Chuck E. Cheese: Where Family Feuds at Birthday Parties Turn into Violent Brawls

The pizzeria and arcade chain has become a hot spot for family feuds

February 27, 2012, 5:17 PM

March 7, 2012— -- Chuck E. Cheese, a chain of pizzerias and arcade play spaces often used to host kids birthday parties, has become a hot spot for violent brawls between the adults.

Multiple fights have broken out at locations across the country, many captured on cell phone videos then posted on YouTube. These incidents have shined an unusual spotlight on this family-friendly restaurant chain that has been around since 1977.

One Chuck E. Cheese location in Susquehanna, Pa., has had a lot of problems. According to Police Chief Robert Martin, local authorities have been called to that location 17 times over the course of 18 months, starting in 2009.

"A couple of problems we were able to diagnose," Martin told "Nightline." "It got crowded, and kids would run into each other or fight over games, which would lead to parents getting involved in fights."

Martin said another incident happened when divorced parents and their extended family tried to come together for their child's birthday party.

"There were uneasy feelings, a verbal altercation, which transitioned into a physical altercation," he said.

Barbie Clifton, a mother of five, said she was at a different Chuck E. Cheese for her daughter's birthday, when another mother became "infuriated" with her.

"All I remember was hitting the floor and being kicked again and again in the head," she told "Nightline." "I think her husband jumped in and was kicking me too."

Clifton said she believes she was targeted because her children were taking too long in the photo booth.

"My daughter threw up, and another one of the children wet their pants because they were so scared," she said.

So why is this happening at Chuck E. Cheese? David Schwartz, a psychologist and professor at the University of Southern California viewed some of the fights on YouTube and said he did not find the patrons' behavior surprising.

"Birthday parties are really emotional situations. There's frustration and provocation," he said. "A parent will never be more ready to defend somebody than when they're with their child."

Even the happiest occasions can turn sour when it gets too noisy, too crowded, or when the adults have had a few beers -- Chuck E. Cheese serves alcohol at some of their locations. But there's only so much the restaurant chain can do. Humans are innately aggressive, and it appears a birthday party can trip us into a Mad Max style world of mayhem.

Chuck E. Cheese declined to appear on camera, but issued a statement to ABC News regarding this story. CLICK HERE to read the full statements from Chuck E. Cheese.

There have been numerous other instances where a celebration has quickly turned violent. In 2010, riots broke out in Los Angeles after the Lakers won the championships. Then last year, in London, a peaceful demonstration against a police shooting ended in city-wide mayhem that lasted for days.

"There's sort of a crowd mentality and a diffusion of individual responsibility," Schwartz said.

But it seems so much more shocking when it happens in a Chuck E. Cheese, but we humans are wired to react to our environment, and a kid's birthday party is fertile ground for a fracas.

Chuck E. Cheese Statement to "Nightline" Regarding Altercations:

For over 35 years, Chuck E. Cheese's has been providing a wholesome and safe environment for entertainment and meal occasions for families with young children. In 2011, over 99.99% of approximately 65,000,000 guest visits at Chuck E. Cheese's occurred without incident. As a company, the safety of our guests and employees is always a top priority. In fact, in recent years we have invested significant resources and millions of dollars to this end. We take great pride in our Kid Check program, utilize security guards in many of our locations, conduct extensive employee training and have active security camera systems in all of our locations with the goal of maintaining a safe and wholesome environment.

Despite our efforts, unfortunately altercations occur with a very small percentage of those who visit Chuck E. Cheese's. And like kids' soccer and baseball games across our country, typically the incidents are not with the kids -- but regrettably the parents. For us, even one altercation is too many. Maintaining a wholesome, safe experience that sets a standard across our more than 550 locations is of utmost importance to Chuck E. Cheese's, and we will never stop working to improve how we operate our business.

Chuck E. Cheese Statement to "Nightline" Regarding Alcohol Service:

Beer and wine are sold in a number of Chuck E. Cheese's locations solely as an accommodation to our adult guests. Our employees are trained on responsible alcohol service and to not suggestively sell alcohol. As a company we do not market the sale of alcohol in any of our advertising. We believe it is important to note that alcohol is rarely a contributing factor in the relatively few instances of inappropriate behavior in our stores.

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