Ap Photo/washoe County Sheriff's  /  AP Photo/Washoe County Sheriff's
Authorities say Iana Straw, left, and her husband Michael Straw were so obsessed with online gaming that they left their babies starving and suffering other health problems.
Helen Popkin
updated 7/19/2007 4:52:01 PM ET 2007-07-19T20:52:01

And now, in the category of Incomprehensibly Lame Excuses, the Super Craptastic Parenting Award goes to … drum roll please … Michael and Iana Straw of Reno, Nevada! These carbuncles on the butt of humanity were so distracted by the online version of the fantasy role-playing "Dungeons & Dragons," by the time police whisked their 22-month-old boy and 11-month-old girl to the emergency room in June, both children were severely malnourished and near death.

But wait, there’s more! The boy, who was treated for starvation and a genital infection, had difficulty walking like a normal (almost) 2-year-old due to poor muscle development, according to investigators. Meanwhile, his 10-pound baby sister had a mouth infection, dry skin and severe dehydration. Oh, and she had to have her head shaved on account of it was so matted with cat urine.

The mind reels. How did so much cat urine get in that poor little girl’s hair? And if the kids were in such horrendous condition, what happened to the cat? Did he go indoor feral, using his inborn survival skills these unfortunate children did not possess?

If I’m focusing too much on the ugly details rather than the alleged reason for such neglect, it’s only because well, I’ve heard it before. Not just the part about how adults are capable of doing horrible things to children, but placing the blame on “video gaming addiction” or “Internet addiction.” While the experts continue to debate whether first-person shooter games turn teens into psycho killers, there’s lots of anecdotal evidence suggesting that fruity fantasy role-playing games turn adults into beyond-lousy parents.

In 2001, a 9-month-old boy in Tampa, Florida died while left unattended in a utility closet where his dad left him because the kid’s bawling was making it hard for Pops to concentrate on EverQuest — another online role-playing fantasy game. EverQuest — called EverCrack by those in the know — figured into the 2003 death of a three-year-old Arizona girl who met her miserable end in a sweltering car while her “addicted” mom was inside getting her role play on.

And it's not just an American phenomenon: In 2005, a couple in South Korea were arrested after their 4-month-old daughter suffocated at home alone while her parents played World of Warcraft at a nearby Internet café. According to police, the couple claimed that, "We were thinking of playing for just an hour or two and returning home like usual, but the game took longer that day." (Please note the use of the word “usual.”)

Just last month, the American Medical Association took a pass on labeling video game and/or Internet addiction as actual mental disorders. More research was needed, the AMA stated, and encouraged the American Psychiatric Association to study whether the diagnosis would be appropriate for inclusion in the 2012 American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Here, let me help: No. Plus, I’ve seen enough A&E “Law & Order” marathons to know that kind of sanction is just what some slick public defender is looking for to get his child-neglecting clients off the hook.

OK, but seriously. I’m an avatar, not a doctor. And I’m in no way pooh-poohing real mental illness or actual physical addition. I get the damage caused by obsessive-compulsive and impulse control disorders that can lead to wasting way too many hours in your flat panel’s soft glow, as you pretend you’re a Level 12 Paladin. That’s not what’s going on with our lovely Reno couple, the Straws. For example:

Though mom Iana was unable to break away from “Dungeons & Dragons” long enough to comb the cat urine out of her baby’s hair, she somehow managed get her fingers off the keyboard long enough to hold down a job as a warehouse temp worker. News reports reveal that Dad Michael probably had plenty of time on his hands as an “unemployed cashier.” Yet he couldn’t find the time to pull himself away from the state-of-the art computer equipment he bought with a $50,000 inheritance long enough to liberate his son from the baby swing and teach the kid how to be a toddler. Meanwhile, photos of the parents suggest that, unlike their offspring, both enjoyed the luxury of nutrition.

This goes way beyond, “Hey kids, Mommy and Daddy are busy now.” Perhaps the American Psychiatric Association's further research on video and Internet addition should just focus on arrested development. In a perfect world, kids have parents telling them how long they can spend playing a game or surfing the Internet, as well as when eat, go to bed, and clean the cat box. Adults don’t have that, and obviously some of then should.

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