Urban legends carry with them that unmistakable element of fear that we long for in the deepest, darkest parts of our psyche — you know, the one that goes crazy when we watch a great slasher flick. Part of us wants the horrific yarn to be true — because wouldn’t that be much more interesting than the truth?
You might be surprised to learn these same types of grotesque tales run rampant in the video game industry. And we’ve got nine of the most unsettling legends out there to prove it.
Gruesome water cooler epics, like the soul of a young boy, trapped in one of his favorite video games, torturing players unlucky enough to obtain the cartridge. Bizarre transmissions from unidentified number stations, broadcasting encrypted messages that seem to predict the future. A mysterious survival horror adventure deletes all traces of itself from the computer on which it was installed. Oo-WEE-oo! These plot threads may sound like key components of a B-movie horror gem, but they were actually culled from the hundreds of video game urban legends floating around in the community.
It’s human nature to be curious. You’re probably all familiar with the “complete impossibly detailed and futile quest to revive Aerith of Final Fantasy VII” schemes or the old “do X to see Lara Croft naked” rumors swirling around since what seems like the dawn of time, but these tales are much more unsettling. Deliciously disturbing. And mostly untrue. But who cares? The greatest, most horrifying tales ever told sprang to life from exquisitely tortured creative minds. And we love ‘em.
Game: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
“You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?”
These chilling words belong to an even more teeth-chattering tale. The story of BEN spans YouTube/4chan user Jadusable’s experiences with a very peculiar copy of Nintendo 64 classic The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Perhaps “peculiar” isn’t strong enough a word — more like completely screwed up. The haunted cartridge made its way to Jadusable by way of a strange old man (from a yard sale, no less), and went all the way back to a college dorm room for a quick play, upon which it began to reveal some terrifying secrets, the least of which a save file named “BEN.” Despite ignoring the file, Jadusable (later revealed to be named Alex) still found that many NPCs in-game would still refer to him by that very name.
Like any gamer would do, Jadusable decided to create a brand new save file, eventually deleting the old one entirely — out with the old, creepy apparently glitched-out file, and in with the new, right? This was a no-go as well. After all the trouble the poor bargain hunter went through to start over fresh, none of the NPCs would refer to him by name at all — in fact, strange distortions in the regular game began to occur. He performed the “4th day glitch,” which allows players one more day to save Termina from imminent disaster (an enormous, terrifying moon is about to crash into the continent), to no avail, instead being transported to the final boss battle with the menacing Majora. Bizarre, reversed music accompanied by garbled text and missing textures were only the tip of the iceberg. He traveled to Clock Town, normally bustling with NPCs. None were available.
Jadusable continued on through the apparently haunted world of the Majora’s Mask cartridge, finding his only solace in a reversed, horrific version of the in-game “Song of Healing,” and the occasional distorted laughter of the Happy Mask Salesman. Transporting to other areas by way of Link’s ocarina did nothing but trigger strange, broken messages. After much experimenting and observation throughout the game, eventually Jadusable found himself under constant surveillance by a chilling statue of what was believed to be “BEN,” and unable to escape the terrifying effigy at every turn.
Eventually, even more cryptic messages made themselves known through normal gameplay. And in the end, even more bizarre happenings began to occur in-game, leading Jadusable to eventually uncover the truth: that the young boy who previously owned the game had actually drowned, which would have explained a sizable chunk of the unsettling occurrences. Jadusable populated his YouTube channel with “evidence” consisting of clips from the game and creepy happenings…leading followers to believe all was true — until Jadusable revealed the entire thing to be an elaborate story he himself planned while in college.
Hoax or not, it played host to plenty of nightmares surrounding The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and launched plenty of copycats. A worthy feat indeed, Jadusable, and a suitably creepy tale!
Pokemon Creepy Black
Game: Pokemon Red (Hacked)
Pokemon may be widely recognized as a relatively innocent affair, but its benign exterior belies quite a few disturbing realities. Take Lavender Town, for example — nothing about the muted town (or its theme song) is comforting. The tale of Pokemon Creepy Black relies on this fact to weave such a devilishly creepy tale. As the legend goes, a bootleg Pokemon release known as Pokemon Black (before the release of the actual DS entry into the series) made the rounds with some chilling contents. Of course, it was simply a hack of Pokemon Red, but it was convincing enough to merit its own title.
An unnamed player discovered a peculiar Pokemon known only as Ghost in his team of six, right after obtaining the Silph Scope, used for identifying the various Pokemon in Lavender Town’s Pokemon Tower, where the spirits of deceased Pokemon still roam. Typically the Ghosts are later revealed as Gastlys and such, but Ghosts are not obtainable for battle. This Ghost was playable, and could use the ability “Curse.” Rather than simply halving the Ghost’s HP and “cursing” the opponent’s Pokemon with losing ¼ of its max HP each round, it simply KO’ed the opponent’s active fighter and removed it from the benched team. Not only did it relatively erase the Pokemon from existence, but a quick cut to a black screen and a distorted cry of the cursed Pokemon rang out briefly as well. Of course, this was all meant to signify the “death” of the Pokemon.
