Every day, lives are lost while playing video games; virtual lives, though, not real ones. Just look at Dark Souls – that death counter’s still rising and’ll probably rise even more when the Playstation 4 version’s released. Rarely, however, are real lives lost. In 1980, that wasn’t the case. Legend has it that a stand up arcade game, Berzerk, took two lives. Those two lives were the players that hit the high score on the game. Sadly, they didn’t gain accolades like the high scores in Donkey Kong and the like. Instead, they earned a cremation or a burial, all for enjoying a harmless game.
Seeing that the game was made in the 80’s, it’s not very complex at all. You control a human shaped figure and have to maneuver that figure throw a bunch of maze-like rooms. You encounter robots that you must destroy – if you get shot by them, touch them, or touch a wall, you die. To make matters worse, the antagonist of the game, Evil Otto can mercilessly kill you as well. Sounds fun, right? Kind of like Pac Man meets Metal Gear minus all the stealth. You gain points for killing robots, and should you kill all the robots in the room you get a point bonus. Being a quarter muncher, this game had a whopping 64,000 levels. I’d probably have passed this game up at the arcade and gone for Tron, but that’s just me.
In 1981, Jeff Dailey, 19, racked up a high score of 16,660 during his playtime. He entered his initials into the high score list, then dropped dead of a heart attack. About a year or so later, Peter Burkowski, 18, shared the same fate. Burkowski hit two high scores during his play time, then once again after entering his initials, dropped dead from cardiac arrest. Seeing that this was in video games’ infancy, this was the first record of video games causing a fatality. This really didn’t spark any interest until recently, when it was rumored that Evil Otto was the perpetrator of the deaths. Instead of just killing the players’ avatar in the game by slipping through the walls and zapping the avatar, Evil Otto was slipping through the game and zapping high score winners.
I know this may seem far fetched, I high doubt Evil Otto’s flying around in real life and killing unsuspecting high score winners. Being so early in video game history, the technology may have set something off in the young men’s bodies that affected their heart and caused them death. When I was old enough to play the coin operated wonders, I don’t remember ever seeing a warning about the flashing visuals and epilepsy. Now there’s a warning that accompanies most games so that things like this don’t become a common occurrence.
I don’t know what caused these young men to die; they were both young and seemingly in the prime of health. So why would playing a video game kill them? Could it be coincidence that they both had heart conditions that were pushed to the limit while playing? Or could it be that Evil Otto’s loose in our world, waiting ever so patiently for another high score to be achieved to this day?
What say you, dear reader? Do you believe in arcade curses? Sound off in the comments below and tell us just whether we really are just being paranoid here.