enjoyed while wearing black lipstick and pentagram jewellery, but in this case they make the right point. A spokesman from a UK PC magazine is quoted as saying: ‘To be honest, I think Shawn Woolley had deep-seated problems way before the computer game came along. It’s ridiculous to suggest that a game would make an individual contemplate suicide.’ Indeed, Woolley was diagnosed with epilepsy, depression and a schizophrenic personality disorder. He was not just a random guy who turned on his computer on a Friday night and killed himself the following weekend.

What other one-off tragedies could result in health warnings being placed on products? We all know the story of silent film comedian Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, the girl, and the champagne bottle. Perhaps all bottles of bubbly should carry a warning aimed at those with certain sexual preferences.

And what about the poor official who accidentally got speared by a javelin when running to mark its landing point – perhaps all aspiring athletes should be informed of the injury they could inflict? My sister had to go to casualty once because she got a Rice Krispie lodged deep in her ear. Should we, as a concerned family, have campaigned for a ‘Snap, Crackle and don’t pop them in an orifice’ label?

McDonalds coffee already carries warnings that ‘this coffee is hot’, because someone burned themselves. So what about the painful effects of ice cream on sensitive teeth (‘Warning: this ice cream is cold’)? Matches already carry warnings about the dangers of giving them to kids – but do they warn young boys about the dangers of lighting their farts? May be all garden rakes (often stepped on in silent comedy films) should have hazard lights attached.

When I was younger, I thought it would be really cool to wallpaper my bedroom in silver cooking foil. I also had a big silver ring that went up over my knuckle. One day I was plugging my Nintendo into the back of the TV, the ring brushed the aerial socket and the wall at the same time, and gave me a painful zap. Could health warnings have protected me against this mishap?

There are always odd exceptions to the normal interactions between people, objects, situations or activities – you only need to watch You’ve Been Framed to see that. Bubble wrapping everything on the off chance that the one in a million – or one in 400,000 – may occur, is paranoid. It also undermines the idea that most of us can handle the contents of our shopping trolleys without ending up dead or maimed.

Read on:

You can’t ban accidents, by Frank Furedi

Warning signs – beware, Patrick West

(1) ‘Game blamed for suicide’, Kerrang!, 22 June 2002

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Topics Politics


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