How Many People Has the Berzerk Arcade Game Killed?

The Berzerk arcade cabinet is a fascinating piece of video game history. It was one of the first games to use voice synthesis, which was an insanely expensive process back in 1980. In fact, it’s estimated that Berzerk‘s 30-word vocabulary cost $1,000 per word to produce due to its expensive Linear Predictive Coding. The game was also notable for introducing the world to “Evil Otto,” an antagonistic smiley face that would chase the player down if he or she spent too much time in a single panel of the maze. (It’s no coincidence that Evil Otto shares a surname with Dave Otto, a security officer who had worked with Berzerk designer Alan McNeil.)

 Jeff Dailey

Perhaps the most macabre piece of trivia about this arcade game, however, is that it’s infamously known as the first arcade game to be tied to the death of its players.

Now, urban legends are bound to spring up from circumstances like this, and it’s been said that Berzerk had killed three people at Friar Tuck’s Game Room arcade in Calumet City, Illinois. The scary thing is, at least two of these deaths actually happened.

The first — and the one that is almost certainly more urban legend than truth — was Jeff Dailey, who allegedly had entered his initials twice in the Berzerk machine’s top ten players list before dying of a heart attack. Weird detail: His score was 16,660 (remove the “binary” numbers, 1 and 0, and you’ve got 666). Reports are conflicted about this, though it’s been claimed that Dailey had been friends with Peter Burkowski, death number two.

Simon Parkin’s book Death by Video Game: Tales of Obsession from the Virtual Frontline tells the story:

Death by Video Game

(The full book can be purchased on Amazon, if you want to read it. And you should.)

Some have claimed there is no official source for this story, and that it’s likely part of an urban legend. I, however, managed to find this article in the April 27, 1982 edition of the Chicago Tribune:

Chicago Tribune

Sadly, Burkowski’s death was no hoax. (The only detail still up in the air here is the spelling of his last name: most sources say “Burkowski” while the Chicago Tribune says “Bukowski” with no R.)

Mark Allen, Lake County deputy coroner (mentioned in the Tribune article) seemed to think the source of the heart attack may have been the combination of elevated heart rate (due to the excitement of scoring so high in Berzerk) and some scarring on his heart tissue, which would have been present long before he’d entered the arcade. Allen is quoted elsewhere as saying: “We certainly don’t want to scare people away from video games. Peter could have died in a number of stressful situations. We once had a boy who had a heart attack while studying for an exam. It just happened that he died in front of a video game, but it’s also quite interesting.”

Berzerk‘s designer Alan McNeil has publicly refuted one death while acknowledging the other, according to a sidebar titled “Kill the Humanoid!” in Issue 47 of Retro Gamer magazine.

Retro Gamer Berzerk

This is in line with everything I’ve seen thus far. If Jeff Dailey did indeed die under the same circumstances, why would the Chicago Tribune leave that detail out? All the evidence seems to imply that Dailey’s death was nothing more than an urban legend. (GotGame’s Gamebusters did their own research on the topic and came to roughly the same conclusion I did on this one. They did find an obituary for a Jeff Dailey who would have been approximately the right age, though he died in a completely different state under completely different circumstances.)

Berzerk

The third death may have had absolutely nothing to do with Berzerk, though it took place outside the very same Friar Tuck’s Game Room in 1988. Sources claim there was an altercation that ended when one arcade-goer decided to stab another to death. Some have suggested the fight started over a quarter that was inserted into a Berzerk machine (the very same one Burkowski had played?), though this is a difficult detail to confirm now that so many decades have passed.

Of course, one of the most eerie details about this whole thing is that Calumet City is home to not one but two water towers that bear a striking resemblance to Evil Otto.

Calumet City Water Tower
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h0tp0ck3t
h0tp0ck3t
5 years ago

I wonder if this is why there hasn’t been a home version of Berzerk in ~30 years. I still wish they would make one. It’s so simple yet still so fun.

h0tp0ck3t
h0tp0ck3t
5 years ago

I wonder if this is why there hasn’t been a home version of Berzerk in ~30 years. I still wish they would make one. It’s so simple yet still so fun.

john
6 months ago

it would been cool to have a 3d version of the game

Derek L Anderson
Derek L Anderson
3 months ago

80s Arcade Cabinet game. BERSERK.

Ok. I dont know about THE Evil Otto makes you die or kill conspiracy but this is the reality. This was a long time ago and we all know how tricky human memory can be so bear with me. Some things you just cant forget! I have been researching these Berserker and Polybius games for decades now, and as far as Berserker goes… This is my story.

