Death by Video Game and the Unfortunate Case of “Evil Otto”

By: Justin Nobel | Date: Sat, January 19th, 2013

Video game player deaths seem to be on the increase. Last year a man in Taiwan fell dead after playing the hit new game “Diablo III” for 40 hours straight.

Earlier this week, President Obama outlined a series of possible actions in response to the Sandy Hook Shooting. On the list is the allocation of $10 million to the Center for Disease Control to study violent media, such as video games.

The study is a small piece of the agenda, nevertheless it has some video game enthusiasts up in arms. While both sides hack out the politics in Washington, Digital Dying thought it might be interesting to look at a different issue: the stories of people across the world who have actually died while playing video games…

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Chuang, Taiwan – Around lunchtime on a Friday one day last summer Chuang walked into an internet café in Tawian and booked himself a private room so he could play Diablo III, an action role-playing game that takes place in a dark fantasy world called Sanctuary. There are demons, witch doctors and barbarians. The game had only been released a few months prior and had set a record by selling over 3.5 million copies in the first 24 hours. Chuang became deeply involved in his gaming session, apparently playing through Friday night and Saturday and on into Sunday, a total of about 40 hours. Come Sunday morning an employee noticed Chuang seated at his computer with his head down. She roused him. Chuang took a few steps then collapsed. He was taken to a local hospital and pronounced dead, according to an article on Computerandvideogames.com. At the time of the article doctors suspected Chuang had died from either cardiovascular problems, or a fatal blood clot.

“While we recognize that it’s ultimately up to each individual or their parent or guardian to determine playing habits, we feel that moderation is clearly important,” read a statement by Blizzard Entertainment, the company that makes the Diablo game series. “And that a person’s day-to-day life should take precedence over any form of entertainment.”

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Jeff Dailey and Peter Burkowski, United States Berserk was an extremely popular Atari arcade game that came out in 1980. As you might have imagined, the game is stunningly simple. The player controls a green “humanoid” which stalks through a series of maze-filled rooms killing robots. Humanoids die either by running into robots, being shot by robots or by running into walls. They can also be killed by the player’s evil nemesis, known as “Evil Otto”, a large yellow—and very pixelated—smiley face. A player advances by fighting their way through each room to an opening in a far wall. Each robot killed earns the payer 50 points, and killing all of the robots in any one room earns the player a bonus. The game has a mind-numbing 64,000 levels.

In January of 1981 a 19 year old American named Jeff Dailey put a quarter into a game of Berserk and racked up 16,660 points, a ridiculously high score. He typed his initials onto the winner’s list then dropped dead of a heart attack. About one year later an 18 year old named Peter Burkowski set two record high scores within the space of 15 minutes at an arcade in Calumet City, Illinois then dropped dead from a cardiac arrest. These are reportedly the first known incidents of a video game being involved in a player’s actual death. The website Cracked.com, in a 2008 article entitled, “The 10 Most Terrifying Video Game Enemies of All Time”, listed Evil Otto as number one. They cited the two teenage deaths in the early 1980s. “It was Otto’s job to fly through the poisonous walls and zap you when the timer ran low,” noted the article. “Otto was merely a pain, but what makes him truly frightful is the fact that he is possibly the only video game enemy in history to kill players in real-life.”

33 year old man, China – There are records and then there are records. In looking over recent instances of video game deaths I noticed a disturbing number of deaths involved people who played for hours and even days or weeks straight. But shocking even among these statistics is the story, if it is true, of a 33 year old man at “an unlicensed Internet café in Cuigezhuang township,” a district in downtown Beijing. He died in 2011 after gaming for some 27 days in a row. According to an article in the Global Times, the man “barely ate, drank or slept during the three days leading up to his death.” His only food consisted of instant noodles.

2 thoughts on “Death by Video Game and the Unfortunate Case of “Evil Otto””

  1. Stan

    While details are scarce, the Berserk deaths were attributed to those two individuals having preexisting health issues, including an undiagnosed heart condition in Burkowski’s case (and Dailey’s case is not even 100% confirmed to have actually happened). The deaths were not due to any property of the game itself (i.e. they weren’t killed by Otto as the Cracked article implies). It’s misleading to lump them in with cases of people who died of exhaustion after playing a game for 50 hours straight, especially when it’s even noted in the article that Burkowski had only been playing Berzerk for 15 minutes.

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