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Games and ghosts: gaming urban legends

That time of year when the ghosts of the dead are said to return to our world will shortly be upon us: Halloween. In celebration of All Hallows’ Eve tomorrow, I’ve been bravely exploring the darkest and most sinister corners or the internet to bring you eight video game urban legends that will keep you wide awake tonight. So put the controller down, turn the lights down low, pull the screen close and prepare to be spooked…

Berzerk

Berzerk is considered to be one of the greatest titles of the arcade-era and was one of the first games to use voice synthesis, an incredibly-expensive process back in 1980. It introduced the world to the demonic smiling face of Evil Otto, a bouncing villain who would chase the player down if they spent too much time lingering in a single panel of his maze.

It also holds the morbid honour of being the first video game to be linked to the death of a player. During 15 minutes of play in 1982, Peter Bukowski (sometimes reported as ‘Burkowski’) wrote his initials at least twice on the leaderboards screen but then turned, took four steps, dropped a quarter into a different machine and collapsed.

Unlike Polybius (see below), this tale is a fact and you can read about it online. The cause of death was ruled as a heart-attack but some say otherwise: they believe Evil Otto possessed the supernatural ability to influence life-threatening conditions and cause instant death to any intruder who failed to heed his warning…

Fallout 3

2008’s Fallout 3 contains several in-game radio stations, the most important one being Galaxy News Radio (GNR). Most players know that you can kill Three Dog and he’ll be replaced by technician Margaret; but what fewer know is that under certain circumstances, GNR will become a ‘numbers station’ and broadcast unusual coded messages.

You’ll hear a voice reading a series of numbers in a depressed-sounding voice, which are then followed by lengths of Morse code and the song I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire. Some say these messages are predictions of what will happen in the future after a player realised one referred to the passing of Gary Coleman, with the numbers relating to the date and time of his death.

You can find out more about the communications themselves on the snopes.com website. Bethesda has denied the claims several times and the Queen didn’t pass on 19 March 2014 so it looks like this story is an elaborate hoax; but we’ll know the truth for sure on 27 February 2023 if Britney Spears wins an Oscar. It may also be worth noting that the latest date on any of the Morse code messages is 01:27 on 06 July 2027…

Killswitch

Killswitch was supposedly created by Soviet gaming company Karvina Corporation in 1989, with only limited copies produced and proving very popular. The video game itself was a pioneer in the survival-horror genre: players had to choose between two characters, a shape-changing woman named Porto or an invisible demon named Ghast, and the goal was to navigate through an abandoned coal mine whilst battling monsters.

As it was hard to do this with a transparent character, most players chose to complete the title as the female protagonist. But there’s no proof that anyone ever managed to finish with either Porto or Ghast – because upon beating the game, all evidence of it would be erased from your hard drive. Karvina Corporation apparently made it in a way so it could only be experienced once and as very few copies were made, it faded into obscurity.

But in 2005 an unopened copy of Killswitch surfaced on eBay where it was promptly bought for $733,000 by a man from Japan named Yamamoto Ryuichi. He had planned to document his playthrough of the game on YouTube but the only video he ended up posting was of him staring at his computer screen and crying. This footage has too since vanished… or did it never really exist at all?

Pokémon Red

The release of Pokémon Red in Japan in 1996 supposedly corresponded to a huge spike in illness and suicides amongst children aged between seven and 12. Players succumbed after reaching Lavender Town, a haunted and ghost-filled area that’s home to the only cemetery within the series. The significance of this shouldn’t be underestimated: for one of the video games to deal so directly death was unusual.

Red’s score was said to be the source of the suicidal tendencies and this was eventually dubbed ‘Lavender Town syndrome’. The music in the level was changed before the title was released outside of Japan and Nintendo have always claimed that this was because the high-pitched tones caused a strain on the Game Boy’s speakers. However, in 2010 someone who analysed the score revealed Unowns that spelled out ‘LEAVE NOW’.

In addition, the reported six-hundred-plus seizures that occurred after the Porygon episode of the series was aired is true, which makes this urban legend seem all the more plausible…

Polybius

According to legend, an arcade cabinet named Polybius appeared in several suburbs of Portland, Oregon in 1981. It proved to be very popular with lines forming around machines and players fighting over who would get their turn next; could this have something to do with the subliminal messages it supposedly contained? It’s said that the title induced psychological effects and many complained of amnesia and night terrors, but some sources claimed the side-effects were more severe with players experiencing suicidal tendencies.

As if that wasn’t frightening enough, an unnamed arcade owner apparently reported that men in black coats were seen collecting data from the machines. This led some to speculate that it wasn’t a video game but a CIA-type experiment, and the name of the company that produced it seems to back up this theory. ‘Sinneslöschen’ is the German word for ‘deletion of senses’: were they in fact a secret government organisation?

