Gaming may be seen as child's play, but addiction to it is anything but that — as demonstrated by the 14-year-old boy who allegedly killed an elderly woman just to get his hands on the Rs. 8,000 he needed to buy a PlayStation.

Sources say that the boy, who was a student of a Corporation school, used to frequent a browsing centre, which is where he got interested in internet games. He had been pestering his father, a security guard, to get him a computer but his father refused. That was when he decided to help his aunt murder their neighbour. Sources say that he wanted the PlayStation so badly that he had also come to a prominent shop in the city with his aunt and uncle to enquire about the price of the console.

Children often pick up the gaming habit at browsing centres. Current regulations for running cyber cafes say children visiting them should be accompanied by parents or produce identity cards. “Computers should not be in enclosures. The centres have also been asked to keep a check on the activities of minors and block porn and gambling sites,” says a senior police officer. Often, not all these rules are uniformly followed, especially on the city's outskirts.

“Most cyber cafes offer an hour of free gaming if we pay for two hours. That is very tempting,” says Keshav R., a class VII student, also a ‘Counter Strike' player. “I relate much to the game. The mind is so active when it's on a game,” says the student. ‘Burn-out' and ‘road-rash', terms associated with video games, are very much part of his everyday vocabulary.

His mother Sunanda, a manager in an IT firm, is not complaining because during this vacation, not once did he go out to play in the sun, and spent all his time on his new console, playing Missile 3D, sprinting across levels, ‘shooting' all the ‘men' that got in his way. “I let him play violent games only once in a while, if he gets good marks in a test,” his mother says.

Incidents of children getting violent when refused their gaming consoles is not uncommon, and a few were recently reported from Mumbai, Philadelphia and Saudi Arabia, say counsellors and doctors, who also recall the case of an Italian boy in 2008 who was rushed to the hospital by his father who feared he was suffering a stroke or brain trauma as the teenager would not respond to his surroundings. These might just be a pointer to changing behaviour, especially among children, say counsellors.

Bhavani Raman, founder, Chennaimoms, a portal for Chennai mothers, says complaints from mothers about their children's gaming habits are only increasing in the city. “With smart phones, tabs and gaming zones, there is no way you can restrict your children from playing games.”

Counsellor Prabha Arun feels much of the obsession has to do with the fact that parents have no time to spend with their children. “Fatigue and loss of concentration are the initial symptoms that parents need to watch out for if their children are spending too much time on gaming activities. There are differences in behaviour that parents need to watch out for,” she says.

“Giving children gaming consoles are often a compensation for not being able to spend time with them. But when parents send their children to browsing centres, there is no way they can even find out what they are up to. What affects children the most is peer pressure and the fear of being known as someone who doesn't own something so popular,” she says.

(With inputs from S. Vijay Kumar)