Deadly games and the latest killer TikTok challenge

TikTok is a popular platform on which trending challenges regularly circulate. (Photo: Unsplash)
TikTok has been home to many viral trends and challenges, some of which have been harmless, and others which have been deadly. Tasks like the cinnamon challenge (in which you swallow a spoonful of cinnamon dry, with no water or beverages), or the silhouette challenge (where you showcase your silhouette against a colorful background in order to produce an aesthetic visual effect), have circulated around TikTok for quite a while, as the platform feeds off a stream of trends and exponential views.اضافة اعلان

One game that has been circulating around TikTok since late 2021 is called the blackout challenge. Some may recognize the name; while others may know it as the choking challenge, the pass-out challenge, the “space monkey” challenge, or in Arabic, luabet al-mawt, the “game of death”. The challenge involves holding your breath or strangling yourself until you pass out. The concept itself predates most social networks, as it has drawn media attention as far back as 2008, according to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), which, in February of that year, reported the death of at least 82 youths who played the game.

This blackout challenge recently reached Egyptian schools, with the Sabah Al-Arabiya show publishing a video covering this serious, rising issue including some clips of kids trying the challenge, successfully causing their friends to black out. The Egyptian Ministry of Education confirmed that it “observed some students in a number of schools affiliated with different educational departments playing a dangerous game (from social networking apps, such as TikTok). Within the game, the students’ lives are put in danger as they go unconscious.”

Some reports have even emerged of children trying the challenge from the UAE. one report, published on Expat Media, a UAE news site, and other Emirati news channels, covers an attempt by a classmate to choke a 13-year-old Emirati child using a rope. The incident left the 13-year-old with neck bruises and general injuries.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner, Dr Nick Flynn, a general practitioner at Union Quay Medical Center in Cork, Ireland, warned of the dangers that the challenge presents. He explained that, in playing the game, children replicate suffocation conditions.

“What is actually going on in the brain is a lack of oxygen similar to when someone is drowning, choking or having a cardiac arrest,” Flynn explained. “It causes brain hypoxia or low levels of oxygen in the brain, and that can cause seizures and death. If you have low oxygen to the brain for over three minutes you can get brain damage and if you have low oxygen to the brain for over five minutes, it can result in death.”

Before the challenge re-emerged in its TikTok form, the CDC had released an extensive list of signs suggesting that a child or adult has tried the game, including but not limited to: bloodshot eyes, severe headaches, ropes, scarves, or belts tied to bedroom furniture or doorknobs or found knotted on the floor, and the unexplained presence of objects such as dog leashes, choke collars, and bungee cords.

Many children have died because of the challenge, with parents trying to take legal action and sue TikTok. Many of these lawsuits were dismissed, with a judge writing, “Defendants (TikTok) did not create the challenge; rather, they made it readily available on their site,” according to NBC News.

Lalani Erika Walton and Arriani Arroyo are two of the many children who have died due to this challenge. Both were found hanging, choked to death after going through with “space monkey”, according to news outlet Insider. TikTok, the Washington Post reported, has simply ended up blocking #BlackoutChallenge from its search engine, without much further action in response to parents of the children who died after watching the videos on this hashtag.

The oddest thing about the whole situation is the game’s history. Such choking challenges have existed as far back as 1995, with three deaths reportedly being attributed to such games that year. Some unclear anecdotal evidence suggests that the game could have even been played between 1930 and 1950. While this shows that TikTok is not where the challenge was born, it also begs the question: where and how did the challenge come to existence? As it was probably first spread through word-of-mouth, no clear answer is in sight. Back then, however, the main goal was not to gain virtual views — instead, it was to get high through temporary asphyxiation.

A shocking 36 million results are available when one searches “how to play pass out game” on YouTube according to Time Magazine, and around 500 thousand pop up for “how to play choking game”. At one point, a video was available on the platform showing a young boy trying the challenge in 2015. Fortunately, he ended up only wheezing instead of passing out. YouTube has long since taken down the video, which garnered just shy of 2,500 views.

Parents of young children should not give them unrestricted access to internet search engines and social media platforms without parental controls, until they reach an age when they can decipher the absurdity of these challenges. The internet is a perilous wonderland, with its danger increasing by the second. It is up to parents to educate their children about hazardous and risky digital alleyways that may place them in grave — even mortal — danger.

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