The Gaming Twilight Zone
The video game medium and its community are no stranger to weird rumors and stories that can slowly spiral into something more. From the early days of gossip at the arcades to the 24-7 cycle of communication on the internet, certain games have managed to latch onto our collective interest, pulling us into a deeper web of intrigue and suspicion that can blur the lines between fact and fiction. Because of this, several stories--some skeptical, and others entirely fictional--have added a level of scrutiny and mystique to certain games.
With this in mind, GameSpot is taking a look back on the many urban legends that have sprouted out from video game community. While some of these stories are hotly debated, and others have since been admitted to be an elaborate hoax or misunderstanding, the impact of these events have had--and what they've done to the gaming community--still lingers. Here are nine of the most bizarre and strange urban legends in gaming.
The Legend Of The Nude Tomb Raider Code
Starting off with one of the more infamous gaming urban legends, the Lara Croft nude code was a phenomenon that surrounded the original Tomb Raider in 1996 and ended up drawing far more attention to the game than it could on its own. Originating from a nude patch from the developers at Core Design, which was intended for generic character design and programming purposes, gamers on PC caught wind of this and sought ways to produce this for their own games.
Eventually, rumors began to spread online about a secret nude code for console versions of the game. While the developers continually denied the existence of such a code, crafty gamers on PC eventually made their own custom mods that allowed them to create their own "Nude Raider." Most console gamers were unaware of the specifics of PC mods and assumed it was a secret part of the game after searching for images online, adding further mystique and attention to it. Moreover, game cheat devices jumped on the wave of interest, even advertising that their devices would allow access to naked Lara Croft.
It didn't take long for news outlets to pick up the story about a naked female character in a video game, adding more scrutiny to Tomb Raider. Due to the unwanted attention, publisher Eidos took action against websites that hosted mods and access to data on nude mods, resulting in several cease and desist letters from their legal team. Though proving they still had a sense of humor about it, the developer added the rumored nude code in the Tomb Raider sequels, resulting in Lara Croft suffering an instant death from spontaneous combustion. Still, this particular code became infamous due to its unusual nature and how the internet gossip machine turned a simple developer tool into something more than it really was.
The Strange Prank From The Classic Gaming Magazine -- Street Fighter II: Shen Long Unlock
In the pre-internet era, gaming magazines were an invaluable resource for fans to gain knowledge and stay up to date on the latest news, tips, and tricks. But when Electronic Gaming Monthly--one of the premiere video game outlets of the time--took the opportunity to pull a prank on fans of Street Fighter II, it started a lasting and common misconception about an incredibly popular game, which ironically inspired the developers at Capcom to introduce new features to the game.
In Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, there were references to a specific character known as Shen Long, the master of Shoto fighters Ryu and Ken. According to EGM in a 1992 issue, there was a way to battle and unlock the character if players managed to clear the game on a no-damage run with Ryu. When fighting M. Bison, players would have to force the match into a draw by avoiding damage from the Shadaloo leader and without dealing any damage themselves. After several rounds, Shen Long would come onto the scene and engage in a fight to the death. Due to the popularity of the game, there was a large amount of interest in uncovering its secrets, and tips on how to unlock a new character quickly spread around the world. EGM eventually stated it was an elaborate prank in their following issue, but the scrutiny the magazine received from this prank didn't stop the editors from doing it once more in the 1997 April Fool's issue for Street Fighter III.
However, this particular urban legend resulted in a pleasant turn of events that put a surprising end to this myth. Over the years, the developers at Capcom were continually hounded by rumors and references to Shen Long from fans, but were still humbled at the wave of interest that came to the game. This hoax would eventually go on to inspire the demonic antagonist Akuma, who barges into fights in Super Street Fighter II Turbo, and is now an established characters in the series. When the long-awaited Street Fighter IV was finally ready for its release--which was set sometime after the events of SFII--they introduced Gouken to the roster. While similar to Shen Long, Gouken is an original character and separate from the Shen Long referenced in-game, and the game features more advanced versions of Ryu, Ken, and Akuma's fighting styles.
The Most Dangerous Arcade Game: Polybius
As one of the more infamous gaming urban legends, the Polybius arcade cabinet has a reputation for being the most dangerous video game ever made. But of course, the claims and lack of evidence make this one hard to believe. According to myth, an arcade in Portland, Oregon during the early '80s possessed a strange arcade machine named Polybius. It was essentially a top-down shooter with bright and chaotic vector graphics, and you'd have to clear out waves of enemies to make it on the high-score list.
