Killer Game Consoles Attack Hurricane Victims

Researchers following up on carbon monoxide-poisoning cases in the wake of Hurricane Ike have found a familiar culprit: video games. According to a study by the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, of 37 CO-poisoning cases investigated, 9 involved kids who were using generators to make sure that they maintained their high scores during the Ike-borne power outage. “Discovering that generators are so frequently used to power entertainment devices for children suggests that school programs should be considered in states at risk for hurricane-related power outages,” said UT’s Dr. Caroline Fife. We have another idea: learn how to use your generator safely.

Some tips from Consumer Reports:

  • Always run your generator outdoors and at least 15 feet away from the house.
  • Never run it in the basement or garage or other enclosed space.
  • Install a transfer switch to connect the unit to your home’s wiring system.
  • Never connect a generator directly to your home.
  • Reduce fire risk by turning off a gasoline-powered generator before refueling.
  • Store gasoline in an ANSI-approved container and in a cool, well-ventilated area.

Or you can just skip the generator-powered gaming jag entirely, and enjoy some quiet time with your family. Uh, yeah, right.

CO poisoning linked to video games [UPI]
How to safely use a generator during a weather emergency [Consumer Reports]

(Photo: jenny downing)


Edit Your Comment

  1. GenerousHelpingOf_GitEmSteveDave says:

    So wait. These kids were poisioned trying to preserve their high scores on video game consoles? Well, could be worse:

  2. bornonbord says:

    The last time I was in an extreme-weather-related power outage, I burned through about 30 gallons of gas in an hour powering massive fans to keep me cool inside my home (The wind outside was full of eye-poking debris)
    I also had my dishwasher going, was toasting Ego Waffles, microwaving syrup, baking a turkey in my electric oven, powering flood lights (so I could see the turkey in my wind-turbine) and stringing the last of my 128,000 indoor christmas lights.

    I never thought about playing video games, too.

  3. Etoiles says:

    But… modern games… have… save… capabilities…

    I mean, it’s not like we’re back in early NES territory where you just had to keep playing until you were finished, because there were no save points in Super Mario Bros. If you’re running any console since, what, the PS1? You can save your came and come back to it later…

    • GenerousHelpingOf_GitEmSteveDave says:

      @Etoiles: Hitting pause, shutting off the TV, and staring at the clock all day waiting to get home. I had my NES run through a VCR as well, so I could record my games. Sadly, the only NES game I ever beat was DuckTales.

      • bornonbord says:

        @GenerousHelpingOf_GitEmSteveDave: Woah, they could be doing all sorts of stuff with the help of generators.

      • Etoiles says:

        @GenerousHelpingOf_GitEmSteveDave: In our house, the ability to save games finally stopped the four-year-long fight my mother and I had been having.

        “You turn that game off RIGHT NOW!”
        “I’ll stop, mom as SOON as I finish this level, I PROMISE!”
        “Now! Turn it off!”
        “But then I’ll have to do this all over again tomorrow!”

        I think I had my NES on, just changing the video source on the TV (the one we got in 1987 had multiple inputs, fancy), for about 8 months straight when I got Mario 3.

  4. Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

    I personally lived through Hurricane Ike… and unless you have been through not having any power whatsoever for more than a few days.. you’ll know that it really makes you kinda.. crazy.

    You begin to do anything that you can to get any sense of normal power usage.. and sometimes that means throwing common sense out the preverbial window.. Whether that’s a good idea or not.

    Our power was out for 9 days.. We were thrilled to go to work around day 6 or 7 just so we could be where they had lights on and airconditioning.. So hearing stories of people using generators for “frivilous” uses such as video games does not suprise me at all.

    • nakedscience says:

      @Kimaroo: I was thinking that. The power was out for a week+ for a lot of people. That can’t be fun or easy, ESPECIALLY if you have kids.

      • texasannie says:

        @nakedscience: Our power was out for 9 days after Ike too. My husband and I took turns reading aloud to each other by flashlight at night, which was actually a lot of fun. I would have done the same thing if I had kids — read books, play board games, draw pictures, whatever. Just like when I was a kid, and we didn’t have video games or cable.

        • nakedscience says:

          @texasannie: Oh, yeah, you’re awesome! Sometimes parents get stressed out, and trying to entertain CHILDREN (you dont’ have children, obviously) for 7+ days without power (especially multiple children) when you yourself are stressed can’t be easy. Trying to entertain kids 24/7 with no power has got to suck. I’d say that an occasional, “FINE PLAY VIDEO GAMES FOR AN HOUR” during such an event won’t be a big deal and doesn’t mean the parents are shitty. Just human.

    • Koinu says:

      @Kimaroo: Really?

