Welcome to the Halloween special of Games in Bits. This one is for everybody that wore out their VHS copy of Three Men and a Baby looking for that scene with the ghost kid.
Urban Myths and horror stories always reflect the times in which these tales are spun. So it’s no surprise that we have had a host of video game ghost stories popping up over the last 30 plus years of our ever burgeoning gaming culture.
Some concern murderous game characters, others are classic tales of ghosts in the machine, and others are just random creepy shit. Like the Hall of Tortured Souls that Microsoft saw fit to include in Excel 95 to credit its vast development team, who were seemingly trapped in a blood red computer hell.
So here’s a portmanteau of frightful anecdotes from ye olde times when games were measured in Bits… terrifying Bits!
THE GHOST AND MS PAC MAN
A few years back, in Miami, an advertisement was spotted on Craigslist offering a fully working arcade cabinet for free and to be picked up as soon as possible. Nothing unusual here, people give away defunct hardware all the time on Craigslist right? Well, people generally don’t give away incredibly rare and sought after cabinets in good condition, like this Ms Pac Man machine was. Something that could sell for a ka-chingingly huge amount of money at auction.
When the owner was questioned as to the nature of this bizarre feat of generosity he replied…
“Three-year old daughter started talking about the “man in the video machine”, didn’t think much of it, then my wife saw a dark figure move across the basement and into the machine. She ran out of the house, would not return until the machine was out of the house.”
We’re used to the Pac Man family being tormented by ghosts in the video game, but they’re supposed to stay in there right?
POLYBIUS: IT WILL TEAR YOUR BRAIN APART
I love this one… its like an episode of the X-Files that really should have been. This myth sprung up in the US in the early 1980s and concerned a mysterious black arcade machine that kept appearing in Arcades in Portland, Oregon. It even has its own hazy photograph, making it the Arcade equivalent of Bigfoot.
No body is sure what the actual video game looked like as the only surviving image is of the above cabinet, and the title screen below.
The general legend refers to it as being somewhat like Atari’s early 3D tube shooter Tempest.
The game was supposedly very good, perhaps too good. In fact it was rumoured that it was so addictive that people would line up for the machine for hours and even fight over it.
Players admitted to experiencing vertigo and continued to have hallucinations after playing the game, others suffered from amnesia, insomnia and prolific nightmares. Some likened the experience to being spiked with LSD, whilst others claimed it as something far more terrifying that could drive you to insanity and even some alleged suicides.
Anyway it’s pants-wetting stuff. What was Polybius? Why was it said to have been withdrawn from Arcades by mysterious Men in Black? Was it some kind of weaponised arcade game designed for psychological warfare? Or was it merely a steaming pile of shit that gave players seizures, so had to be recalled.
Personally I like to think it was Alien Technology, sent to Earth to test us, like the Arcade machine in that old movie >The Last Star Fighter.
BERZERK: THE VIDEO GAME MURDERER
Berzerk was one of the first multi-directional maze shooters and spawned many great prodigies, such as the Gauntlet Series, all the way through to Smash TV. Our story concerns the games antagonist, the character known as Evil Otto.
Otto, as he was originally named (we’ll get to the ‘Evil’ nickname that he inherited shortly), was the central boss character in the game. He was this bouncing happy face that served as a kind of “hurry up” time limit enforcer. He chased you around the screen until you escaped that level. Otto was invincible, no matter how many bullets you pumped into the mother fucker he simply COULD NOT DIE.
The same cannot be said for the two young men, a 19 year old and an 18 year old who allegedly suffered fatal heart attacks after entering their names onto the high score screen.
This makes Evil Otto the only video game villain to date who has committed ACTUAL homicide. I play Berzerk all the time because it’s a classic game, but I NEVER enter my name on the high score screen. I’m not superstitious, I just will NOT fuck with Evil Otto. He is the pixelated angel of death!
I’ll admit. I don’t really know much about Pokemon, after all I’m of the age where I could legally buy alcohol when the cartoon show first aired on television. I know enough about it, and its child friendly content, to know that the subject of death isn’t handled much, IF EVER, in the Pokemon universe.
