We’ve all heard our fair share of urban legends over the years. These are the kind of stories often traded on the school playground and corroborated with cold hard evidence, from the classic ‘a friend of a friend at a different school saw it happen’ to the infamous ‘my uncle knows because he worked at Nintendo’.
For video games it’s a blend of conspiracy theories, secret glitches and creepypasta oddities. The truth is out there, and it’s not for the faint hearted.
So, if you think you have the nerve for it, here are ten of the most legendary stories in video games.
- The Pokémon Tower Suicides
Lavender Town is the most melancholy area of Kanto, with a tower full of dead Pokémon and the spirit of poor adorable Cubone’s mother. Between the obvious themes of grief and the creepy tone to the area’s background music, one creepypasta emerged suggesting it drove hundreds of Japanese children to take their own life. According to internet legend, a dramatic number of young kids committed suicide after reaching that point in the game. The high-pitched tones apparently affected children specifically and caused nosebleeds, headaches and the general feeling of dread.
It’s a story that seems to have been mixed up along the years with the Pokémon shock incident. When the Pokémon anime episode Dennō Senshi Porygon aired it featured intense flashing lights that caused vision problems, severe headaches and epileptic seizures in hundreds of viewers. This entirely separate event seems to have added credence over the years to the idea that the Japanese version of Pokémon Red and Green’s Lavender town is somehow dangerous for the mental health of children. Thankfully there is no evidence whatsoever that this is the case.
- The Ratman of Liberty City
This legend began when a user posted a blurry, indistinguishable screenshot of what looked to be half man, half rat in Grand Theft Auto IV. Other players were quick to trade their own experience with the fabled beast and uncover clues to its existence.
No solid evidence has ever been found that the creature exists but, as you wander through the streets of Liberty City, NPCs will occasionally trade mutterings about the rat problem in the subway system. They are also prone to mention a recent chemical accident in a local factory spilling into the underground and leading to mutations. You might even find strange a strange orange substance, graffiti of a rat headed man or adverts for human lab rats.
The best evidence for Ratman’s existence is the nature of GTA and its history of burying secret, often supernatural easter eggs into its games. Just recently the Mount Chiliad mystery, a theory around the cryptic wall paintings at the summit of GTA V’s tallest mountain, was reignited after the community found new extra-terrestrial evidence hidden in the new Gun Running expansion.
Rockstar have a habit of building these bizarre secrets into their games, so a mysterious Ratman roaming the subway is absolutely plausible.
- The Exorcism of Minecraft
Legend has it Minecraft creators Notch had to build in an exorcism to their 1.6.6 update after reports the game was haunted by a mysterious figure named Herobrine.
In 2010 a user reported seeing the figure haunting his game in the distance, describing it as identical to the default player but without eyes. The user also posted a foggy screenshot of the sighting and claimed to have been contact by a user named Herobrine who demanded he stop.
It’s the classic haunted game story, and lead to multiple ‘sightings’ of the ghoul until Notch answered the rumour perfectly with one line into the patch notes of their 1.6.6 Beta update; “removed Herobrine.”
- Excel 95 Opens the Gates of Hell
It’s an unlikely window to a demonic plain of tortured souls, but rumour has it Bill Gates is actually the antichrist and the 1995 edition of his Microsoft Office spreadsheet program is the deliverance of Satan’s will.
Bizarrely, some of that sentence is actually true.
If you select row 95 cell B, open help and hit ctrl-alt-shift on the tech support button in Excel 95, you’ll trigger a doom-like mini-game ominously titled “The Hall of Tortured Souls”, which is in fact a light-hearted Easter egg containing the faces of some of 95’s programmers.
They’ve also hidden mini games in other versions including Dev Hunter (Office 2000), a flight simulator (Excel 97) and a pinball game (Word 97). These little Easter eggs were in fact a regular occurrence until 2002, and served as a fun way for devs to leave their mark on the programmes.
- The SS Anne Stowaway
When Pokémon Red and Blue took the world by storm in the late nineties, one of the most prevalent rumours surrounded a secret method to obtain the final, 151st Pokémon – Mew.
The character was not present anywhere in the game, but its data was built into the background so that it could be distributed as a freebie at Nintendo events and competitions. Rumour had it Mew was actually hiding in the game in a very specific area.
In order to tackle the third gym and progress through the game, you need to obtain the HM cut from the SS Anne captain by curing his sea sickness, after which the boat departs and the area becomes inaccessible for the remainder of the game. If however you could trade in a friend’s Pokémon that already learnt the cut ability, you could leave the boat until later in the game and return with HM surf – which would allow you to explore the surrounding area where, of course, Mew was being held in a truck.
