Charlie Bracke can’t remember a time when he wasn’t into video games. When he was 5, he loved playing Wolfenstein 3D, a crude, cartoonish computer game in which a player tries to escape a Nazi prison by navigating virtual labyrinths while mowing down enemies. In his teenage years, he became obsessed with more sophisticated shooters and a new generation of online games that allowed thousands of players to inhabit sprawling fantasy worlds. Ultima Online, World of Warcraft, The Elder Scrolls — he would spend as much as 12 hours a day in these imaginary realms, building cities and fortifications, fighting in epic battles and hunting for treasure.
During his childhood, Bracke’s passion for video games, like that of most young Americans, didn’t cause him any serious problems. At school, he got along with just about everyone and maintained straight A’s. His homework was easy enough that he could complete it on the bus or in class, which allowed him to maximize the time he spent gaming. After school, he would often play video games for hours with his cousin and a small group of close friends before going home for dinner. Then he would head to the den and play on the family computer for a few more hours before bed. When his parents complained, he told them it was no different from their habit of watching TV every night. Besides, he was doing his homework and getting good grades — what more did they want? They relented.