That’s why there’s something ever so slightly unsettling about Pokemon Red and Blue on the Gameboy. An area of the game called Lavender Town contains a Graveyard for dead Pokemon, possibly the only time in the series history that the mortality of Pokemon, or their burial rights, is ever disclosed.
In this area of the game, the music drastically alters into some disquieting and subtly eerie tones, a massive contrast to the jolly adventure music associated with these game.
This is the original Japanese version of the morbid music that has come to be known as the Lavender Tones. This torturous soundtrack is rumoured to have caused massive depression among many children that led to suicides. It is actually believed that this music contains tones that, while harmless to adults, can affect the underdeveloped hearing of young children in a variety of negative and mysterious ways. The music was changed upon it’s worldwide release, to stop this madness spreading.
So don’t subject your kids ears to this child killer.
This story concerns an unusual ROM hack of Super Mario World for the SNES that was simply titled MARIO. The file was received from a mysterious contributor to a Mario bros fan site and came in the form of an unreadable text document. Further examination showed it to be a list of code that frequently featured the phrase “find me”.
After some tinkering the game was made to run. What our user saw was an unfinished and glitchy version of the original Mario World featuring many unnerving text boxes, some cryptic, while most are obviously deranged.
This nonsensical new ‘story’, if you can call it that, seems to concern blame being laid upon Mario for the kidnap (or murder) of the Princess and the alleged killing of Yoshi, Marios dinosaur buddy. It makes little to no sense and contains frequent addresses to either the character of Mario or to the player themselves, saying such things as “I hate you!”
You can see a short run through of this madness here.
What would drive somebody to exert such a great amount of effort in building such a devious hack? Surely this has no other purpose than to subvert a cute, classic game character for sinister ends and is the work of a twisted mentalist.
More sinister still, once the Rom Code was further examined. It was found to actually be an image file, and it looked like this…
ZELDA: MAJORAS MASK: BEN
Our final story is possibly the most notorious on this list. It concerns the acquisition of a second hand copy of the N64 Zelda game Majoras Mask. This was bought from a jumble sale that was hosted by an old man who was selling suspicious looking ink blot drawings so it seemed unusual that this creepy old gent would have a game cartridge. As our buyer left the scene the old man said “Good-bye Ben” to him, a comment that was dismissed as senility.
Upon bringing it home and booting it up it was noted that the cartridge contained a saved game from a previous owner simply titled with the name Ben. Our new owner ignored it and started a new game with the traditional title of Link, and he began to play.
Even though this was a new file, the game insisted on addressing the new player as Ben. Nothing too unusual here and the continual glitching of the game confirmed that the cart must be broken. Creepy messages appeared on screen saying such things as “You’ve met with a terrible fate haven’t you?” and “your turn”. Weirded out, the player deleted the Ben file. Only to find it inexplicably replaced with a new file titled Your Turn Ben. That’s when he saw this in game message.
Suddenly throughout his game, he was followed by this statue. It’s known as the Elegy of Emptiness and it IS NOT supposed to follow you around the game, like it did here. Add to that the bizarre apparitions that started to materialise in the game and we ended up with one shitted-up gamer.
Whilst it sounds like this was all just the result of a glitch, the “video evidence” is fairly compelling and undeniably creepy.
Disturbed enough, our gamer returned to the street were he had bought the game to find the old man had moved out. He asked a neighbour if he knew anything about a boy called Ben and was shocked to find that a teenager in the neighbourhood had died a few years earlier in a drowning accident.
DUN DUN DUUUUUUUURRRRR! Apologise if our horror stories have filled your pants with fear-wee. Of course these stories have the undeniable stench of bull shit. Games can’t be haunted right? Can they? Can they? OR CAN THEY?
If you’re looking for some good horror movies to watch this Halloween and want to shoehorn in your video game habit too, you could do worse than watch the video game horror short The Bishop of Battle from the 1983 compilation film Nightmares, itself inspired by the legends surrounding both Berzerk and Polybius.
Just don’t go to level 13!