Updated 23 May 2014

The choking game could be your child's last game – ever

The choking game is a popular game among children – who are not aware of the sometimes fatal consequences.

It may be wise to know the games your child plays – either with friends or when alone.

The choking game has been around for some time, but is rearing its ugly head again when an American teen was found dead in his bedroom on 13 February 2014.  His father, Steve Kafka, found him lifeless in his room with a rope around his neck.

The game is played by compressing the chest, or squeezing the neck with the hands or a ligature device such as a rope, cord or belt to cause auto-asphyxiation, causing the person to pass out.

Sometimes it's done in groups, and sometimes kids do it on their own - just to reach the high, or rush, caused by the lack of oxygen. Another variation of the game involves hyperventilating until losing consciousness.

In January 2014 a learner from Sasolburg High School in the Free State, Gerard Kuhn, died shortly before starting his Grade 10 year after what is believed to have been a botched attempt to play the choking game.

Read: 'Choking game' popular with young teens

A rope around his neck

Gavin Cocks of Games Adolescents Shouldn’t Play (GASP) says this game has unfortunately never gone away. Once they explain to parents and teachers what the game actually is, many come forward saying that they played it in some form or another when they were at school.

“It is very prevalent in both primary and high schools. In all the awareness talks that I have presented over the past three to four years I have not found one school where it was not known to some of the pupils. 

The exact percentages are not known, as this varies according to the different schools, size of the groups, disciplinary procedures at the school etc. It is also known by many different names, varying according to area,” says Cocks.

Different names for the choking game:

Blackout, Fainting Game, Space Monkey, Dream Game, Suffocation, Roulette, Passout, Flatliner, California High, Airplaning, Space Monkey, American Dream, Funky Chicken, Tingling, Gasp, California knockout.

'This is a big problem, not only in this country but all over the world,' Gavin says. In South Africa GASP is the only group involved with this activity. They promote their campaign mainly through the schools on a personal level. 

Very explicit videos

“I give a 40 minute presentation to either children or parents and teachers. I do not show children how to play the game but I explain what could happen to them, and why it will or could happen. 

The parents/ teachers presentations include videos from social networks. These are very explicit videos. I then go onto the medical consequences and effects,” he adds.

One of GASP’s major problems with presentations is that schools are worried that it might start something in their school – but often the schools are shocked when they see how many of their kids already know about, or are playing the game in some way.

Watch: Vincent Kafka's parents, of Red Wing in Minnesota in the US, speak out about the tragedy that hit their home. 

Signs to look out for (source: GASP).
  • Any suspicious mark on the side of the neck, sometimes hidden by a turtleneck, scarf or permanently turned-up collar.
  • Changes in personality, such as overtly aggressive or agitated.
  • Any kind of strap, rope or belt lying around near the child for no clear reason—and attempts to elude questions about such objects
  • Headaches (sometimes excruciatingly bad ones), loss of concentration, flushed face.
  • Bloodshot eyes or any other noticeable signs of eye stress
  • A thud in the bedroom or against a wall—meaning a fall in cases of solitary practice.
  • Any questions about the effects, sensations or dangers of strangulation.
Erotic asphyxiation
A variant of choking for pleasurable effect is erotic asphyxiation. This is the purposeful decrease of oxygen, through choking, during sexual activity, usually with the goal of increasing the intensity of orgasm. When this is done during masturbation, it is known as erotic auto-asphyxiation or auto-erotic asphyxiation.

Several deaths have been attributed to this dangerous practice. Victims are most often male and in their 20s. Michael Hutchence, lead singer of INXS, and actor David Carradine are suspected to have died from erotic auto-asphyxiation.

- Simamkele Matuntuta, Health24, February 2014

Seidl, Stefan. 2004. Accidental Erotic Death.

Read more:

More information on the choking game
Doctors unaware of the choking game
What to do if your child chokes
Visit GASP for support and more information
Fact sheets, downloadable videos and more from American website Erik's Cause




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