Gamebusters myth 7: Berzerk
Welcome to another session of Gamebusters. For first time readers, in this series we track down popular myths revolving around video games and see if we can prove them to be nothing more than simple myth. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we wind up proving the myth to be fact. This week, we’ll be looking at the first game to have supposedly caused the death of a gamer; Berzerk.
The history of the myth begins in the 1980’s. According to legend, in January, 1981, the 19-year-old Jeff Dailey becomes the very first gamer to be added to Berzerk’s death toll. The young man had spent quite a bit of time at Friar Tuck’s, struggling to get his name on the high score list. He finally succeeded posting the high score of 16,660 in the game, and shortly after he passed away due to a heart attack.
One year later, in the month of October, the game struck once again, as an 18-year-old kid named Peter Bukowski (who was supposedly good friends with the first victim), who is described as “Eighteen, likeable, and apparently healthy”, played the game for around fifteen minutes. During this time, he succeeded in getting his name in the top ten twice, then decided that he had enough of the game and went on to a second machine. Soon after he placed his coin in this machine, he collapsed. Peter was already dead by 9 P.M. due to a heart attack.
Berzerk wasn’t quite finished with a mere two victims, however, though the third death surrounding the game breaks the mold of the legend a bit. In March 21, 1988, Friar Tuck’s still had the popular Berzerk machine that Peter and Jeff had played shortly before their deaths. Edward Clark Jr. a 17-year-old, got into a fight with a 16-year-old named Pedro Roberts. This fight surrounded a quarter that Edward used to play Berzerk. This quarter, Pedro claimed, was his, but the owners kicked him out first. A mere ten minutes after Pedro was kicked out of Friar Tuck’s, Edward and his friends were allowed to leave, though they were advised to head a different way. They decided not to listen, and as they approached an alley around the corner from the establishment, Pedro stabbed Edward, killing the young man.
Myth or fact? This myth is a bit complicated to prove or disprove, as it involves three different deaths. We’ll look into each one and provide details, starting with the supposed first victim, Jeff Dailey. Though we have looked through several obituaries by searching the Social Security Death Index, we have found no substantial proof that this young man existed. Two men by the name of Jeff Dailey did indeed die that year in Illinois, but they were both elderly gentlemen, where the Jeff from the legend is a young man. We also found a Jeff Dailey at the right age who died in Virginia, but the cause of death for this young man was a vehicle accident. Due to the sheer lack of substantial proof surrounding the first victim, we have to declare this part of the legend a mere myth.
Next up is Peter Bukowski. This young man did indeed die shortly after playing the game, as an article from 1982 attests. When asked if Peter was “A casualty of the games,” Lake County’s deputy corner, Mark Allen, stated, “Yes and no.” He explains that although the autopsy revealed unsuspected scar tissue on Peter’s heart that was at least two weeks old, he believes that it is indeed possible that the stress of the game triggered the attack in the young man’s weakened heart. Said Mr. Allen, “We certainly don’t want to scare people away from video games. Peter could have died in a number of stressful situations. We once had a boy who had a heart attack while studying for an exam. It just happened that he died in front of a video game, but it’s also quite interesting.” So Berzerk did indeed apparently cause the young man’s heart to give out, making this part of the legend truth.
Finally we have Edward Clark and Pedro. As you have seen, the story did not involve the same type of death as the other two players, but was situated in the same area (Friar Tuck’s) and featured (supposedly) the exact same Berzerk machine that was featured in the first two supposed deaths. Digging through old papers reveal that this story also seems to have at least some basis behind it, according to a Chicago Tribune article written in 1988. The article states that the stabbing occurred after a quarrel in Friar Tuck’s, as per the story, so it appears that this portion is truth as well.
Overall, it appears that of the three Berzerk related deaths, two are fact and only one has no concrete proof to back it up. As a result, overall we must declare this myth to be fact. Do not get the wrong idea, however, as we aren’t saying that the game itself caused the deaths (with the exception of Peter, and it should be noted that even he could have died in almost any other situation due to the scar tissue, so placing all of the blame on the game isn’t fair).
As always, I hope you enjoyed reading this Gamebusters myth. If you have any myths in mind that you would like us to debunk, please, let us know in the comments, and we will do our best to debunk (or prove, depending on what we find) the myth as soon as possible.