Marauding space aliens, corrupt government operatives, and laser-shooting skeletons aren’t the true dangers that lurk within your favorite video games. No, what you really need to be worried about are blood clots, a lack of movement, and a vulnerability to game-induced psychosis. An observer might see you sitting immobile on a couch or in an Internet cafe, but the reality of what your body and mind are going through is pretty intense, and there have been many unfortunate gamers who’ve paid a high health toll for their passion. Here are some heartbreaking stories to remind us that unlike video games, you can’t just hit “continue” in real life.
Berzerk: Heart attacks
Berzerk is one of the earliest known examples of a video game ending in actual death. In April 1982, an 18-year-old named Peter Bukowski landed a couple of high scores on a Berzerk arcade cabinet before collapsing from a heart attack, due to a compromised cardiovascular system which was agitated beyond repair by the game. An October 1982 article in Video Games Magazine cites studies tying physiological reactions to video game stress that went back as far as 1977, using Pong as a stressor. Those Pong dudes would have instantly exploded playing Bayou Billy.
EverQuest, affectionately called “EverCrack” or “NeverRest” by its many dedicated fans, is an MMORPG known for drawing in easily-addicted gamers, even catalyzing the formation of support groups for people whose relationships suffered from their partner’s addiction to the game. Shawn Woolley took his EverQuest passion to the extreme in 2002, quitting his job to play full-time. After he ignored a Thanksgiving invitation from his family, his loved ones found Woolley dead in front of his computer from a self-inflicted shotgun wound—with EverQuest still running. Woolley took his own life for unknown reasons, but it’s speculated that it may have been related to a troubled in-game relationship.
Legend of Mir 3: Murder over a drop
In yet another MMORPG incident with seriously messed-up real-life ramifications, Legend of Mir players Qiu Chengwei and Zhu Caoyuan jointly earned a very rare Dragon Sabre sword in-game, but Zhu decided to sell the sword on eBay in 2005 without Qiu’s consent. Earning around $870 for the sale, the two players couldn’t come to a reasonable agreement as to proper disbursal of payment for the sword, so Qiu later stabbed Zhu to death in his sleep. Qiu was sentenced to life in prison, but will be eligible for parole in 2020.
Yes, even FarmVille can turn evil in the wrong hands. Alexandra Tobias, a 22-year-old mother, was so addicted to the game that she shook her three-month-old son to death in 2011 because his crying interrupted her playing. Tobias, who received a 50-year prison sentence for her actions, at one point reportedly confessed to a fellow inmate that she hit her baby’s head against the computer monitor in the process of trying to shake him into silence.
Nintendo Wii: Water intoxication
In 2007, the Nintendo Wii was still hard to get in the US, so the Sacramento-based radio station KDND decided to run a contest giving one of the consoles away. The challenge: drink an inordinate amount of water without urinating, with whoever leaked last winning the Wii. Unfortunately, it’s possible to die from water intoxication, and Jennifer Strange, a participant in the event, collapsed and died once she returned home after failing to win the prize. The station fired ten employees and lost a $16 million lawsuit.
World of Warcraft: Child neglect, murder
Massively multiplayer online role-playing games, or MMORPGs for short, have a reputation for attracting people with addiction problems, some of whom have sacrificed real-life experiences and responsibilities in order to disappear into a fantasy world. The story of Rebecca Colleen Christie offers a worst-case scenario: she spent such an inordinate amount of time playing Warcraft that she allowed her three-year-old daughter to starve to death. Prosecutors found that Christie had just engaged in a nonstop 15-hour WoW session prior to finally calling 911 for her daughter, who was found unresponsive. She was subsequently sentenced to 25 years in prison for the crime.
Ingress: Walking into traffic
A mobile app that requires you to get up and move around seems like a great idea—until that app sends you directly into traffic, as it did Gabriel Cavalcante Carneiro Leao. While playing Ingress in 2014, the 16-year-old Brazilian teen lost track of his surroundings while rushing to a “portal” in the game, and was subsequently hit and killed by an oncoming bus. While Ingress has built-in limits to prevent certain unsafe behaviors, like features becoming unavailable while moving at high speeds, there was nothing to stop an absorbed and enthusiastic kid from walking into a busy street. They also didn’t help Frank Maxwell, a 48-year-old father who drowned near a pier in Ireland while playing the game in 2015.
DOTA, Diablo III, Halo, StarCraft, and WoW: Marathon gameplay deaths
If there’s a lesson to be learned from life-ruining games, it’s that you have to get up and move around sometimes, because the list of deaths from sitting on your butt and twiddling your thumbs just keeps growing. A 2015 report in the UK’s Mirror details the death of a boy named Rustam (last name withheld) who played Defense of the Ancients (better known as DOTA) for 22 unrelenting days. In 2012, an 18-year-old named Chuang died in an Internet cafe in Taiwan after 40 continuous hours of Diablo III—the second marathon game-related death in Taiwan that year. In 2011, Chris Staniforth died in England from deep vein thrombosis after playing 12 hours of Halo. In 2005, Lee Seung Seop died in South Korea after 50 hours of StarCraft.
Moral of the story: don’t take extended gameplay lightly. Even when you’re in the thick of the action, remember that you need to get up for a few minutes every so often. Take a break, stand up, get some water, and move around every once in a while during your marathon gameplay sessions.
Slender: The Arrival: Stabbing and arson
Slender: The Arrival didn’t exactly kill anyone, but an obsession with its main baddie influenced a few impressionable young girls to do some insidious things. In May 2014, two 12-year-old girls from Cincinnati, Ohio stabbed their classmate 19 times, believing that they had to murder someone in order to appease the mythical villain (and antagonist of Slender: The Arrival as well as its low-budget predecessor, Slender: The Eight Pages).
Just as disturbing is the case of a 14-year-old girl who set her family’s Port Richey, Florida home on fire with her mother and younger brother still inside. The girl was also obsessed with Slender Man lore, and reportedly started the fire in order to gain his favor.