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Berzerk The Mysterious Arcade Games

Berzerk is a controversial shooter arcade game released by Stern in 1980, because it was the first video game known to have been involved in the death of a player which occurred in 1981 and then in 1982. The gameplay of Berzerk is as follows, the player controls a green stick man, representing a humanoid. Using a joystick (and a firing button to activate a laser-like weapon), the player navigates a simple maze filled with many robots, who fire lasers back at the player character. A player can be killed by being shot, by running into a robot or an exploding robot, coming into contact with the electrified walls of the maze itself, or by being touched by the player's nemesis, Evil Otto. The indestructable Evil Otto is the game's timer, forcing the player to move on. 

In 1981, it became the first video game linked to the death of a player, when 19 year old Jeff Dailey died of a heart attack shortly after posting a high score of 16,660. One year later, the game would kill again in 1982, when a 18 year old Peter Burkowski (Bukowski) died of a heart attack after posting 2 top scores also similar with the previous player in 15 minutes. Rumours abound that the game was cursed, with both Dailey's and Burkowski's fatal score containing 666, the mark of the beast.

According to Chicago Tribune article entitled 'Heart fails video player':

"An 18 year old suburban Chicago youth died of a heart attack while playing a video game, the Lake County Ind., coroner ruled Monday.

Deputy Lake County Coroner Mark Allen said the possibility that Peter Bukowski of South Holland III, died earlier this month as a direct result of stress caused by the game was investigated, "but we don't want to say video game represent enough exertion to have brought on the attack...

...The official cause of Bukowski death is a heart attack brought on by a myocardial inflammation. He collapsed April 3 at the Friar Tuck game room in River Oaks Shopping Center and was pronounced dead at St. Margaret's Hospital, Hammond."... Corroner's office investigators inspected the "Berzerk" game that Bukowski had been playing, but found no electronic defects."

Peter had not been drinking when he arrived at Friar Tuck's Game Room in Calumet City, Illinois. He hadn't been using drugs either. According to the owner of Friar Tuck's, Peter and a friend walked in about 8:30 p.m. Saturday, April 3, and went straight to the games. Peter was eighteen, likeable, and apparently healthy. An "A" student, he had plans to become a doctor someday. Peter was also good with the games. In fifteen minutes of play, he wrote his initials at least twice in the "Top Ten" on the Berzerk screen. Then, tired of that game, he turned, took about four steps, dropped his quarter into a second machine, and collapsed. By 9 p.m. Peter was dead. The cause: heart attack.

More than five years ago, cardiologist Robert S. Eliot, M.D. at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, noticed that same behavior in Pong players. Realizing that video games could be used in the lab to create the same stresses his cardiac patients face outside, he began monitoring the patients while they played the games. His findings (Eliot has charted over 1000 patients) are nothing less than startling. "We have had heart rate increases of 60 beats per minute and blood pressures as high as 220 within one minute of starting a computer game. It happens quite a lot but the patients have no awareness.

According to Dr. Eliot, one out of three people have dramatic physiological reactions to mental stress. While not enough data has been compiled to determine whether video games are dangerous for these people, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that too much stress is connected to heart disease and hypertension. At this point, Dr. Eliot, who is being consulted on the case of Peter Bukowski, has no comment.

  • Youtube: Top 5 Mysterious Video Game
  • Kiesling, Stephen (October 1982). "Death of a Video Gamer". Video Games: 14–15.

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  • Youtube: Top 5 Mysterious Video Game (2:31)

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