Jun 23, 2017 I Brent Swancer

Haunted, Cursed, and Mysterious Video Games

Perhaps the last thing from anyone's mind when they think of the haunted or the cursed is video games. After all, this is supposed to be entertainment, a way to escape the stresses of the world and anything that may lie beyond it. Yet the world of video games has not gone untouched by tales of the strange, haunted, and unexplained. Ranging from the unknown to what is probably urban legend, these are weird tales that run the range of the odd and put a new spin on the up to now harmless pursuit of playing video games.

Certainly one of the best known tales of mysterious video games is that of the one called Polybius. In 1981, the popularity of video game arcades, with their cabinet games and kids with pockets full of jangling quarters excitedly mashing at buttons, was in full swing. At a handful of these establishments in the suburbs of the Portland, Oregon area of the United States, there appeared a particularly popular game called Polybius, which was released by the German company Sinneslöschen and involved solving various puzzles, shooting games, and mazes. Despite the cabinet being rather bland and unassuming compared to the more colorful machines around it, consisting of a simple black cabinet with and a simple logo, for some reason the game proved to be extremely popular, with kids reportedly constantly lined up to play it and jostling for position in line.

However, what made the game strange is that it purportedly had the ability to induce various mental and physical disturbances in many of those who played it, including headaches, amnesia, blackouts, epileptic seizures, nausea, nightmares, hallucinations, paranoia, and suicidal tendencies, with some players allegedly committing suicide not long after playing the game. Even more bizarre, according to some reports, every evening mysterious men in dark clothes would arrive at the machine to seemingly download data from it for some unknown ends. Then, around a month after the game’s arrival in arcades, it was suddenly gone without fanfare or announcement. Besides various photographs of the game, the game and the company that made it simply vanished without a trace.

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Alleged photo of Polybius

The spooky story of Polybius quickly catapulted to almost legendary status, to the point where it was even featured on an episode of the animated series The Simpsons, and has been picked apart and debated since, with various theories as to what was going on with this sinister game. Perhaps the most persistent idea is that the game was some sort of secret government experiment used to collect data on psychological effects of certain visual input, with the game specifically designed to create strobing effects to induce a strong response, and that the mysterious men in black were agents sent to retrieve this data. Related to this theory is the idea that it was not to test psychological response, but rather an experiment in mind control. More skeptical theories point to this all just being an exaggeration and urban legend born of the very real concerns at the time of video games causing epileptic fits. Whatever the case may be, besides a few photos and some alleged videos of the game being played, it is unknown if it ever even existed at all, and it will all likely remain a mystery.

Another strange tale of a game causing mysterious mental effects is concerned with the Japanese version of the Nintendo Gameboy game Pokemon Red and Green. While the game was introduced in 1996 to huge popularity and acclaim all over the world and with no strange effects, in the original release location of Japan it was a different story. Shortly after its release, there was allegedly a quick succession of suicides amongst children from the ages of 7 to 12, purportedly 200 of them, and all right after playing the game. Additionally, many others reported experiencing dizziness, migraine headaches, nausea, and hallucinations while playing it, and there was soon talk of the game being cursed.

The culprit was said to be a level of the game called "Lavender Town," where everything was overlaid with an odd, purple hue, giving it a strangely creepy atmosphere. In the background there was said to be a haunting soundtrack with signals embedded within it that played at a frequency only children could hear, and it was these signals that supposedly instilled potent suicidal urges in those who could hear them. Indeed, the various ill effects of playing the game supposedly only kicked in when a player reached the mysterious Lavender Town. Although Nintendo denied any such hidden signals or frequencies in the music, there were nevertheless enough complaints that they changed the soundtrack before its overseas release, which is believed to be why players in other countries escaped the “curse.” Some theories have been that the game is either really cursed or has has some mysterious code etched upon it, but it is unknown. It is hard to say if any of this is true or just an exaggeration or urban legend, but you can watch a clip of the original Lavender Town cursed soundtrack here. It may be a good idea not to watch it in the presence of young children. Just in case.

Lavender Town

Another, lesser-known game said to have the capacity to drive a player insane is actually a mod for the popular online The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind. The game has always encouraged independent mods for everything from weapons and armor, to new characters, to quests, but one such mod has managed to gain quite a sinister reputation; a mod called jvk1166z.esp. This particular mod was originally thought to be nothing more than a virus, as it had the rather destructive habit of causing screen freezes and all saved games to be erased when downloaded. It was found that the mod would only work if the game was played over special software for playing older PC games on newer computers, but actually finally playing the mod turned out to be rather bizarre indeed.

Opening the mod immediately shows that all characters in the game have died, and causes a player’s health to rapidly deteriorate if they stay in any one place too long. Upon dying from this apparent glitch, a new non-player character would appear who looked to have limbs that were long and unsettling, like those of some insect or spider, and which was called “The Assassin.” This character was said to scamper off and then proceed to haunt the player throughout the rest of the game, appearing and skittering about in the shadows and lurking around corners. Another strange detail about the mod was that at night all of the characters who had supposedly died would come out at night and gaze at the sky, saying simply “Watch the sky.”