      That’s how dependent we are on electricity.

      I lived for 2 weeks without running water, or electrictiy in the middle of winter in the mountains in VA, ice storm knocked out power to the entire city for 2 weeks, several power lines were down all across the area.

      We did not have a generator, and I got by just fine. Actually makes you appreciate how lucky we are to live in this kind of world we live in today. Oh, and I was 10.

      • Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

        @Koinu: We got by without one as well.. but I would imagine if you had one at the time, and the fuel to use it without worrying that you would run out.. you probably would have used it as well.

        If the opportunity is there.. you’d take it. Or maybe you wouldn’t… but most people would.

        But yes.. we do appreicate life and being able to go to work and come home and turn the lights on.. and have the refridgerator working and stores to go shop at and everything like that. It was killer to miss work for that long due to no power, as my husband and I are both paid hourly. The rent still comes due for the same amount. But I guess the bright side is that the power bill was unseasonably low.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        @Koinu: But I’m guessing you could get water by melting snow. And I bet you, being the tender age of 10, didn’t feel the same amount of stress your parents probably felt in a natural disaster such as an ice storm. You weren’t the one taking care of others.

      • mcnerd85 says:

        @Koinu: Also you were 10 in WINTER IN Va. Houston has been knows since the invention of AC as the most air conditioned city in America. There is a reason why. It’s hot. It’s humid. The wind offers no relief in the summer. People died here from the heat. Many of us went a long time…waaay longer than 10 days. I found a way to enjoy myself, but I am 23 and in good health. Try barbecuing meat you purchased at near room temperature than puking for the next three days in 100 degree weather. A cold shower only sounds like a good idea, believe me. That storm wasn’t easy for any Houstonian, and any person who has never experienced a similar disaster…really shouldn’t lecture us on how spoiled we are.

    • HogwartsAlum says:


      During the January 2007 ice storm in Missouri, I had no power for 12 days. I was out of the house for the last nine. The storm lasted for three. I stayed in the house the first three days but I had to leave. It was just too frigging cold. The down blanket I bought at Walmart for $25 saved my butt.

      A few people around the area died from using their generators improperly. If I hadn’t been able to go to a motel in Branson, I would have had to go to my mom’s or dad’s and just not go to work for two weeks. I could not take it. It was 20 degrees. I don’t have a generator and you couldn’t get fuel for the thing anyway, because no one had power. I went to Walgreens because I didn’t have enough batteries and they were open the second day, using calculators. I stood in the dark for three hours and wrote a check for $35 worth of batteries. Everyone was so patient I couldn’t believe it. We were so glad they were open.

      I SO want to move somewhere where it doesn’t get so damn cold (but not too hot either). At least if the power went out for a few days or even a week I could camp in my yard and I wouldn’t freeze to death.

    • subtlefrog says:

      In Miami after hurricanes, without power, I’d be without water, too, as my well was electric. My landlord fortunately had a pool, so we could at least flush the toilet by grabbing buckets of water (particularly important for them and their 5 kids). In the heat and the general disgustingness (no dishwater, couldn’t cook, couldn’t clean up…) I’d tend to move into my office and cook on a camp stove there, because at least I had running water and electricity.

      Of course, this meant bathing in sinks.

      But then, after hurricanes, no one was clean, so I was in good company.

      • Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

        @subtlefrog: We were without water for a few days.. well.. technically we had water but the news on the radio said not to use it because it wasn’t safe.. Fine for the toilets though. Thankfully my mom’s house had a gas water heater so as soon as the water was safe we could take showers just fine.. It was a stinky few days though.. pheew.

  5. ManiacDan says:

    I understand you guys are probably being ironic, but this is quite an irresponsible headline and tag for this story. People are dying because they don’t know how to use their poison-spewing power generators.

    Having also lived through an extended power outage, I can agree with Kimaroo that you do anything you can. There’s only so many hours you can read by candlelight while mother nature tries to rip your walls off. Sometimes you just want to tune everything out, and the best way to do that is with an immersive experience like a video game.

    Also, the original article magically comes to the conclusion that these games are being used solely to entertain children, which I doubt is the case. I wonder if there’s a reason behind their assumption.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @ManiacDan: But the researchers also suggested school programs, which would help entertain kids during extended power outages.

      I doubt the generators are being used to solely power video game consoles, but the fact that kids can derive hours and hours of entertainment from a video game console makes it much easier for parents to plunk Johnny and Susie in front of it and worry about other things, rather than have to entertain their kids.

      I agree, there are so many hours you can read by candlelight, or do other things that require light, like play board games. But I think it’s also the convenience of not actually having to participate in entertaining your child that is the problem. Parents need to know that running a generator indoors is a major hazard.

      • Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

        @pecan 3.14159265: I don’t see how a school program would have helped.. All of the schools in our area were shut down just as long as the power was out.. and many of the schools had roof and water damage.. You can’t send kids into that situation.

      • henneko says:

        @pecan 3.14159265: School programs require that the schools be open, and most in the areas that were actually hit were closed for 1-2 weeks. (Thanks to the slow grinding of the bureaucratic gears, this chart is still around: [] )

        You’re right about the real problem here: people need to learn how to use a generator.

        • pecan 3.14159265 says:

          @henneko: I’m not sure whether they mean school-sponsored programs (which can take place anywhere, as being sponsored only requires school staff) or programs that require the school to be open.

          Certainly in cases of emergency, there could be a plan in place in which anyone with children can go to a community center or church designated to be safe (meaning no roof damage, no infrastructure damage, etc.) and be entertained/educated by teachers.

          The latter seems much more likely and efficient, as parents can not only entertain themselves by having others nearby (we’re assuming this is not a case in which looters are an imminent threat) but kids can do something other than play video games.

    • bornonbord says:

      @ManiacDan: Life must have been really hard previous to the last 150 years the world has been electrified.

      I understand you are pinned down in your house, but you’ve gotta use your imagination a bit more than that.

      • GenerousHelpingOf_GitEmSteveDave says:

        @bornonbord: Oh, I think they do. IIRC, there has/was a baby boom ~9 months after. Wink wink.

      • Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

        @bornonbord: I agree that people could use their imagination more.. which is what we did/tried to do, because we didn’t have a generator.. but what you really want in a situiaton like that is to feel normal again.. It is incredibly uncomfortable to live through a scary hurricane and be without things for that long.

        Feeling normal isn’t a big deal until you can’t feel that way for a while. Normalcy becomes one of the most important things.

        The hardest thing for me was knowing that there was nothing you could do about it.. No body had power, not even the grocerie store, you couldn’t buy milk or eggs.. Stores were running out of everything as soon as they opened. And good luck trying to find water or ice.

        But the main thing is to educate people about the dangers of generators, and even camp stoves. My husband and I had to leave our home because of water damage and when we got to my mom’s house she was using her camp stove in the kitchen! As soon as I saw it I told her she had to take it outside because of the carbon monoxide. She had no idea.

        • bornonbord says:

          @Kimaroo: But the main thing is to educate people about the dangers of generators, and even camp stoves.

          Ok, fair enough. Education re:CO and CO2 is important.

          But I wouldn’t approach it as “Now, if you want to play video games, make sure the generator is outside”

          I WOULD approach it as “Now, if you want to cook food to survive the chaos you are in, do it in a well ventilated area. And if you want to be entertained, do it with out burning through the low-supplies of fuel the neighborhood has by playing video games.”

        • sponica says:

          @Kimaroo: i’ve never done the hurricane power outage…at least not that i can really remember. but i’ve done the snow storm/ice storm outage…and yeah by day 3 or day 4 you’re crazy. we weren’t even allowed to go outside and play in the snow because there was no way for us to get warm afterwards. i don’t really remember how we entertained ourselves…after the last ice storm in NH various family members learned to crank up the heat before a storm…so that if the power goes the house will still retain some heat

          • HogwartsAlum says:


            I tried that but it didn’t work, darn it. I lost a plant anyway.

            If you want an indestructible plant, get a pothos. Those didn’t even turn a leaf after 12 days of subfreezing weather inside an unheated house.

    • GenerousHelpingOf_GitEmSteveDave says:

      @ManiacDan: Probably b/c according to the article:

      According to a study by the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, of 37 CO-poisoning cases investigated, 9 involved kids who were using generators to make sure that they maintained their high scores during the Ike-borne power outage.

      • Sparerib says:

        @GenerousHelpingOf_GitEmSteveDave: Maintaining high scores? Were they playing games on a Frogger cabinet? I read on Gizmodo last week that scientists are working on a kind of hardened-disk memory storage system. Hopefully I will be able to transfer my Zelda save games before the battery runs out because I just got my 6th heart container!

    • pot_roast says:

      @ManiacDan: You guys must really suck to have on camping trips.

  6. nato0519 says:

    I guess board games would be out of the question huh? I mean come on Stewie even plays scattagories to.

  7. oneandone says:

    Though I’ve never had to deal with the devastation of a hurricane, I’ve been through moderate periods of time without electricity while on research trips in different parts of Africa – usually around 2 weeks. This was all in areas we would think of as suburban, with a little farming mixed in. People there have cars but no paved roads, electricity but not quite regular delivery. During the rainy season (which is when I tend to be there) even mild storms can knock out power for a while.

