Melbourne: A 17-year-old boy from Adelaide, who is addicted to Runescape - one of the world's largest free online role-playing game, spends an average of 16 hours a day inside the game as it is almost his entire reality, his mother has revealed.
Set in a medieval fantasy world, players can cast themselves as an array of different characters from warriors to wizards and either compete or work together to fight monsters, complete quests and earn new "skills".
"He's living his life in the game, that's where he wants to be," News.com.au quoted her as saying.
Two years ago Karen says Sam was a bright, smart teenage boy with a normal social life and an interest in team sports. Then halfway through Year 10 he dropped out of school. He enrolled at TAFE and dropped out of that too.
He stopped seeing his friends, stopped talking and withdrew from his family, spending more and more of his time in the fictional Runescape world. His mother claims he is so engrossed that he rarely gets away from the game or even washes his hair.
Thinking it was just a phase, and following the traditional advice given to parents, Karen took away Sam's computer, which is when a bad situation turned into a full-blown nightmare.
"Once when I was out he smashed up my bedroom, upending furniture, ripping down curtains from their tracks and cutting electrical cords with scissors, tripping the safety switches," she said.
Finally Sam ran away, sleeping rough to more easily access city internet cafes where you can play up to 13 hours straight for just 10 dollars.
Unaware of his motivations and thinking he was developing schizophrenia, Karen called emergency mental health services, who couldn't help because Sam was under 18.
She tried the police, but they couldn't compel Sam to go to hospital. They offered to lock him up for the night, but Karen refused.
It wasn't until she saw Sam's bank statement - showing he was spending most of his 407.50-dollar fortnightly Youth Allowance on internet cafes, fast food meals and on gambling games within Runescape itself - that she realised the problem was Runescape, and tracked Sam down to an internet cafe.
Now without any official support services available to her, Karen has been forced to invent her own "12-point plan" to entice her son back home and wean him off his chronic video game addiction.
She has bolted the computer to the wall of the loungeroom in an effort to monitor his usage, and for the past few weeks has given him free rein, just to keep him off the streets.
The next steps involve installing an internet lock to restrict access at certain times of the day and re-introducing him to regular meal times and sleep patterns.