The player found this new and bizarre version of Curse made it a breeze to plow through the modified version of Pokemon Red, and continued on past the Elite Four’s defeat — essentially, the end of the game. But after the credits rolled, a disconcerting epilogue was next.
The player, now the sprite of an old man, was studying the very same tombstones of Pokemon Tower. He had no Pokemon, and the overworld was now entirely devoid of NPCs or other sprites Lavender Town’s sinister theme looped over and over as the player wandered back to Pallet Town. The chain of events that occurred afterward were enough to chill anyone to the bone. A sequence of each Pokemon and trainer the player had used the curse on rolled past, eventually culminating in a battle with the very same Ghost the player had aligned with throughout the game, which ended up being a futile affair. Ghost could not be defeated, and the battle eventually came to a head with a sharp cut to another black screen. The player was forced to turn off the game and reset to return to a playable state…only to find the game file had been erased.
Of course, it’s pretty obvious that this didn’t actually occur, but fans and believers have created their very own extensive ROM hacks that attempt to mirror the events from the story. They’re quite accurate, and serve up some delectably creepy alterations to the familiar Pokemon adventure.
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.
Luigi is Dead
Game: Luigi’s Mansion
Luigi’s Mansion was one of the greats from the GameCube era, and followed Mario’s older brother sucking up ghosts with a vacuum in a haunted mansion. While it was meant to be a little creepy, it certainly wasn’t meant to get as dark as certain forums might have you believe. A story has circulated online for quite some time now that if you head to a very specific room in-game and stand at just the right spot, you can just make out a shadow that closely resembles Luigi, hanging from the ceiling — like he had hung himself already and you’re only playing the game as Luigi’s ghost.
There’s much speculation as to what the image actually is: a glitch, leftover code, or something much, much darker? We’ll never know.
Max Payne Memorial
Game: Max Payne 2
After losing a member of the development team in 2003, Remedy included a touching memorial to Miika Forsell, found in Part 1, Chapter 7 of Max Payne 2.The eerie room (that can be likened to the Satanic ritualistic levels found in the first game) is home to a shrine with a photo and memorial dates of the fallen team member. It’s quite small and out of the way, and can be found at the side of a building after climbing through an open window. It’s an interesting homage to a beloved member of the development team that actually exists — though it’s truly a little unsettling to the uninitiated folk who aren’t quite sure about what’s going on in the room without running to Google first.
Minecraft can be a bit uncomfortable on its own, especially to new players who aren’t accustomed to the sweeping, often overwhelming expanses with no real resources to turn to (in the PC edition, at least) and the swarms of monsters that descend at nightfall. This creepy legend follows a new player as they create a fresh new world, ripe for creation. In the distance, the player spots another character with a default player skin. The spooked crafter investigated to ensure they weren’t actually in a multiplayer game (easy enough to check, and there was no name floating above the stranger’s head) and finally went over to see if he could follow the mystery user.
The other player seemed to have vanished into thin air, but in his wake were several obviously man-made structures like small pyramids, forests of trees with no leaves, and other unnatural creations that only another player could have made. Obviously the first logical step to uncovering the mystery was to approach other players in Minecraft forums to ask if they too had encountered any sort of similar phenomenon, and during the investigation the player received a strange PM from the username “Herobrine.” The message contained only one staccato command: “Stop.”
From there, the user was suitably terrified and began communicating with other forum users through email, who mentioned they had seen the very same user in-game. They encountered the very same man-made creations and brief glimpses of the other player as well. With that knowledge, the player was intrigued, and after investigating the issue further decided to message Notch, the game’s developer. It turns out the name “Herobrine” had previously been a handle used by Notch’s brother.
Notch finally replied to the user’s inquiry as to if he had a brother, to which Notch replied “I did, but he is no longer with us.” Chilling words — could Herobrine be a figment of the player’s imagination, or was he really captured in the screenshot widely circulated with the story? As if Minecraft wasn’t occasionally terrifying enough, right?
The Note Sent to Sony
Game: Twisted Metal
Legend has it that in 2003, Sony began work on Twisted Metal: Harbor City, which was to be a follow-up to the popular Twisted Metal: Black. The draw for this sequel was said to be a series of highways that would finally offer players a seamless, open world ripe for exploration. Unfortunately, the project never came to fruition, as six of the founding team members were killed after a plane trip on March 13, 2005. The planned game was canceled soon after that.
On March 13, 2007, a mysterious note arrived at Sony HQ. The note begged and pleaded to Sony employees that fans should be allowed to play the levels the deceased team members had worked so hard on. Bizarrely, the note was signed with the names of all six members to have been lost in the plane crash.
Of course, it was ruled out that this note was nothing more than a very sick joke originating from some clearly disturbed fans, but it was ultimately decided the levels would be released to the public for play, stripped of its connective freeways or stories for each of the characters, and thus Sony offered an interesting challenge to players: complete all levels in the lost story mode of Twisted Metal: Head-On: Extra Twisted Edition, and you could see the note in its entirety. If you completed all levels in lost mode on the “hard” difficulty, you’d be able to “unlock its secrets.”
The note itself can be viewed online in its entirety, and has of course been revealed to be simply a riddle for uncovering the release of Twisted Metal on the PlayStation 3, but stranger things have happened, and this is a fantastic example of the makings of a great urban legend.
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