Residents recall "pass-out game" from youth
In both practices, someone first breathes in and out rapidly, hyperventilating. In the choking game, someone else then chokes that person until he faints.
Several Janesville residents approached at random said they remember the choking game from their youths.
Descriptions of the practice talk about a “rush” or “high” that participants experience.
The game can produce a euphoric feeling and can become addictive, said Ronald Peters, assistant professor of health promotion and behavioral sciences at The University of Texas School of Public Health at Houston, quoted in that organization’s Web site.
Death or brain damage are among the possible outcomes, Peters said.
A recent article from the National Centers for Disease Control described a survey of choking-game incidents from 1995 to 2007.
Using news reports, the CDC identified 82 choking-game deaths in that time period. Often, death came when the victim tried it alone.
Often, the coroner’s report lists the cause as accidental hanging. Boys accounted for 87 percent of the deaths in the CDC study. Most were ages 11-16.
“Within three minutes of continued strangulation, basic functions such as memory, balance, and the central nervous system start to fail,” according to the CDC. “Death occurs shortly after.”
The CDC says nonlethal consequences can include death of brain cells due to oxygen deprivation, coma, seizures, concussions, hemorrhaging of the eye and broken bones from falls.
Chest compressions also might break ribs, said Dr. Ben Tippets, a pulmonologist with University Hospital in Madison.
Tippets said the hyperventilation decreases carbon dioxide in blood and constricts blood vessels in the brain.
“It’s all about blood and the brain and not having enough blood to support normal brain function,” Tippets said.
The game goes by numerous names, including the knockout, blackout, twitching game, scarf game, airplaning, gasp, space monkey, the American dream, purple haze and flatliner.
At least one organization has formed to combat the phenomenon. Games Adolescents Shouldn’t Play—G.A.S.P.—has a Web site at www.stop-the-choking-game.com.
The CDC’s information is at www.cdc.gov/Features/ChokingGame.