What makes this particular game so unusual was that players who came in contact with it were apparently met with severe nausea, night terrors, panic attacks, and other psychological effects after playing. Eventually, witnesses claimed that several men in black visited the arcade to take data from the machine before carting it off. The game was never seen again after that.
There were never any public records of Polybius, nor any details of the developers or even a publisher. While there have been many instances of players falling ill after long-term gaming from other titles, particularly of the tragic case of a young teen playing several hours of the arcade game Berzerk and suffering a heart attack, Polybius looks to be a tall tale resulting from an amalgamation of true gaming horror stories and government conspiracy theories. Some communities online focusing on retro-gaming have even made mock versions of Polybius based on descriptions found online. Hoax or not, the myth of Polybius continues to live on.
The Curse Of The Madden Cover
Becoming the cover athlete for the annual Madden football series should feel like a high honor, but over the years it's become something that many fans and players dread. Dubbed the "Madden Curse," almost every athlete that has graced the cover of the EA's Madden series over the last twenty years has either performed poorly during the following season or received an injury. As one of the few urban legends with real-world ramifications, this supposed curse has many fans and pro football players nervous. While some cover stars managed to avoid the curse, many were not so lucky, giving this urban legend some added believability.
While there are many years to cover, there are a couple notable standouts for the Madden Curse. On the cover of Madden 2002, Daunte Culpepper of the Minnesota Vikings made a name for himself as a starting quarterback straight out of college. But he soon found himself with a serious knee injury in the following season after making the cover and subsequently missed the rest of the 2001 season. In another, more unusual instance, Madden 2010 featured two cover athletes--Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals and Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers--resulting in further belief of the curse. While Fitzgerald had a largely solid season that year, Polamalu did not, with two injuries that caused him to miss several games.
Currently, Tom Brady of the New England Patriots is the cover athlete for Madden 18. Though his season has been spectacular so far, and he's gone on record to say that the Madden Curse isn't real, though there's still that apprehension from fans who are worried that the curse will strike at the worst possible time.
The Strange Occurrence Of The Voxel Doppelganger: Minecraft
During the early years of Minecraft's dominance of the gaming market, there were many stories of players experiencing bizarre and strange events from the game. Since Minecraft is set in a procedurally generated world, and has many enemies hiding underneath the dense caverns and ruins under the surface, players can encounter all sorts of surprises if they dig long and hard enough. But there have been other instances where players have come into contact with something so unusual and haunting that it would seem like it wasn't supposed to be part of the game.
On an online forum, a player claimed to have encountered a strange, white eyed doppelganger of the hero while exploring. Initially keeping its distance, this character known as Herobrine continually stalked the player, even venturing inside his home. One streamer in particular encountered Herobrine, which was documented on his livestream, but many claim it to be a hoax. Since it came from an online forum, many speculated that it was an elaborate trick to attract interest. Still, that didn't stop players from becoming fascinated by the event, even coming up with their own backstories for the character and where it came from.
Due to the popularity of Herobrine and other scary moments players had in-game, Mojang introduced a number of horror themed updates, including Slenderman-esque creatures known as Endermen, and other creatures that unnerve players while exploring at night, which attracted the interest of horror enthusiasts. Still, Herobrine in particular is an odd case, and while many players believe it to be just an elaborate story, the developers aren't shy about making references to the community legend in their patch notes, continually stating over several updates that Herobrine has been removed from the game.
Ben Drowned: The Haunting In The Legend Of Zelda: Majora's Mask
In another strange case of a cursed video game, Ben Drowned is an infamous urban legend about an elusive and apparently haunted copy of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. While the game on its own is creepy and remarkably bleak, detailing a world on the brink of destruction, the Ben Drowned myth created a far deeper sense of dread. One anonymous user who came across this copy of the game detailed his experiences with the corrupted version Majora's Mask online.
As the story goes, the user found an unmarked copy of Majora's Mask for the N64 and went home to play it on his Nintendo 64. After loading up the game, he entered the menu screen and saw a lone save file with the name "BEN" listed on the page. Ignoring this, he created a new save file, but over the course of his playthrough, characters referred to him as only "BEN". What followed took the user through a nightmarish version of Majora's Mask, with distorted music and visual effects populating the many safe areas, and even an enigmatic statue resembling Link routinely stalking the player throughout his journey--which he detailed with videos and pictures on his personal social media pages.
