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How video games are saving pro wrestling

Commentary: Joanie "Chyna" Laurer has become the latest professional wrestler to die before the age of 50, due to a reportedly dangerous locker room culture -- one that the new generation has changed with video games.

Former pro wrestling super starlet Joanie "Chyna" Laurer passed away last week. She was 45.

"It is with deep sadness to inform you today that we lost a true icon, a real life superhero," read a Wednesday Twitter post, written by her management team, announcing the news.

Laurer is a controversial wrestling figure, mainly due to her post-WWE life, which saw her battle drug addiction and constantly criticise her former employer. But her success is undeniable. Praised by many as a trailblazer, it's impossible to list her many accomplishments without repeatedly using the phrases "the first woman to" or "the only woman to."

Chyna was the first woman ever to enter the Royal Rumble.

WWE

She left the company in 2001, and becomes the latest former WWE star to not make it to the age of 50.

Police are investigating her death as a possible overdose, reported Wrestling Observer journalist and historian Dave Meltzer.

Many of the unfortunate deaths within the industry have been caused by the lifestyle of a wrestler in the '80s and '90s, Meltzer told CNET, where pain pill abuse, steroid use and recreational drug addictions were more widespread.

Thankfully though, times are changing. Today's wrestlers have managed to kick bad habits thanks to a new culture: video game geekery.

UpUpDownDown

Austin "Xavier Woods" Creed let out his inner geek at WrestleMania 32, the biggest American pro wrestling show ever, coming to the ring dressed as a Saiyan from Dragon Ball Z.

WWE

Austin "Xavier Woods" Creed, 29, is currently a WWE Tag Team Champion and member of the uber-popular New Day faction. He's also the poster child for wrestlers who play video games.

Woods has a popular YouTube page called UpUpDownDown that sees him playing games with fellow performers and personalities. He's the embodiment of a new era of wrestler. It's no longer sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Instead, it's joysticks, arcade pads and round robin tournaments.

"As far as how things were back in the day with wrestling, we can't go out and do certain things because [the WWE] is publicly traded now," Woods said on the Talk is Jericho podcast. "TMZ's following everywhere you go, cell phones, cameras. So we can't go out and do things that may have been 'OK' to do back in the day, so we don't bond that way.

"[Video games are] everybody's thing now. They kind of hang around the PS4 and we all play video games," he said.

Street Fighter is a big favourite among the wrestlers. 37-year-old CM Punk, who for years was the second biggest full-time star in the company (behind John Cena), was known to have had a fierce Street Fighter rivalry with fellow star Kofi Kingston, 34.

This Sunday, AJ Styles, 38, will headline the company's Payback pay-per-view against current WWE Champion Roman Reigns. When not dazzling in the ring, Styles has been known to boast about his games room, in which he keeps his arcade machines and other collectables.

It's not just a guy thing either, with former Divas Champion April "AJ Lee" Mendez often Tweeting about her various video game fandoms.

The list of examples of geekery in the locker room goes on and on.

"I'm addicted to [video games]," Styles said, also on Talk is Jericho. "Some people have habits. Mine is video games."

A necessary change

Best friends Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit closed WrestleMania XX in 2004 as world champions. They were both dead by the end of 2007.

WWE

More so than cameras following celebrities' every move, Meltzer says there's two reasons why the locker room culture has changed.

Firstly, and largely due to the WWE now being a publicly traded company, hard drug use is no longer tolerated. "There's still partying that goes on, but it's not like it was before. If you show up at a show and you're loaded, that's a bad deal," he says. "In the '80s it wasn't even unusual."

But he says that, arguably more than any other reason, the culture has changed because the new generation simply knows what happens if they have too much fun.

"A lot of the younger wrestlers grew up as fans, and one of the things if you're a wrestling fan that you learn in a hurry is that if you do a lot of stuff you can die at a young age. That lesson has been taught over and over again.

"They all know about Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero and all of that."

And he's right -- those two names evoke tremendous sadness for many wrestling fans. In 2005, former WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero passed away at 38 due to heart failure. His death was linked to steroid use and a drug addiction that he had managed to overcome years prior.

Two years later, the industry was rocked by the death of Chris Benoit. A mixture of brain trauma, steroids and painkillers led him to kill his wife, his son and then himself. He was just 40, and until that day one of the most respected performers in the industry.

Back in 2011, ESPN ran an E60 documentary on notoriously troubled ex-wrestler Scott Hall. It began with reporter Shaun Assael commenting on how far the industry had come, saying, if a bit snidely, that "these days you look around and the biggest addiction [in wrestling] is PlayStation."

Compared to the alternative, that seems like a pretty good thing.

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