    For us Americans on the team, it was frustrating having no power at first, but after a few days we adapted. We went to sleep at dark, woke up at sunrise, did what we could with flashlights, and used pen & paper instead of laptops. We preemtively turned off the cellphones to save the batteries for emergencies, and learned to sit around and wait. The local people were much more adaptive and didn’t get stressed wondering when it would come on.

    Obviously, there are a lot of benefits to living in the U.S. instead of some parts of Africa, but it made me realize that some of the things we think of as really neccessary are luxuries in most places.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @oneandone: I see your point, and I think everyone (myself included) should spend a little time without electricity, or amongst a third world population to see how they survive and thrive. But the point is, they’ve been planning ahead for the seasons for centuries. They know the rain is coming, they know they don’t have electricity.

      With hurricanes, you can plan, but you can’t exactly predict. It’s not like you could start a fire in your house so you can heat up some food. Even the small propane-based stoves are a luxury, but try not having one when you really need it.

  8. labeled says:

    “Discovering that generators are so frequently used to power entertainment devices for children suggests that school programs should be considered in states at risk for hurricane-related power outages,” said UT’s Dr. Caroline Fife. We have another idea: learn how to use your generator safely.

    That’s exactly what UT’s Dr. Caroline Fife is saying: Hey, maybe we need to do some school programs on the subject. aka learning aka snarkfail.

    • Coles_Law says:

      @labeled: I (and many others) interpreted that as “programs to entertain children during extended power outages”, e.g., game nights or day camp.

  9. I Love New Jersey says:

    Why can’t we let natural selection occur naturally? Oh, wait it is Texas, so scientific things like evolution are verboten!

  10. SpruceStreetPhil - in a new Pine flavor says:

    natural select hits again…
    nature’s way of weeding out the idiotic and lazy

    sounds harsh but when Isabel struck my town the idiot guy behind us would go out and fill his generator up while it was running while he was smoking. He had to go to the hospital. Served him right.

  11. GreatWhiteNorth says:

    If only folks could count on their generators to not be stolen from outside their homes the minute they turn their back.

    As for the board game comments… I like your thinking… Remember 6 years ago when the Great Lakes region was plunged into darkness because First Energy failed to trim trees in Ohio and 55 million people got the night off without electricity…

    Well my family and our neighbours had the best night with drinks and dinner under the brilliant stars, warmed by the backyard fireplace, illuminated by the solar garden lights, … talking and playing games… No PS2, tv, etc… just old fashion fun… until the full moon came up at 11:30. Then it was too bright out.

    It was a great opportunity to get together and bond. We were also bloody happy it didn’t happen in the winter. Winter would have made for a completely different outcome.

    …and there wasn’t the hum of a generator anywhere, no need.

  12. DaWezl says:

    “Dr. Caroline Fife at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston said of the 37 individuals treated for carbon monoxide poisoning after the hurricane, 20 were under the age of 20. In nine of those cases, researchers were able to speak with families to determine why a generator was being used — of 75 percent of those cases, the generator was used to run video games.”

    Wait, if I get this straight, there were 37 cases of CO poisoning.
    20 of those cases were under the age of 20
    Of those 20 cases, they were able to speak to talk to the families of 9 of them.
    Out of THOSE 9 victims, 75% were using the generator to power video games, which means roughly 7 kids.

    How many of the victims were also running AC? How many also had lights on? How many were also watching television? To me, these statistics don’t seem to show anything more than a normal breakdown of how average people might choose to use generated electricity during an outage. This is hardly the sort of proof I’d want in order to come out and announce that video games have a direct link to CO poisoning.

    • Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

      @DaWezl: Definetly not very scientific results there huh? I was thinking the same thing. I hate to side with my husband on this but people are quick to blame video games for bad things that happen.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Being a long time gamer I am so sick of video games being blamed for EVERYTHING. That whole common sense approach about learning how to operate the generator properly doesn’t serve their purposes. Blaming video games for whatever does – I just still don’t understand what they have against gaming. They clearly don’t know how fast the mind has to work to keep up in those things!

  14. greyer says:

    This is probably a stupid question, but being too old to have played modern video games and too far inland to fall victim to a hurricane, how is it the hurricane took out the power lines but not the phone/cable/whatever lines they’re using to communicate their high scores? Am I missing something?

    • varro says:

      @greyer: It can happen….Hurricane Andrew took out the power in my complex, but not the phone lines.

      (Remembers the 80s, when the cable always went out every time it rained. Nice job, Adelphia!)

  15. Kat says:

    Lame that Consumerist would jump on the “let’s blame all the evils in the world on video games” bandwagon, even just in a headline.