Top 9 Urban Legends of Gaming
Porto and Ghast
Game: Killswitch (Fictional)
The case of the “haunted” video game Killswitch is a widely circulated piece of creepypasta that relies on some very obvious fears to frighten readers: the possibility that a company could actually release a title that deletes all traces of its existence upon completion, for one thing is pretty disconcerting. While not actually feasible, Killswitch’s legend is certainly one for the books -- quite literally, as you’ll find out soon enough.
Supposedly released in the spring of 1989, Killswitch existed as the brainchild of an obscure developer/publisher known as Karvina Corporation. It was to be the grandfather of sorts to later survival horror/adventure classics like Silent Hill or Myst, and possessed some similar elements.
It allowed players the option of completing the game as invisible, fire-breathing demon Ghast or randomly growing and expanding Porto, a human avatar, across an eerie, monochrome world (an abandoned and collapsed coal mine, no less) all the while accompanied by agonizingly simplistic Czech folk tunes. Players were said to gravitate toward playing as Porto, as Ghast’s invisibility rendered him nearly useless as a character, and thus explored her side of the narrative. Porto climbs through the several dank and disgusting levels of the mine, gathering evidence about the mine’s earlier collapse -- as it turns out, Porto had been an employee there before it occurred.
Along her strange, meandering journey out of the mines, Porto uncovers damning evidence of inhumane treatment of miners, many of them old friends and comrades. She’s left to encounter demons and boxy, red-coated inspectors, but there are actually no “true” boss battles -- just the seemingly random growth and shrinkage of Porto. More evidence is uncovered -- shocking and gruesome, especially for this early of a release, and Porto discovers workers having been mangled, caught in the gears of enormous machines.
Though the game seemed to have an obvious focus, aiding Porto in escaping the mine with evidence of the grisly accidents and abuse as well as those involved, the journey is obtuse and difficult to understand. The flow is erratic, and puzzles seem incoherent. Never mind the fact that avatar Ghast is absolutely impossible to play as.
Upon what players took to be completion of Porto’s saga, Killswitch was said to have completely erased itself from existence, keeping players from ever reaching the end through a second playthrough as Ghast or another chance to relive the extraordinary experience. Like a shadow, like a memory -- erased completely.
Of course, this was all intentional on Karvina Corporation’s part, having “made” Killswitch an adventure that could only be experienced once. Very few copies were distributed, and slowly the game faded into obscurity -- but funnily enough, it was never real to begin with. It’s only a creation from the mind of author Catherynne Valente. But its tale is so very chilling and believable it could have certainly lived on for quite some time, flirting with reality, as so many other urban legends do.
Numbers Stations of the Future
Game: Fallout 3
Numbers stations, in simplest terms, are shortwave radio stations that broadcast strange, artificial voices (typically women and children) reading off Morse code, letters, words, and numbers of course. It’s assumed these stations are used to transmit secret messages to spies. Call of Duty: Black Ops was built around that very idea. The idea was taken a little further in Fallout 3, after a series of odd encrypted messages were discovered being broadcast from an in-game radio station -- Galaxy News Radio. Is it true or not? Well, Bethesda denounces all of the rumors as false, but of course they would when the legends tell of encoded messages that seem to predict the future.
After completing several prerequisites (such as destroying certain in-game landmarks) you can access a special numbers station with messages rattled off by a bored Three Dog -- some inane messages like “Washed the car today, maybe Chinese for dinner” and some decidedly more terrifying, like “I can’t believe they’ve actually done it. Not long left. The noise. I can’t take the noise anymore. I have a pistol in the attic,” or “The Queen has died today. The world mourns as on days like this we are all Brits.” Of course, all of this was and still is hearsay, with no actual evidence to support the claims. And with Bethesda’s denial of the instances, that’s the final nail in the Fallout 3 numbers stations coffin -- elaborate hoax or not, it’s still something to make you think.
Game: Polybius (Fictional)
What’s more terrifying than a video game that actually makes you go insane? Watching the movie Stay Alive, probably. We kid. But we’re not just talking plain old gamer rage here. More like insomnia, nightmares, and some cases even resulting in suicide. Though the story has been debunked several times over, there’s still that shred of truth that makes one think the arcade cabinet could well have existed at one point, or at the very least a less extreme version of the tale actually did occur, what with the game’s usage of bright, flashing vector graphics -- which could affect those with epileptic tendencies.
As the story goes, a mysterious arcade cabinet appeared in the sleepy suburbs of Portland, Oregon in 1981 known only as Polybius. From several “sources,” it could be best described as closely related to the game Tempest -- a colorful vector shooter. Popular is too soft a descriptor for the phenomenon supposedly induced by the strange game -- apparently it drove players to the point of addiction. Lines would form around the machine as clusters of anxious players awaited a turn. Visits from government agents (men in black, supposedly) would be seen hanging around the machine as well. Soon, players were said to have suffered from nightmares, amnesia, insomnia, and eventually suicide. Supposedly the game contained several subliminal messages within as well, which also has never been brought to light.
There’s no hard evidence surrounding the existence of Polybius, but it’s another eerie legend that seems grounded in the realm of reality -- who knows? You might well unearth one of the supposed cabinets one day. But don’t get your hopes up.