Around a month after its release, Polybius is said to have disappeared without a trace. A single machine has never been found and, while some have said they worked on the game and others have attempted to recreate it, nobody has ever been able to produce definitive proof it ever existed…

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

Legend has it that there is a sinister mod to The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind that could potentially drive a player insane. File jvk1166z.esp was originally thought to be a virus as it would freeze and corrupt all save game files when loaded, but it was soon discovered that it would work when ran in DOSbox.

All the main characters were already dead when the player started. Staying in one spot for too long caused their health to deplete and if they died in this manner, a new character revealed himself: a man whose limbs were long and bent like a spiders’. They noticed that if they paid close attention they could see ‘the Assassin’ around corners or scurrying up walls for brief moments, but that wasn’t the only weird thing; characters left alive would come outside at night to stare up at the sky, and attempting to interact with them would cause them to only say ‘Watch the sky.’

A new dungeon was also discovered, inside of which was what started being referred to as the ‘hall of portraits’ as it was lined with pictures which were in fact photos from the player’s PC. At the end was a locked door and nobody has ever been able to prove they’ve opened it (although it was claimed it would do so upon some kind of celestial event). Some have alleged that after hours of trying to do so, they began to see the Assassin scuttling around in real life… As made up as this story seems, the scariest part is that the mod does in fact exist so download it at your own risk.

Twisted Metal: Harbor City

Since the first edition was released on the PlayStation in 1995, Twisted Metal has had a cult following. In 2003 Sony were set to develop a follow-up called Twisted Metal: Harbor City but only four levels were completed and the video game was never finished. In March 2005, the six founding members of the team died in a plane crash and the project was cancelled shortly afterwards.

Things turned surreal when a note appeared in the developer’s headquarters, pleading with them to let fans play the levels mentioned above. It was signed with the names of the six deceased team members and read: ‘We are disappointed to hear of your decision to keep the world from seeing the last of our work… We beg of you… Show them all what we have done… Show them our last earthly deeds… If you doubt our existence, look to The Dark Past for proof that we are who we say…’

The note is available to read online and The Dark Past refers to a documentary on the Twisted Metal: Head On disc, where groups of numbers appear onscreen and correspond to letters of the alphabet. The fact the message reads ‘Twisted Metal is coming on PS3’ when deciphered has led many to believe that this was nothing more than an elaborate piece of marketing… but could the note have been real and a message from beyond the grave?

World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft is still one of the most popular massively-multiplayer online RPG (MMORPG) games, even 13 years after its release. It’s no surprise that hidden secrets and odd moments can be found when you consider how big its world is but one of the creepiest is the Children of Goldshire. In a normally empty house by the edge of a lake, a group of six kids form a pentagram formation when the game server’s clock hits 07:00.

Players have reported that when they stand in the centre of the group, they can hear strange noises such as banshee screams, crying, the voice of C’Thuan saying ‘You will die’ and an old woman laughing hysterically. Perhaps the strangest thing though is that when you enter the room, a track starts to play which isn’t found anywhere else within the game; and we all know how much Blizzard likes reusing its assets.

You can follow the group from Stormwind City to the house and they never once break their formation, and they aren’t part of any quest line. The developer has never released an official statement about the Children of Goldshire and their silence has caused many to claim the kids are some sort of doomsday cult; some believe they’re creating a code with their pentagram movement which is just waiting to be cracked…

Although I’ve tried to provide as many links as possible within this post in an attempt to provide some evidence, I think it’s fair to say that these urban legends are nothing more than stories to make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. But still, you might want to unplug your PC or console before you go to bed this evening… just to be on the safe side…

Happy Halloween!   🎃

12 thoughts on “Games and ghosts: gaming urban legends

    1. I’m not sure what’s creepier… whether the Twisted Metal thing could have actually happened, or whether someone could have been twisted enough to create a note like that! It was really interesting digging around to find out where these stories had come from though; I might see if I can find a few more for a follow-up at some point.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve just watched the trailer and I feel like I should know it, but I’m not sure I’ve watched it… is it an 80s tale warning us of the dangers of playing too many video games?

      Like

  1. This reminded me of the whole “Ben” thing with Majora’s Mask. Did you ever hear that one? Some dude bought a haunted cartridge at a yard sale or something and, well, here’s the link:

    Watch at your own risk, of course. I’m pretty sure there’s a curse involved. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

      1. That’s fine, one more urban legend for the post!

        The Ben story made my original list but got cut from the final selection because its originator revealed it to be a fake. Still, it’s a creepily-good tale for Halloween! 😉

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for sharing these. I never heard of any of them before. The only story similar to these that I’ve heard of is the one about the haunted Majora’s Mask cartridge.

    I woud have to say the Twisted Metal and Fallout 3 stories creep me out the most. Something about the dead communicating and weird hidden messages really freaks me out.

    I think I’m going to try out that Morrowind mod. Sounds insane. Hope I don’t regret it…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Are you serious? I’m not sure I’d ever be that brave – I’m such a wimp when it comes to any kind of horror ha ha ha!

      Still, if you do try it, I’d be interested in hearing what happens… 😉

      Like

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