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Gamer’s death from immobility highlights a global malaise

Dominika Osmolska Psy.D.'s picture

The news is out and has been circulating around the world: a British young man died recently during a marathon Xbox session of the (now) ironically titled game “Halo.” The cause of his death was deep vein thrombosis (DVT), more commonly called stroke, a condition that is more commonly seen in much older, immobilized, or post-operative patients. It can sometimes arise on long airplane flights as well.

An autopsy revealed that Chris Staniforth, at the tender age of 20, suffered from deep vein thrombosis, which can be triggered by sitting in one position for long periods of time. His family reports that he would clock in up to 12-hour sessions - in one sitting - at his gaming console.

The coroner who performed Chris’s autopsy revealed that the clot formed in his calf and then traveled up to his lungs. He collapsed shortly after complaining of painful sensations in his chest. When he bent down to pick up a packet of chewing gum, he suddenly began to spasm, reported his devastated father, David Staniforth.

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The tragic story highlights several crucial issues that young people – and their parents – are grappling with in our 21st century Western world.

While the animated 2008 flick Wall-E received some flak for portraying human beings as immobile blimps careening around in body carts while being continuously transfixed by a stream of various kinds of screen entertainment (and all the bad consequences of such a lifestyle), it is hard not to draw an analogy here. Chris’s case underscores the dangers of living in a virtual world – a world so completely disconnected from embodied activities that it quite literally poses a risk of physical demise.

Embodiment is not simply about living a healthy lifestyle and having a connection to one’s body, although those are good starting points. It is about lived – and living – relationships. Anyone who spends 12 hours a day at the gaming console is not living life itself, which life is, ultimately, about love and connection. The only relationship which exists is one to the machine and its virtual chimera. Oh, yes, another film comes to mind… Matrix, anyone?

We have to urgently ask ourselves what is it that we are crucially missing. How have we literally sold our souls over to the machine?

It will not be enough to launch a campaign, as is being planned, to remind young people about taking breaks during gaming. David Staniforth wants to remind parents across the world that gaming can pose the risk of death. While that warning is true on the concrete level, it is all the more so on an existential and spiritual level. These young warriors sitting behind their gaming consoles are handing over their bodies – and their spirits –to decay before they have ever had the opportunity to fully blossom.