Vagneur: Talk to your kids about deadly choking game | AspenTimes.com

Vagneur: Talk to your kids about deadly choking game

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

You might be familiar with these terms, all slang for the same game: Space Cowboy, Space Monkey, Funky Chicken, Blackout, Tingling, Dream Game, Fainting Game, Flatline, California High, or Airplaning.

They're all used to describe a deadly diversion practiced by some adolescents, generally between ages 9 and 16; something called the "Choking Game". Maybe you've heard of it — I hadn't — but my research has put me in touch with friends who know of it, or who have played the game. It kills.

The very specific idea is to intentionally stop breathing until you pass out, and then as you regain consciousness, the rush of fresh oxygen returning to your brain brings on a euphoric high. The strangling, or suffocation part, is usually learned in group situations, but not always, and as is conventional in this day and age, the internet has a plethora of videos and essays dedicated to detailing this so-called "game."

Why would young folks do something like this? At first it doesn't sound rational, but for one thing, it's also called the "Good Kid's Game" because it doesn't involve drugs or alcohol. Some young people view it as a safe activity they can indulge in to get high without parental concern about drug or alcohol use. They look at the world with a simpler, less experienced eye than adults and, unless told of the dangers, are not necessarily aware of what can go wrong.

In a group situation, there is someone there to release the pressure on the neck, or carotid arteries, someone to watch your back, thereby allowing breathing to resume. The person wakes up with a smile, or a few convulsions, and a weird look; there are laughs all around and it doesn't seem like a big deal — everyone's OK. However, a person generally collapses when they pass out, exposing themselves to broken bones, skull fractures or other injuries associated with unrestrained falls. Brain cell death is a given.

Sometimes in the recovery process they convulse uncontrollably, as in a seizure, endangering themselves and others around them. And even if the ligature or other breath-stealing device is released in time, i.e., quickly, there have been documented instances where full consciousness has not been achieved and brain injury is permanent. Some have simply remained in a coma until all heroic measures were finally stopped.

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All that good news in a group setting, but what about when a young person is alone and attempting the same sort of dynamic only using whatever devices he or she may come up with? Unfortunately, acting alone and in private is very common. An example is a young man who died last year when his quick-release system failed him. He'd made a loop out of a dog leash by pulling the dog-end through the handle, putting the loop around his neck as a noose and as a safety-release maneuver, put the free, dog-end over the stair bannister. In this way, he could effectively hang himself, keeping pressure on his neck by holding the free dog-end in his hand until he passed out. At that time his hand would release the dog-end of the leash, thereby releasing the pressure on his neck.

A fail-safe system he had used many times before, as attested to by another worn out dog leash found hidden in the basement, but on the fateful day, as the youngster lost consciousness, the free, dog-end of the leash, the one with the snap on it, hung up in a crack on the bannister, failing to release the deadly pressure on the boy's neck. Imagine the horror of finding your child in such a situation, past the point of resuscitation.

Still, as adults, we wonder what the allure can be; it doesn't seem to make sense, but unless we've tried it, we can't know. The first documented death was sometime around 1934, but it is no doubt much older than that. We're not experiencing an epidemic, but it does go on; it operates under the radar and can be addictive, which makes it entirely disturbing.

Many times, officials determine the cause of death to be suicide by hanging or suffocation when in fact it is accidental death from playing this dangerous game.

What does that mean to you as a parent, grandparent or family member? Just recently a young man, a local boy from a great family, was found in the family barn, an apparent victim of this activity. He was alone, as most of the fatalities are, and tragically his fail-safe system failed him. It's fairly hard to spell tragedy much worse than that, especially if you're a parent. He was 13 years old.

The Aspen and Roaring Fork school districts are aware of this phenomenon and have reached out to students and parents alike, leaving doors open for communication.

It's a good conversation to have with your kids.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.