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Tuesday, September 3 12:01 AM EST

Students Tempt Blue Screen for Fun

By Brian Briggs

Seattle, WA - Two hours worth of work lost on a term paper or coding project is a nightmare that most students like to avoid, but many students are tempting fate just for fun. A new, dangerous game is sweeping college campuses and it is causing more harm to academic records than unlimited bandwidth ever did. It's called "Blue Screen Chicken" (BSC) or "DLL Duel" by the participants. It's a face-to-face showdown of wills over who will flinch and save first.

The game is usually played at college computer labs. Students decide on several programs, usually between 8 and 10, that use large amounts of resources or that are particularly crash prone (Netscape 4.7 with a Java applet loaded, ICQ and MS Money are common choices). These programs are loaded into memory before starting work on their projects. Now the race is on. The students must continue working on their project without any safety net until someone chickens out and saves, prints or does anything else to preserve their work. A crash by either competitor ends the game in a draw.

"I noticed the computer started slowing down. The mouse got sluggish. I was torn between saving my hour and a half of work and beating that bastard Goldman," said Ryan Hendricks a self-proclaimed BSC addict. "When I ALT-Tabbed back to Word from Photoshop, It took a full 10 seconds for the screen to re-draw. I wasn't gonna give in, but the for some unknown reason I decided to listen to some tunes and started RealPlayer. Blue screen for me and another victory for Goldman."

For many students losing a game of BSC means late nights, missed deadlines and lower grades. Professors report that "losing a game of BSC" has become the top excuse students give for late projects surpassing "There was 2 for 1 on pitchers at Shooter's last night."

Many computer lab monitors have expressed concern over the competitions. "To the students, it's all fun and games, aside from their potential minor loss of a paper. But WE'RE the ones that have to go give the machine the three-finger salute and uninstall all those buggy programs. That pisses me off," said lab assistant Dan Yaeger. "I mean, this is just work-study. I shouldn't actually have to DO anything."

Fran Kessler, a Debian Linux user is the champion of BSC on her campus. "Well, I never lose. My box never crashes so I never have to worry about losing my term papers. However, the professor can't open OpenOffice.org .sxw files, so I still get screwed in the end."

For some the standard DLL Duel isn't enough. These thrill seekers engage in extreme versions of the game where the competition is held during a lightning storm, or only hours before the project is due. One BSC player compared playing the game to other extreme sports such as mountain biking and snowboarding, "I don't have any athletic ability, but that doesn't mean I can't play with fire."

For a growing number of students "playing with fire" means a crash and burn. The thrill of winning quickly fades and they move to riskier behavior such as loading Windows 95. It's a vicious cycle that usually ends with academic expulsion. If you find yourself in this spiral a hotline has been set up to assist you at 1-800-DONT-CRASH.

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