In the 1980s, the Ataris game Berzerk caused the deaths of several teenagers. Curse or fatal coincidence?
In the wave of urban legends from the arcade era, some have a more special resonance than others. If you had the slightest intuition, know that this time it’s not about Polybius, this famous killer machine allegedly developed by the FBI (and whose story has already been told in this previous article). The story that we share with you today is the story of a title that is truly the starting point for the deaths of two teenagers. To know its dark expanse, let’s take the road to Illinois. Miles up, not far from Route 83, two water towers with smiling faces welcome you. Their silhouettes strangely reflect that of Evil Otto, the antagonist of the arcade game Berzerk published in 1980 by Atari. Video Ace, a small independent gaming magazine, released two issues at this time before shutting down completely. In one of them, we tell about the accident of a certain Jeff Daily, a 19-year-old kid who accidentally rubbed his shoulders with the mischievous yellow ball. Posted faithfully on his game terminal, he topped one day with a score of 16,660 points. Proudly he wrote his initials into the machine’s scoreboard. And when his name appears on the screen, he gets a devastating heart attack. He will lose his life soon after. The numbers “666” that are visible in the score plague the most timid. And since the tragedy is only the first in a series, it is said that Evil Otto by some supernatural means is able to blow some unlucky players to the spot.
Show up at Friar Tuck
A year goes by after the name Jeff’s death. It’s Saturday, April 3, 1982. Eighteen-year-old Peter Burkowski wakes up in his small bedroom in South Holland, Illinois. On television, meteorologists warn of the impending arrival of a snowstorm. This will be the twelfth in just two years. Winter seems endless. Surrounded by his cocoon, Peter spends the morning playing at his console. Then he finally decides to step outside to visit his girlfriend. Around 8 p.m., he then goes with a friend to Friar Tuck’s playroom in Calumet City. On the way, the young boy says he is out of breath and needs something to drink. Maybe because of the snow that covers the ground and makes the road more cumbersome. So before arriving at their destination, the two friends stop to enjoy a soda at a grocery store. A few minutes later they are off again. The Friar Tuck is a bit dilapidated or medieval depending on perceptions; wrought iron lamps hang from the ceiling, sturdy wooden doors adorn the walls. But the atmosphere is warm. Whole families gather there in the afternoon. The room is only two miles from Peter’s. He goes there regularly to find the arcade machine for his favorite game, Berzerk. Tom Blankley, owner of the premises, knows him well now: “He is a very nice child. Quiet and a little shy. No problem(Source: Cat DeSpira).
It was in 1980 that Stern Electronics, a pinball machine specialist, released Berzerk in collaboration with Atari. The game is inspired by the novel series Berserk by author Fred Saberhagen. They tell the story of killing machines that have come to exterminate all forms of life. A forerunner of Run & Gun, the title instructs the player to find his way through randomly generated labyrinthine spaces flooded with killer robots. He was one of the first to use voice synthesis, an incredibly expensive technique at the time. We are talking about an amount of about 1000 dollars per. word. If the protagonist leaves the maze before eliminating all the robots, a small voice can shout “Wet chicken! Fight like a robot!“. It inevitably has its effect. If the player delays for too long in a level, the yellow ball Evil Otto in turn shoots after him. She is untouched. With her blissful smile, she crosses the walls and follows you relentlessly without ever being able to die. Its name is a tribute to Dave Otto, a nice guy who worked for Dave Nuttings Arcade Engineering group as R&D director. He was a friend of Alan McNeil, the newly hired designer at Stern for pinball programming. “I asked if I could make a video game after solving the pinball problem and they said yes“, he told.
Berzerk falls into this category of games where teens gather to achieve the best score. And Peter Burkowski clearly has that in his blood. He registers his initials at least twice in the game’s “Top 10. In the Friar Tuck room, an hour goes by. Tired of his tireless victories, he eventually turns his back on the machine, takes four steps, and loses a coin in another terminal. Then he collapses. Around 9 p.m., Peter Burkowski dies of a heart attack. It seems that Evil Otto has struck again.
“Death by video game”
This evening, Saturday, April 3, 1982, Peter neither drank nor took drugs. He left this world after letting go of the terminal Berzerk. The next day, the incident appeared on the front pages of local newspapers. “Death by video game“says one of them in the headlines. A writer from Video Games magazine takes the subject by storm. Was Peter really a victim of the games?”Yes and no“, Mark Allen, Lake County Assistant Forensic Medicine, responds to journalist Stephen Kiesling.
