Stick in your air hose and start pumping, because this week, we’re fit to burst! *theorist mating call* Hello, Internet! Welcome to Game Theory, the show that unites video games and the real world every week. Why am I popping tomatoes in playgrounds, you ask? Because internet research alone wouldn’t cover it this week, so we’re going on location to do some research into one of the sickest, most violent and disgusting games of all time… Dig Dug! In this Namco arcade classic, you play as Taizo Hori, a character whose blue skin and white jumpsuit make him look like a Smurfs reject. And maybe having Nobody Smurf and Passive-Aggressive Smurf get chosen over him is what sent ol’ Dig Dug over the edge, because Taizo is a homicidal maniac. Your one and only goal in the game is to dig underground and slaughter all the innocent tomatoes and lizards living there. Er, “Pookas” and “Fygars”, I mean. Seriously! Look at these guys! They’re about as scary as stuffed animals! The Pookas can’t even attack! And here you are, invading their homes for no reason. No money, no kidnapped princess, not even in self-defense. Nope, Taizo kills because to him, death is just a game, awarding him more points for killing with skill. Like an old-school Bulletstorm. But it’s not enough to break into a Pooka’s home and, say, shoot him. Oh no. Dig Dug features one of the most painful, gruesome ways to die in gaming, by injecting his victims with an air pump, then inflating their still-living bodies until they explode. Now, as a lover of all things cute and Lolcats, I am appalled. So we’re turning the tables on Taizo this week to look at whether it’s possible to inflate a human until they pop. And be warned: It’s gross, it’s disturbing, it’s Game Theory! Before we look at the possibility of death, it’s worth pointing out some of the underground communities that find body inflation… appealing. Take, for instance, the bagel heads of Japan, a club culture that modifies their bodies by injecting saline solution under their skin so that it puffs up in the shape of a bagel. Or the hundreds of people who swap tales and pictures over the Internet of ballooning body parts, or who literally use balloons to alter their figure. The patron saint of these communities: blueberry girl Violet Beauregarde from Willy Wonka. And I’m only partially kidding about that. And then there’s the stuff of nightmares: the super creepy “rubber suit community” with members like Mr. Blowup here, a British man who has built himself a variety of inflatable suits and… other things, because… …personally, I don’t want to know. How does his wife feel about all this? She thought it was a good idea too! Personally, I think the scariest part of this image is his dental work. I mean, man! Way to reinforce British stereotypes there! In any case, good luck trying to clear your head of these mental images for the rest of the episode. Suffice it to say that human inflation is a bizarre topic, so surprise surprise, there haven’t been many experiments performed on the possibility on humans bursting like bubbles. But we as gamers need to know the truth about this arcade classic, and I’m proud to say that I’ve… dug it up. Don’t start. Just four months ago, truck driver Steven McCormack of New Zealand became the world’s first human balloon. While in his company’s workshop, he slipped and broke the air hose off a brass nipple… …heh heh heh, nipple… controlling the compressed air tanks used for his truck’s brakes. The nipple entered his butt… ha ha ha, oh, this just gets better and better… where it started to fill his body with air at a rate of 100 pounds per square inch. As he continued to expand, McCormack said that he felt like his foot would pop, and that his skin began to feel like a pot roast: crackling on the outside, but soft underneath. He became so inflated that the fat and muscle of his body actually separated. Luckily, co-workers were able to remove the nipple from his butt before… …well, we don’t really know what would have happened, do we? That’s what we’re trying to find out. Anyway, the story ends with three awkward days of deflation in the hospital. Just how do you deflate a human? Steven explains. “So you just have to fart it out or burp it out.” Fortunately for old Steve, he survived, but unfortunately for me, that means more research, so back at the drawing board, I realized that there is more than one way to pop a human. Sure, you can inflate them with air, but you can also decrease the air pressure around them. Think about any space movie where the pressurized suit rips, like in Total Recall or Outland. One tear and your insides are splattering your face shield. The reasoning behind this is that in a vacuum like space, there would be no air pressure pushing down on the outside of your body. However, the gases in your body would be pushing out, and the water in your soft tissues would turn into gases, causing you to expand until popping like this balloon. However, though it was a good lead, we just hit another wall, because this is just a movie myth. During testing for the Apollo Space Program, a pressure suit failed, exposing the wearer to near-vacuum conditions. He passed out after fifteen seconds due to a lack of oxygen in the brain, but was revived when pressure returned. His last reported memory was the saliva on his tongue boiling. But his blood and other fluids didn’t turn to gas because the body’s internal containing pressure kept them in liquid form, and the minor swelling that would indeed occur was easily handled with the elasticity of the skin. There is one take-home message, though, and that’s: If you’re ever planning on entering the cold reaches of space without a suit, don’t hold your breath. The gases could cause permanent internal damage. So even the extremes of space were no help this week. Instead, the answer was underwater. The Byford Dolphin is the name of a drilling rig contracted by BP. In 1983, it made news as perhaps the world’s only recorded case of explosive decompression. In short, five men were killed when an operator’s error caused their diving chamber to instantly drop in pressure from nine atmospheres to one. One of those men, the one who experienced the biggest pressure differential, actually did explode in a way very similar to this moment in the James Bond flick “Licence to Kill”. However, the other four, despite also experiencing the pressure blast and having their bodies boiled from the inside out, stayed intact. So suffice it to say it is possible to inflate someone until they burst, but it takes an unbelievable amount of pressure under an unbelievably short amount of time. A hand pump alone won’t cut it. Which brings us to our on-location research, because in the game, you’re not inflating humans. You’re popping Pookas, an enemy originally inspired by the tomato. So just how many pumps does it take to pop a Pooka? Let’s find out! Oh yeah. Oh my god. *shriek*
*laugh* So that was only two pumps! In the end, each tomato took about one to two good full pumps, meaning that if Dig Dug were 100% true to life, the game would have been a whole lot easier. However, it also means that the skin of the tomato is a lot less elastic than human flesh, so the way Pookas pop in the game is fairly accurate to their real-life inspiration. Design team win. With tomato guts flying everywhere, though, how Taizo keeps his jumpsuit so clean is beyond me. Maybe we’ll have to check that out on another episode. Popping humans, popping tomatoes, it doesn’t matter. It’s all just a theory. A Game Theory. Thanks for watching!