Boy chokes to death on 'game'

2008-03-06 07:35

Johannesburg - A life-threatening choking "game", which ostensibly gives players a euphoric experience, has caused the death of a 14-year-old boy in Brits.

Marius Prinsloo, a Grade-9 pupil at Brits High School was found dead in his bedroom by his 16-year-old brother, Nico, at 09:00 on Sunday. He was found hanging from the handle of the cupboard door by a scarf.

Photos of Marius playing the "choking game", also called "space monkey", the "pass-out game" and the "scarf game", were found later on his cellphone.

According to Dr Pixie du Toit, a forensic criminologist who does research on the game and on teen suicides, the game requires that a participant choke himself with a tie, a scarf, a belt or a rope until just before losing consciousness. His friends then untie him or he unties himself.

Ostensibly the player experiences feelings of euphoria as he begins to lose consciousness and again when the blood and oxygen return to the brain. Sometimes the game is coupled with masturbation.

'It didn't make sense'

The game is more commonly played than parents realise and is spreading across the country, said Du Toit.

Until Monday, the Prinsloo family had been under the impression that Marius had committed suicide.

His mother, Hannie Prinsloo, 41, said on Wednesday: "It didn't make sense to us. Marius was a happy child who told me two weeks ago that he'd never been as happy as he was then.

"It also seemed strange that he had hung himself from the handle of the cupboard door, which is so low. And, there was no note or any clues which indicated suicide."

It was only after her brother had spoken to colleagues about the incident that they began to wonder. Then they found the photos on his cellphone.

Hannie said: "According to the time on the cellphone, the photos must've been taken at school," said Hannie.

She contacted the principal and he confirmed that they knew the game was being played at the school.

According to Du Toit, it is commonly played by boys between the ages of 14 and 16.

Du Toit said: "We have had cases as young as nine, but it happens more frequently in adolescence when the hormones are running high and they're looking for excitement.

"Even the first time that they experience the euphoria, they already have caused brain damage.

"The choking causes brain damage, blood vessels are damaged, the voice box can tear and there can be many other injuries if they survive.

Counsellors called in

She said research showed that when a child died, under these circumstances it usually isn't the first time that he had played "the game".

The high school called in counsellors this week to speak to children individually and in groups about "the game".

Hannie said Marius, "was our flower child, always singing and dancing around the house"

"I'm in so much pain, but I also am extremely angry with him for doing something so foolish. He wasn't a stupid child."