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Teen runs away to meet older WoW soulmate [Updated]

Before we delve into this story, I just want to say that everything turned out alright. No Canadian laws were broken. No authority figures taking advantage of underage people in their care. The teenager is home safe and his online lover is allowed to return home whenever she likes. Here are the facts:
  • A 16 year old boy in Ontario had an online affair with a 42 year old mother of four in Texas.
  • They met in WoW, but much of the affair took place in MSN chat.
  • The parents knew of the relationship for over a year.
  • The boy told the woman that he was 20.
  • The consenting age in Ontario, Canada is 16.
  • The boy had a history of addiction to WoW, had seen a counselor and was given computer privileges again as a reward for good behavior.
  • She came to visit him for the Christmas holidays and asked him to meet her in a hotel.
  • He asked his parents for permission. They said no.
  • He snuck out at 2 am and went to her anyway.
  • The parents and local authorities made a plea to the public for his safe return.
  • The boy and woman were spotted together in public two days later and brought in.
  • Again, the boy is home safe and the woman is not being charged with anything in Canada.


This is actually the second famous case of teen game addiction in Barrie, Ontario. The first was a tragic story of a teen who ran away from home after being told he couldn't play Call of Duty 4 anymore, fell out of a tree and died. Happily, this boy is alive, unharmed, and now famous for having bagged himself a cougar. So rather than a tragic story, we have a cautionary tale for all of the parties involved:
  • Caution to all online lovers: Internet romances, particularly ones begun in your favorite MMO with built-in shared interests, are intoxicating. It feels like soul to soul communication and can make you careless. Be careful that you know all the details before meeting in person and are willing to deal with the ramifications -- whether that means harming a marriage or enticing a child away from his family.
  • Caution to all teenage WoW players: Just because you have adult feelings and want to commit like an adult, does not mean that you have all of the experience and wisdom to make important decisions. The boy's lover left her family to travel thousands of miles only to get picked up by police and publicly humiliated. And he worried his parents for two days, causing the city to conduct a search for him as well. Learn how to manage your game time wisely, graduate from school and then feel free to make your adult decisions with fewer ramifications for others.
  • Caution to parents: WoW is a wonderful opportunity to teach your children many real life values, including teamwork and time management. But if you don't have the time or inclination to play with or closely supervise your gamer children, then please setup parental controls and keep all computers in common rooms where they don't have the privacy required to participate in activities for which they are not ready. This is particularly true for parents like those in this case who know that their child has a problem. If your child has issues with doing anything in moderation, then rewarding that child with full, unsupervised access is never a good idea. Controlled, monitored access -- yes, please. Teach your children how to balance their play time with school and chores. But just as you shouldn't allow your child full 24 hour access to the refrigerator and pantry if he is obese, your internet addicted child should only have restricted computer privileges. I am particularly baffled that he received a laptop for Christmas to further enable his addiction. Wow, indeed.
All finger wagging at the parents aside, they do seem like good people who have actually tried to get their kid help and took bad or misunderstood advice about computer privileges. At least they were computer savvy enough to read chat logs and uncover the real story about their son's disappearance. But this story really has nothing to do with WoW. Just because Blizzard makes an immersive game where like-minded people can meet and get cyber-busy does not mean they are facilitating deception, addiction or insubordination. As players and parents we must take responsibility for our own and our children's behavior. After all, this kind of thing goes on in email, in chatrooms, on telephones and, in the olden days, via penpals. My mother got engaged to my father via letters, in order to escape the restrictions of home. It's a story older than Azeroth.

Update 1/6: The woman was arrested upon returning to Texas, where the age of consent is 17, and charged with soliciting a minor online.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Virtual selves, News items

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