I was about 5 years old give or take a year and some change. This would be around 1984-1986 ish. My family and their friends werewith us passing by Beaverton Oregon. I remember the large wooden statue of a beaver (duh) greeting us as we drove into town. It was amazing to see and remember at that age. We stopped at the Safe-Way (grocery mart). I’m not sure if that was the place or it was a bar or restaurant this took place at, but that is where I played this game for the first and final time. I had Atari at hone so I LOVED video games. My dad and I were waiting outside. There was ONE arcade cabinet outside among the stools and benches. I seen this lone arcade cabinet sitting outside by itself. Begged my dad to let me play since we were just hanging around outside for reasons my child brain was not worrying about. The artwork on the side of the cabinet resembled a large 80s style art of what I thought I SWORE was Darth Vader! I loved games and Star Wars so I had to play it. My Dad was awesome so he set me up to the controls.

Now… Either I was that dang good or I just dont remember killing off the drones in the game, there were none in the first place… BUT what I can never forget was the BOSS fight.

My dad is blind in one eye all his life. Probably wasnt paying attention to the game so I do not recall if it was he or myself that figured out that the only enemy in the game I was worried about was INVISIBLE!!! I remember thinking what a SCAM! I hid in the lower right corner of the map for most of the game, shooting in all directions knowing it was coming for me. I imagined the invisible villain to be the Darth Vader like figure covering and advertising most of the arcade cabinets side. I did think this was a Star Wars game at first, which is why I wanted to play it to begin with.

Of course I I died against the invisible enemy I was trying to randomly hit hiding I the corner. Then we finally go inside and I see a whole arcade full of cabinet games as we finally go inside.

I do not remember anything after that. Not a single memory gods know how long.
After that I remember laying on a couch and watching the adults in the room. Their heads started shrinking and their voices getting higher in pitch, like the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons!!!!!?

I have had strange or lucid dreams and night terrors when I did sleep, insomnia, and plenty of other strange things that just didn’t exist in my life before that.

I was Fox Mulder BEFORE I had access to the internet because of that FIRST experience. I have seen And experienced much more since then, but back in the 80s early 90s, I have had precognitions and what we would call now have had an ” empathic and emotional intelligence level” that is obviously not common in my 38 years of life since then.

Ok. I dont know about Otto. This was a long time ago and we all know how tricky human memory can be… But some things you just cant forget! I have been researching these Berserker and Polybius games for decades now, and as far as Berserker goes… This is my story.

I was about 5 years old give or take a year and some change. This would be around 1984-1986 ish. My family and their friends werewith us passing by Beaverton Oregon. I remember the large wooden statue of a beaver (duh) greeting us as we drove into town. It was amazing to see and remember at that age. We stopped at the Safe-Way (grocery mart). I’m not sure if that was the place or it was a bar or restaurant this took place at, but that is where I played this game for the first and final time. I had Atari at hone so I LOVED video games. My dad and I were waiting outside. There was ONE arcade cabinet outside among the stools and benches. I seen this lone arcade cabinet sitting outside by itself. Begged my dad to let me play since we were just hanging around outside for reasons my child brain was not worrying about. The artwork on the side of the cabinet resembled a large 80s style art of what I thought I SWORE was Darth Vader! I loved games and Star Wars so I had to play it. My Dad was awesome so he set me up to the controls.

Now… Either I was that dang good or I just dont remember killing off the drones in the game, there were none in the first place… BUT what I can never forget was the BOSS fight.

My dad is blind in one eye all his life. Probably wasnt paying attention to the game so I do not recall if it was he or myself that figured out that the only enemy in the game I was worried about was INVISIBLE!!! I remember thinking what a SCAM! I hid in the lower right corner of the map for most of the game, shooting in all directions knowing it was coming for me. I imagined the invisible villain to be the Darth Vader like figure covering and advertising most of the arcade cabinets side. I did think this was a Star Wars game at first, which is why I wanted to play it to begin with.

Of course I I died against the invisible enemy I was trying to randomly hit hiding I the corner. Then we finally go inside and I see a whole arcade full of cabinet games as we finally go inside.

I do not remember anything after that. Not a single memory gods know how long.
After that I remember laying on a couch and watching the adults in the room. Their heads started shrinking and their voices getting higher in pitch, like the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons!!!!!?

I have had strange or lucid dreams and night terrors when I did sleep, insomnia, and plenty of other strange things that just didn’t exist in my life before that.

I was Fox Mulder BEFORE I had access to the internet because of that FIRST experience. I have seen And experienced much more since then, but back in the 80s early 90s, I have had precognitions and what we would call now have had an ” empathic and emotional intelligence level” that is obviously not common in my 38 years of life since then.

I dont know what that game did to me. For me it seems like a MKUltra story with the reprogramming but without the torture and death.
Some kinds of Psychosis’ may still be a side effect howevever. I just don’t know but I was never right after that. Since then I’m not sure what to think except that moment led me down the paths of professional science and theology trying to balance or find some solace for this moment and certain ones after that since then… IDK. Just being honest with what I know, remember, and dont know…

berkay
6 days ago

dis game are bad dont make dis game its not good trust me is bad game dis game make you some tin i dont known what he make but you go hosbital dis game are not good for kids i swear trust me pleasse plss its not good i swear trust me please plss please move dis game now

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