Gaming has a literal bug problem. Go to Reddit or YouTube and you’ll see a number of posts from gamers talking about the creepy-crawlies that have turned their consoles into a dream mansion — and, later on, a tomb. Check the news and you’ll see that people are trying to smuggle in spiders from Mexico to the United States in Nintendo game cartridges. What the heck is going on here?
First of all, the two situations have a crucial difference: The former happens because of decisions made by bugs, and the latter is a result of human behavior. But they do have one important unifying thread: The darkness within both cartridges and consoles makes for a comfy spot for certain bugs to thrive.
“Pretty much all the insects that we’re talking about here — cockroaches, bed bugs, spiders — all these insects are nocturnal,” North Carolina State University entomologist Coby Schal, Ph.D., tells Inverse. “And they like to hide — you walk into a room with cockroaches, turn on the light, and they scurry. All of these electronic environments offer a nice dark space for them.”
While the spider situation is just a super creepy thing we’ll have to deal with as passing news, the issue that bugs inside video game consoles pose is something where we have a bit more agency.
There are two situations in which bugs would get into video game consoles. The first is the most obvious — your apartment or home is already infested.
“If roaches were found inside, there must be more roaches in the room where the players place the consoles,” Rutgers University entomologist Changlu Wang, Ph.D., tells Inverse. “When players place drink or food beside a console, cockroaches will come to enjoy the food and drink, then they retreat to a dark place such as the console to hide.”
“Spiders may use the console as a hiding place too,” Wang adds, making no one more comfortable at all.
The other reason is that the place where the console itself was assembled had a local infestation.
“Whether it’s a console, or bananas for that matter, if there’s an infestation where they are shipped and packaged, they will try to hide in the boxes because those are a dark place,” says Schal. “The other possibility is that if the packaging was transported by ship, then the insects got into the packaging there. Many ships are infested with German cockroaches.”
A regularly used video game console is a bug’s paradise because it is both dark and warm. That’s the same reason why cockroaches are also commonly found inside microwaves and toasters — to them, these electronics are a cozy, electricity-heated wonderland. And once they move in, they only leave when it’s time to grub (cockroaches, at least, can’t eat plastic).
“Once the insect gets in there, they like it there — even if you unplug the console, they’ll treat it like a home,” says Schal. “They use that as a home at night, and when you’re asleep they come out and forage in your kitchen for whatever is leftover from the pizza that you ate. Then they go right back into the electronics because that’s safe.”
They enjoy their abodes until they short-circuit the electronics and inadvertently get fried. That means death for the bug and a huge cash hemorrhage for the player, who then has to take the console in for repair and cleaning. While some semi-effective DIY hacks exist — you can kill living bugs inside by either freezing the device or fumigating them by putting the console in a sealed bag with some dry ice — they still spell out bad news for your console working later on.
There are, luckily, some things people can do to make this situation less likely to happen: Schal recommends creating “some type of moat to prevent the insect from crawling into the electronics.” One way to make a “moat” is to put your device on a tray and then put a sticky material, like double-stick tape, on the outside of the tray. Doing this will prevent any bugs from making it inside. If a taped-up tray isn’t something you want in your house, the most important thing to remember if you’re paranoid about bugs getting into your stuff is to put your crap away. A video game console left out on the floor all the time is a chilly insect’s dream come true.