Friday, January 18, 2013

Video Game Related Deaths

This is a subject that I broached in an earlier post but thought I'd cover a bit more fully.
What was the first coin-op video game-related death?
Most sources point to Peter Bukowski, who died of a heart attack at Friar Tuck's game room in Calumet City, IL on April 3, 1982 after playing Berzerk . Many sources, in fact, list this as the only known case of a coin-op video-game related death  Actually, there was at least one video-game related death long before Bukowski's and another that, if true, is far more tragic. Below I will discuss four alleged arcade video game-related deaths.

Charley Currie (December 3, 1974)

. The March, 1975 issue of Play Meter reports that Charley Currie, an operator from Ontario was electrocuted on December 3rd, 1974 while playing a "TV game" he'd just installed. He put it next to another (non video) game and neither of them were grounded. He was killed instantly when he touched the other game.

Play Meter, March, 1975

Unknown (ca 1979-80)

Here's one I debated even including given its sad nature. I'd rather not reveal the source on this one, save to say that it is from someone who should know. According to this source, Exidy's Fire One resulted in one of the most tragic deaths in arcade history. The game's cabinet reportedly originally featured a rounded front bottom edge. A child in an arcade was hanging from the controls one day when the machine tipped over and crushed him or her to death. I believe the cabinet was redesigned afterwards (though the game may have already been out of production). I haven't found any corroboration for this story. Then again, if it happened, it's probably not the kind of thing a company would want to make known. If true, my heart goes out to the victim's family as well as the game desginers and Exidy employees.

Jeff Dailey(January, 1981)

In January of 1981 19-year-old Jeff Daily/Dailey is said to have dropped dead after racking up a high score of 16,660 points on Berzerk but details are sketchy and it may be nothing more than an urban legend (note the 666 in the score, though this could be a coincidence).
I am unsure of the original source of this story. Wikiepedia attributes it to the game's entry at, which doesn't list a source (a post on claims the story [or maybe it was just the Bukowski one] appeared in Russel DeMaria's High Score but the excerpt on Amazon, which includes the Berzerk section, doesn't mention it).
I have found no contemporary account of this alleged incident. A search of ths Social Security Death Index shows that a Jeffrey Alan Dailey, age 19 died in late May of 1981. This Dailey, however, died in Virginia from injuries sustained in an automobile accident (as per his obituary in the May 30, 1981 Newport News Daily Press).
Personally, I find the whole story doubtful.

Peter Bukowski (April 3, 1982)

This is by far the most well-known video game related death. On Saturday, April 3 1982 18-year-old Peter Bukowski arrived at Friar Tuck’s Game Room in Calumet City, IL for an evening of video games. After playing Berzerk for 15 minutes, Bukowski turned to drop a quarter in another game and suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack. Though an autopsy revealed two-week old scar tissue on the teenager's heart, news reports supposedlly appeared blaming the excitement and stress caused by Berzerk for causing the attack (though this refer to the Kiesling artcile below).

Unlike the Dailey incident, this one is supported by media accounts. The most well-known is probably Stephen Kiesling's artcile Death of a Video Gamer in the October, 1982 issue of Video Games ( reports that Bukowski (misspelled "Burkowski") was an "A student" and came in with a friend around 8:30 PM and played the game, getting his name on the high score board at least twice. It also reported that " crews descended on Friar Tuck's..." and that owner Tom Blankly didn't like the publicity. The article speculates on whether the stress of video games could have caused the incident.

In addition tothe Video Games account, the story also appeared in local papers in the Calumet City, area (see below).

Elyria (OH) Chronicle-Telegram, April 27, 1982

Rockford (IL) Register, April 29, 1982

Retrogamer #47 ran an article on The Making of Berzerk in which designer Alan McNeil addressed these rumors in a sidebar:

"But one player did die while playing the game (Alan refutes reports that claim two died). 'The unfortunate fellow was obese and had run upstairs to play the game', Alan explains: 'The legend is he set a high score and died, but the owner of the arcade said he didn’t finish the game – he was out of breath from the moment he arrived until he dropped. The legend is way better than reality: the excitement of playing a game killing a player after setting a high score...'"

Some have speculated that McNeil was actually talking about the Dailey incident (probably because the Video Games article said Bukowski was "apparentlly healthy" not obsese) but the Bukowski story is much more well known and is supported by contemporary sources so if one one of the stories is true, it's clearly the Bukowski story.


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