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Video game urban legends

In honour of Halloween, Kim been exploring the darkest corners of the web, to bring you the creepiest urban legends in video game history… prepare to be spooked.


7. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – BEN drowned

Name: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Release date: October 2000
PEGI rating: 7
Platforms: 3DS, GameCube, N64, Wii
More information: Official website

This tale begins with an American student by the name of Jadusable who was given a second-hand N64 cartridge with ‘Majora’s Mask’ written across it in black marker. After popping it into his console he noticed there was already a saved game called ‘BEN’, but after starting anew and finding that the non-player-characters (NPCs) still referred to him using this name he deleted the mysterious Ben’s file.

But the game became even more erratic and glitches included music playing backwards, gameplay skipping forward to the final boss battles and Link repeatedly dying due to drowning. The protagonist began to be followed by the same strange statue that appears when you play the creepy Elegy of Emptiness on the ocarina, taunting him with threats and menacing laughter. Eventually the ‘BEN’ file reappeared on the cartridge along with another new file simply called ‘drowned’; and every time the student played afterwards, his character would die and a message would display onscreen: ‘You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?’

His progress was posted via YouTube videos and his blog posts reported that he started seeing Ben in his sleep. Jadusable eventually discovered the truth: that the young boy who had previously owned the cartridge has drowned… although ‘truth’ probably isn’t the word to use here. He later revealed the whole thing to be an experiment on testing the gullibility of readers when presented with a story written in a believable form – which is why this one goes to the bottom of the list.

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6. Berzerk – Evil Otto

Name: Berzerk
Developer: Stern Electronics
Publisher: Stern Electronics
Release date: November 1980
PEGI rating: Not listed
Platforms: Arcade, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, GCE Vectrex
More information: Wikipedia

Berzerk by Atari is considered to be one of the greatest titles of the arcade-era of gaming and features one of the most iconic boss battles: players’ characters are pitted against their arch nemesis, a bouncy smiling face called Evil Otto. It also holds the morbid honour of being the first video game linked to the death of a person, before going on to kill again a year later.

The game had a staggering 64,000 levels and what both of Otto’s victims had in common were ridiculously high scores. Ninteen-year-old Jeff Daily was the first to die after posting a score of 16,600 points in 1981; then ten months later in 1982 Peter Burkowski decided to play the title. Within fifteen minutes he’d made the top-ten list twice, but then took a few steps away from the machine and collapsed dead.

Unlike Polybius (see below), Berzerk’s murderous rampage is a fact and you can find out more about it online. The cause of death in the cases of both Daily and Burkowski was ruled as a heart attack, and maybe it’s just a coincidence… or maybe Evil Otto sought his revenge.

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5. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind – jvk1166z.esp

Name: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release date: May 2002
PEGI rating: 12
Platforms: PC, Xbox
More information: Official website

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’, and whom gamers started calling ‘the Assassin’. They noticed that if they paid close attention they could see him around corners or scurrying up walls for brief moments, but that wasn’t the only weird thing. Another creepy element was the fact that 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 of the hall 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 gamers have alleged that after long hours of trying to do so, they began to hallucinate and 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 seem to exist so download it at your own risk.

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4. Killswitch – the game that never existed

Name: Killswitch
Developer: Karvina Corporation
Publisher: Karvina Corporation
Release date: 1989 – unable to confirm the month
PEGI rating: Not listed
Platforms: Unknown
More information: Karvina Files Wiki

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 obviously 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 over time.

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?

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3. Twisted Metal: Harbor City – the note

Name: Twisted Metal: Harbor City
Developer: Sony
Publisher: Sony
Release date: Not released
PEGI rating: Not listed
Platforms: Not released
More information: Wikipedia

Since the first edition was released on the PlayStation in 1995, Twisted Metal has had a strong cult following. In 2003 Sony were set to develop a follow-up to Twisted Metal: Black 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.

But things turned surreal when a note appeared in the developer’s headquarters, pleading with them to let fans play the levels mentioned above. Rather than being sent by one of the series’ hardcore enthusiasts, it was actually 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. Indeed, Sony used the note in the PlayStation 2 title Twisted Metal: Head On: Extreme Twisted Edition, where players would have to complete all levels in the Lost mode on the hardest difficulty setting in order to ‘unlock its secrets’.

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2. Pokémon Red – Lavender Town Syndrome

Name: Pokémon Red
Developer: GameFreak
Publisher: Nintendo
Release date: September 1998
PEGI rating: Not listed
Platforms: Game Boy
More information: Official website

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 twelve. 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: Pokémon rarely touches on anything more sinister than a plot to capture a legendary monster, so for one of the video games to deal so directly death is 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 (a Pokémon species) that spelled out ‘LEAVE NOW’… as if kids killing themselves over a creepy song wasn’t scary enough.

The reported six-hundred-plus seizures that occurred after the Porygon episode of the anime series was aired is true, which makes this urban legend seem all the more plausible. But if we included all the Pokémon-related legends within this article it would be at least three times as long, so who knows?

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1. Polybius – a CIA experiment?

Name: Polybius
Developer: Sinneslöschen
Publisher: Sinneslöschen
Release date: 1981 – unable to confirm the month
PEGI rating: Not listed
Platforms: Arcade
More information: Wikipedia

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 that it ever existed. The only evidence seems to be a shot of the title screen and a black-and-white photo of the cabinet.

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So there you have it: the scariest urban legends in video game history. We’ve tried to include as many links throughout this article as we could find in an attempt to provide some evidence, but who knows whether they’re accurate and what the truth is?

Regardless… you might want to unplug your PC or console before you go to bed this evening, just to be on the safe side.

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