The weirdness would only get worse when a new dungeon within the game was discovered, which proved to have its own strange tales. Within this dungeon it was said that there was a “Hall of Portraits,” which was lined with pictures that were allegedly plucked straight from the player’s own pictures folder on their computer. This was unsettling to say the least, but just as odd was that this “Hall of Portraits” purportedly ended at a door that seemed to be locked and to have no way of getting through. The frustrating mystery supposedly so absorbed some players, to the point of obsession, that they eventually went mad. Even more bizarre, it is said that if one spends enough time trying to unlock the puzzle of this locked door, The Assassin is said to materialize in the real world. Is this all just hallucination, urban myth, or what? Who knows?

Other cases concern what seem to be literal ghosts in the machine. The game Minecraft has remained extremely popular, due to its simple concept and totally open-world design. In the game, the player basically mines different resources and uses those to craft a plethora of buildings, structures, and pretty much whatever they want. It is incredible in its simplicity and total freedom of creativity. It is a great game, but there are those players who have stepped forward with some rather weird tales to tell while playing.

Players have reported coming across random, inexplicable objects in the game, including inexplicable tunnels cut into rocks that lead nowhere, trees with all of their leaves removed, and utterly random, mysterious structures such as pyramids in the ocean, when there should have been no one there to build any of these things and they are not part of the actual game. Even spookier, some players have claimed to have seen the one responsible for these anomalies; a white-eyed specter similar in appearance to the game’s protagonist “Steve,” albeit blank-eyed and seemingly distinctly out of place. The mysterious figure is reported as staying just far enough away that one could not make out any real details to their appearance, and often at work feverishly toiling away on his mad creations.

It was allegedly found that the creator of the game, a person called “Notch,” had had a brother with the user name “Herobrine,” but that this brother had tragically died. In the years since, the tale has become quite prevalent amongst Minecraft players, who often are on the lookout for the mysterious figure, and there have been various theories as to what it could be. The most rational explanation is that it is simply due to a bug or a glitch, but there are also ideas that this is either the ghost of the dead brother haunting the game or an intentional programming choice made by Notch to honor his dead brother.

Interestingly, one of the improvements to further versions of the game made by developer, Mojang, was distinctly listed as the removal of Herobrine, yet sightings continue. What does any of this mean? Regardless of what the case may be, Herobrine has become quite the legend among Minecraft players, who have posted countless videos, photos, and even ways to summon the specter online. Is this just spooky lore or is there something more to it all?

Quite a creepy tale that has made the rounds in recent years is the quite possible urban legend concerning the beloved game of Nintendo’s Zelda series, Majora’s Mask. The story has its origins on the web community "4Chan," on which a user came forward with a chilling tale indeed, which involves an apparently haunted video game cartridge. The unknown user claimed that he had come into the possession of a blank Nintendo N64 cartridge with the words “Majora’s Mask” scrawled across it in simple black magic marker.

Curious, the commenter claimed that he had popped the cartridge into his console and immediately noticed that there was a saved game titled “Ben” already on it. When the user ignored the saved game and started a new one, he apparently soon noticed that all of the characters in the game referred to him as Ben, which he took to be just a glitch at first. To fix the issue, he simply deleted the “Ben” file and started again, but this would prove to cause even more oddness, when the backgrounds of the game became more surreal, with distorted scenery and a soundtrack punctuated by screeches and even playing backwards, as well as a twisted avatar of the game’s main character following him around in the shadows.

The unsettled player restarted the game only to find that not only had the “Ben” file been mysteriously restored, and was sitting there defying him, but this time there was a second inexplicable save file entitled “drowned.” Any attempts to play a new game after this were allegedly met with the same results; that the character would abruptly die and a message would appear which read “You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?” The mysterious cartridge in question has never been recovered, although there are various screenshots purportedly showing the haunted game, but whether this story is true or not remains in dispute, and it is often though of as merely an urban legend.

Evading the trend of being cursed or haunted, some mysterious video games are attributed with having other enigmatic powers. For instance, take the wildly popular role playing game Fallout 3, which by some accounts can actually tell the future. In the game itself, the player wanders a vast, open world apocalyptic environment set in the Washington D.C. are of the United States. Throughout the missions, the player will often receive ghostly radio transmissions which are part of the actual game and include such things as dramatized broadcasts and music in order to alert the player to mission objectives and create a sense of ambiance.

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Fallout 3, image from Bethesda

However, some have claimed that there is another purpose for these transmissions; predicting the future. Players have apparently picked up what seems like a series of numbers in Morse code, which represent dates, and that the DJ on these broadcasts can be heard to say prophetic things such as ““The Queen has died today. The world mourns, as on days like these we are all Brits” and “I can’t believe Britney’s actually won an Oscar!” Some disasters, such as the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster, were said to have been predicted down to the hour. It is unknown what any of this means or if any of it is true or not, and it remains a curious anomaly. For their part, the developer of the game, Bethesda, has denied that any such hidden messages exist within the game.

So, is all of this urban legend and myth? Does any of this make any sense at all? Can it all be explained away or is there something more at work with these accounts? It is hard to say. All that can be said is that these are very strange and unique case inked to video games that may or may not be more than just a collection of pixels and music. As entertaining as video games are, there do indeed appear to be those which serve to lurk out there on the borders of the unknown.

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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