Can Playing Video Games Kill You?

From time to time, there are media reports about people who have died playing video games. But what is the scale of the problem and what are the reasons behind these tragic deaths?

In this article, we look at recent research into gamer death and whether video game addiction has a part to play.

How many people have died from gaming addiction?

New research into ‘Sudden gamer death: non-violent death cases linked to playing video games’ 1 1. Sudden gamer death: non-violent death cases linked to playing video games × has found 24 gaming-related deaths worldwide between 1982 and 2021, with 23 of the deaths taking place between 2002 and 2021. So, can you die from playing video games? Or, more specifically, can excessive gaming cause death? The research concludes that most of the victims are likely to have suffered from video game addiction.

However, it’s unlikely that this represents all deaths linked to playing video games. The research recognized that cases are more likely to get media attention if they happen in a public place or there are unusual circumstances. It’s probable that other deaths have not been reported to respect the privacy of the victims’ families. Also, the researchers were only able to identify deaths that received international media attention and were covered on English language websites. Any deaths caused by video game addictions reported by local news sources would have gone below their radar.

The research only includes players whose deaths appear to be directly connected to playing video games. It does not take into account deaths that could be linked to video games for other reasons such as video game suicides, violence from gaming, accidents or homicides driven by impulse, anger, revenge or negligence rather than the act of gaming itself.

Are there any common factors of the gaming-related deaths?

Brian Vigneault live streamer who died

So, the true number of victims is probably unknown but let’s look at the 24 people whose deaths have been linked to playing video games:

  • 23 of the victims were male and only one was female.
  • 14 of the deceased came from south-east Asia – China, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand – and most (12) of those cases happened in internet cafés.
  • The age of the victims ranged from 11 to 40 years old.
  • 18 of the victims took part in marathon gaming sessions before they died with very little, if any, rest. This is a good indicator of a gaming addiction death.
  • Most were playing MMO games which are competitive, fast-paced and need high levels of concentration. It’s easy to lose track of time, play for hours on end, and forget to eat, drink, exercise and sleep.
  • No one is reported to have died playing sandbox games (which require creativity rather than action) or more slow-paced adventure games.

It’s interesting – but perhaps unsurprising – that half of the cases are linked to internet cafés. Many such venues are open 24/7 so gamers can play for hours on end without parental supervision. They are cheap to use, food and drink is readily available, and some cafés even offer overnight accommodation.

What were the causes of video game addiction deaths?

causes of video game death

There is no need to look at the top 10 deaths caused by video games as there are three main reasons among the 24 victims, although the cause of death is unknown in some cases:

Heart problems

The most common cause of death appears to be heart-related problems: heart attack, heart failure, sudden arrhythmia death syndrome and cardiac arrest. Most of the victims had been gaming for multiple hours prior to their death.

One victim of heart failure, a 28-year-old male from South Korea, had been playing for 50 hours before he lost consciousness and died. During his lengthy gaming session he had paused only for restroom breaks and to eat and drink a little, and had not slept for two days. These unhealthy gaming habits are likely to have cost him his life. Spending hours every day in a sedentary position playing video games can have severe implications for your physical health, as explained in our article on the negative effects of video games.

Pulmonary embolism

A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot gets stuck in the lung and blocks the blood flow. Blood clots often start in the legs and travel through the heart and into the lungs. This is known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Common risk factors for DVT include lack of movement, dehydration, obesity and smoking.

Often, gamers who play for hours without a break are so focused on the action they can forget to move around, eat or drink. When they do stop, they may grab some junk food rather than choose a healthy option. One of the video game addiction deaths was a 24-year-old male from South Korea who suffered a pulmonary embolism. He had been gaming for 86 hours before he died, only stopping to buy cigarettes and use the bathroom.

Cerebral hemorrhage

One of the deceased is reported to have experienced a cerebral hemorrhage – commonly known as a bleed on the brain – while another had a stroke. The type of stroke was not specified but it is likely to have been a hemorrhage stroke or subarachnoid hemorrhage. Raised blood pressure during long gaming sessions may have been behind the cerebral hemorrhage.

Pre-existing medical conditions

It’s interesting to note that 10 of the deceased had pre-existing medical conditions including asthma, obesity, heart problems, high blood pressure and liver disease/gallstones.

Is this the first esports-related death?

One of the deaths did not occur due to uncontrolled gaming but after two months of intensive training for an esports competition. Could this be the first esports-related death?

The 21-year-old male from Sweden did not die when training or during the competition itself but when he was sleeping afterwards. The researchers wonder whether this change in balance was the trigger, or whether other factors were involved such as a post-competition celebration.

How can you stay safe when gaming?

So, should gamers and parents be worried? Can video games kill you? It appears they can, but the risk appears to be extremely low – one death per 30 million gamers each year. This is much lower than the risk of sport-related death.

However, there are other problems that can affect gamers which, though less serious, are still a cause for concern. When you, or your child, spend hours sitting in front of a screen immersed in games, it’s easy to forget to eat and drink regularly, exercise, sleep, spend time with friends and family IRL, enjoy other activities, and focus on school or work. When the balance swings in favor of gaming, it can have a knock-on effect on your relationships, grades or career, other hobbies, and physical and mental health.

If you or a loved one have an unhealthy relationship with gaming and feel that it’s taking over your life, you may have video game addiction. Take our short quiz to find out.

At Game Quitters, we help gamers and families get control over gaming and develop safer gaming habits. In just 12 weeks, you or someone you care about will be free of gaming problems. We accept both individuals and families onto our program, including gamers currently in denial.

Take the first step today and apply for a Gameplan strategy call to see if you’re a good fit. Limited spots are available.

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