Although the autopsy revealed the presence of unwanted scar tissue on Peter’s heart, which is at least two weeks old, Mark Allen believes it is possible that the stress from the games triggered the attack in Peter’s weakened heart. -Stephen Kiesling.
Kiesling supports the theory: “Next time you are in a gaming hall, take a moment to observe the other players. Notice the movements of concentration, the way some players’ hands and feet shake with excitement. Often they knock on the machines as if they were fighting real attackers”. Five years earlier, cardiologist Robert S. Eliot of the University of Nebraska Medical Center had already seen in pong players increases in heart rate of 60 beats per minute and blood pressure reaching 220 per minute after the start of a game. And often patients are not even aware of it. Coupled with critical physiological conditions, the reactions can prove to be dramatic. And it turns out that Peter contained a rare form of ventricular cardiomyopathy. That being said, the problem is probably still pretty vague to you; just thought his heart was just a ticking bomb. He could have lost his life in a lot of stressful situations. But it should be in front of the infamous terminal off Berzerk. A coincidence that is eerie enough for a number of film crews to flock to the halls of Friar Tuck to the annoyance of owner Tom Blanky. “I do not like this kind of advertising, ”He breathes. But at the same time… “Peter’s heart contained a ticking bomb that just exploded here. I expected this would hurt the business, but on the contrary, the business increasedAnd meanwhile, the story winds its way and often omits the undiagnosed congenital condition from which Peter suffered.
But what about Jeff Daily, the first alleged victim of Evil Otto? How to explain his sudden death? To uncover this mystery, journalist Cat DeSpira has made it his subject of research. Amidst urban legends and stories from past times, she has an unparalleled reputation. And it did not take him long to track down the Daily. Or at least his corpse. He is buried at Holly Lawn Cemetery in Suffolk City. So it exists. But he did not die as Berzerk in January 1981. He died in a car accident on May 29, 1981. He may have never even touched on the title Atari. And in fact, the score of 16,660 points is absolutely nothing impressive. “It is impossible to play a game of Berzerk for hours on one coin and only get 16,000 points“, entrusts to Cat Grant Theinemann, champion of Berzerk.”If Evil Otto was not part of the game, then I would be okay“. So here it is finally, Peter may be just a sad isolated case. But there’s still another very real story remembered by Cat DeSpira.
It was March 20, 1988 in Lansing. Edward Clark Jr., 17, takes a gang of friends to Friar Tuck, the scene of Peter’s death. Edward has nothing to do with young Peter. Rather, he is one of those who commits petty crime. But a few days ago, he was selected to join the Green Berets. Then his mother finds a little hope for the future of her cherub. Edward is holding himself right now. At Friar Tuck’s he knows he’s out of danger. He hangs around the Battlezone terminal for a moment, then selects the machine Berzerk, the same as in 1982. A handful of coins are sprinkled on the glass. It’s good he’s short of money. Edward looks left, right. None. So he grabs it and sticks one into the terminal. This is where Pedro Roberts rushes out of an alley. The guy is only 16 years old, but he already has the building of the bully, which we prefer to avoid on the public sidewalk. It claims erroneous ownership of the parts. But Edward does not give up, the money is his. The tension rises, they come to blows. “The two young men quarreled and then fought over who was allowed to play the Berzerk game, or perhaps just to insult each other. “, says DeSpira. No one can confirm from a reliable source that the two children knew each other. But Tom Blankely, still the owner of the place, heard some rumors about it: “I remember someone saying that Clark stole Roberts’ girlfriend or something. I do not know if that is true. But whatever it was, it escalated quickly and they had a good fight before we (playroom security) threw them all out.“. Edward is kept inside Friar Tuck while Pedro is fired. Then 10 minutes pass. And Clark is invited out, this time he goes in the opposite direction. But he obeys incorrectly. Waited in an alley and quickly stabbed him in the chest He was pronounced dead a few moments later, in the back seat of a car speeding towards the local hospital, and Pedro Roberts was sentenced to 11 years in prison in May 1990 for his murder. He will serve only three years and will be released on parole. time, Berzerk arcade terminal is the starting point for a very real corpse.
So you guessed it, the story has prompted some whistleblowers to wonder if video games are not too “exciting” for people. But the arcades are still in full swing in their golden age, and fortunately their popularity is not waning. With over 50,000 units sold, Berzerk received a successor in 1982, frenzy. It comes with several robots and an eternally fleeting evil Otto. And good news, no one died. On Route 83, the smiling water towers are erected as fatal flashes and still remind some locals of the legend of the evil Otto.