Teens seen playing dangerous game

FUN and games are being taken to a whole new extreme by a group of teenagers caught in many stills from two video clips posted on citizen- journalism website Stomp yesterday.

Believed to be students from a school situated in the western part of Singapore, they were seen practising the choking game, also referred to as suffocation roulette or space cowboy.

In both clips - one lasts 39 seconds and the other, 21 seconds - two different boys who appeared to be about 15 years old were seen standing with their backs against a wall.

A schoolmate was then seen applying pressure on their throat or chest until they became unconscious.

In one clip, the boy woke up and smiled sheepishly. In the other, the other boy stumbled and hit his face on the ground.

Onlookers hooted and continued filming as he regained consciousness five seconds later, clutching his head in pain.

my paper tried to reach the school principal via e-mail and phone yesterday, but she was not contactable.

As of 10pm last night, the Stomp posting attracted at least 17,800 hits and 43 comments, which ranged from incredulity to apathy.

Netizen Kpopcrazy said on Stomp that he tried it when he was in primary school, while Powerstomp said "I did that too in school 25 years ago", and that it was "fun".

Dr Lenny Wan, a wellness and general practitioner with the Singapore Medical Group (SMG), said that the activity is called "recreational asphyxiation", and is "a high-risk activity undertaken mainly by adolescents, which involves temporarily obstructing blood flow to the brain to achieve a brief euphoric state".

Said to have been practised in the West for decades by young people who wanted a "drug-free high", it became widespread in the last decade due to the advent of YouTube in 2005.

YouTube "enabled millions of young people to watch and propagate footage of this activity, potentially 'normalising' this behaviour", said Dr Wan.

In 2008, the United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the choking game was responsible for the deaths of at least 82 children from 1995 to 2007.

In 2000, a 14-year-old Singapore boy was found dead in his flat and was reported to have died because of a similar act.

Said Dr Carol Balhetchet, director of youth services at the Singapore Children's Society: "Teenagers like to know things through their own experiences.

So when they learn about strange things like that online, they want to experiment this behaviour among their peers."

She added that the trend took off here about five years ago, but said that she saw only one such case last year.

Medical directors from SMG told my paper that the human brain can survive without oxygen for only three to four minutes before extensive brain damage occurs.

Besides possible brain damage, those who engage in this activity are also susceptible to physical injuries from falling.

shong@sph.com.sg