Interestingly there is actually a glitchy, convoluted way of obtaining Mew in the game via a glitch involving the Pokeball tutorial man and HM fly. I know this because a friend’s mate saw his brother do it.
Not only is Polybius rumoured to be a Last-Starfighter-like military recruitment test, a psychological experiment and a brainwashing device, its very existence is the stuff of legend. Reportedly an incredibly popular and addictive arcade game, Polybius allegedly arrived in Portland in the early eighties and mysteriously disappeared sometime after.
Interestingly several young people in the greater Portland area did fall ill due to gaming around that time, though none reported the existence of Polybius, and the FBI were genuinely staking out arcades in the early eighties, but this was in relation to gambling and drug busts.
Although its actual existence has never been verified, a string of games inspired by the legend have been released over the years, most recently Llamasoft’s PSVR game of the same name.
- BEN Drowned
The greatest use of obscure game glitches mixed with campfire story telling came from 4Chan (of course), where user Jadusable posted the peculiar tale of an old copy of Majora’s Mask he picked up at a yard sale.
The cartridge was missing its cover art, and someone had written Majora across it in black sharpie. Already it appeals to your nostalgia, as we’ve all seen a second-hand cartridge like this or with someone’s name written across it in big black writing. Not to mention Majora’s Mask is surely one of the creepiest games on the N64.
It gets weirder.
The game apparently already had a save file titled BEN which was almost complete, so the user started a new game as Link and experienced some really freaky glitches; NPCs still calling him BEN, creepy statues following him around and the faint sound of the happy mask salesman’s laugh haunting him in random places which, let’s face it, would freak anyone out.
Now obviously the game cartridge wasn’t haunted (even by Jadusable’s own admission) but it’s a fantastic ghost story and well worth a read.
It also ties in perfectly with another conspiracy theory that could easily feature on this list, the idea that Link is actually dead throughout the entirety of Majora’s Mask and everything in that game is and allegory for grief. It’s a freakishly plausible theory that makes an unsettling game even creepier.
- Exposing Lara
Looking back at early 3D graphics, it’s strange to think anyone would care in the slightest about undressing the pixelated, polygon form of a fictional woman. The idea that somewhere in Tomb Raider there was code to undress its heroic protagonist really captured the imagination of nineties pre-pubescents, and the internet was awash with ‘nude codes’.
Total nonsense of course, but the power of the internet has grown exponentially in twenty years, as has its ability to provide us with mods and fan art – so if you really want to see any incarnation of Lara Croft naked, I’m certain there’s plenty to accommodate you in 2017.
- Just put your lips together and blow
The most iconic aspect of the bulky cartridge era was the unspoken knowledge that bugged or broken games could be fixed by breathing a little burst of air onto the inside of the cartridge. It makes some logical sense to clear out the dust that might be causing the game issues, right? The idea was so prevalent that NES games came with the explicit instruction not to blow on them, but that didn’t stop us using this tried and tested method.
Yet it seems in reality blowing on cartridges would have made very little difference. What actually helped was the process of removing and re-inserting the games, and the moisture in your breath might actually have damaged and eroded the pin connectors over time.
- The Lost Console
This one is my favourite because, against all odds, it’s true.
Like all good stories, this one begins on Reddit where user ‘analogueboy’ posted average quality photos of what looked like the fabled unreleased Nintendo PlayStation. The story was this user’s father had worked for a company with a guy named Olaf and, when the firm went bankrupt in 2009, he found the unlikely console in-amongst the junk and kept it all these years.
Now forums are full of users posting faked photos or spurious ‘leaks’ claiming to have relatives who have, at some point, worked for a major firm or studio. You’d be forgiven for assuming this was the case but analogueboy, Dan Diebold, continued to post evidence of the legendary machine and its existence.
It turns out Dan’s dad did indeed work for a company run by Olaf Olafsson, the former CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment who oversaw the division during their budding partnership with Nintendo. That relationship fell apart in 1991 when Nintendo favoured Phillips as a partner and ditched Sony entirely, with only two hundred prototypes of their Nintendo PlayStation ever made.
Not only is Diebold’s console one of these extremely rare surviving prototypes, but thanks to the talented hardware hacking of Ben Heck it now actually functions to some extent. It’s a fascinating story that will make you think twice before dismissing blatant liars on Reddit.
Games enthusiast with a passion for all things geek culture.