This story hits many notes found from a popular urban legend, but what is interesting about it was the reaction it got from other players. Many were entranced and disturbed by the journey this particular user went on and followed along with the updates and media that were posted after. Due to its popularity, the urban legend eventually spiralled out into a popular ARG event, with users online trying to figure out what or how the game came to be. Even many years after, the case of Ben Drowned still stands as one of the strangest events to happen online.
The Shadow People of Shiverburn Valley -- Super Mario Galaxy 2
While Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a vibrant and colorful game focusing on Mario's exploits venturing out into a vast universe and that tests your reflexes, there's an odd and unsettling presence in one of the levels that put a number of players on edge. In the Shiverburn Valley level, there's a cluster of dark figures standing atop one of the nearby mountains. While they make no contact with Mario, nor do they ever come down from their cliff, their presence had many players bothered nonetheless.
Some players, not looking to leave this well enough alone, began extracting data from the game's files and uncovered some odd details about the level. According to people that sifted through Super Mario Galaxy 2's data, the file with the image of the shadow people is known is "HellValleySkyTree," giving players the impression that this could be a part of a something hidden in the game. This caused many players to look around the stage for clues and hidden passages, though none were found. Despite many fans strongly believing that this has a connection to an elaborate secret held within the game, the shadow people standing on top of the mountain are never seen again after Shiverburn Valley.
What makes this particular event so unusual is that it often conflicts with the style and visuals set by Super Mario Galaxy, making the Shadow People really stick out. While claims that they're the remnants of a lost level for Galaxy 2 are still common, with clues pointing to "Hell Valley" being a level that's no longer in the game, there's been nothing conclusive. Nintendo unfortunately hasn't been much help, choosing not to comment on the strange presence in the level. With no comments from the developers, this has left fans to come up with their own theories and ideas of who the shadow people are and where they came from.
The Search For The Elusive Bigfoot Of San Andreas -- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
At the time of its release, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was biggest game in the popular open-world series. Featuring three distinct locations, along with deserts, forests, and coastal areas surrounding the main cities, there was a lot of ground to cover. Because of this, players claimed to have seen some rather bizarre sights and oddities while traveling--such as a strange run-down car with no driver and derelict houses with a strange presence inside. But one of these stories sticks out more than others, and that's of the infamous Bigfoot, who many claimed could be found inside one of the game's more dense locations.
San Andreas featured a plethora of easter eggs, secrets, and odd references to real-life events and locations,so it wasn't too hard to believe that there would some secrets that would go a bit further than others. As the legend goes, Bigfoot could be found lurking deep within the woods of Flint County. This rumor began to spread when players noticed the name "Big Foot" in the game manual's Special Thanks section, making players believe that this was in fact a clue that the infamous Sasquatch was in the game. While some players posted videos and pictures of their encounters, the veracity of their evidence came into question. With countless players searching for Bigfoot in the PS2 release of the game, everyone turned up short with little to show for it.
Eventually, San Andreas found its way to PC, resulting in a number of mods adding an actual Bigfoot to the game. Unfortunately, this was more of salve to the urban legend, and didn't actually offer resolution for fans. As the years went on, and other games from Rockstar had come and gone, the developers decided to make some acknowledgements of the myths behind Sasquatch in San Andreas in both Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto V, which poked fun at the appearances of the fabled creature. While John Marston found himself responsible for the near-extinction of Sasquatch in the Undead Nightmare expansion, GTA V featured a more humourous take on the legend, having Franklin hunt down a Bigfoot impersonator who simply had an unhealthy interest in the creature.
The Curious Case Of Lavender Town Syndrome -- Pokemon Red & Blue
While many Pokemon fans remember the first generation of games fondly, there are a number of morbid and bizarre myths surrounding it. Along with the story of the rare Pokemon Black version--a supposedly hacked version of Pokemon Blue that features only Ghost Pokemon and an increasingly dark plot--one particularly dark urban legend surrounding the original Pokemon unfortunately has some basis in reality.
Known as Lavender Town Syndrome, this urban legend speaks of a strange trance-like feeling players fall into when inside the dark and moody Lavender Town. As one of the more creepy areas of Pokemon, the town featured graves of fallen Pokemon and also housed a number of Ghost Pokemon within its central tower. This gave the setting a somewhat haunted vibe, making it contrast heavily with other more whimsical areas. Adding to this was the music, which was equally eerie also a far cry from the hopeful songs heard in other towns. Because of this, Nintendo made some adjustments to the game's music for its western release--lowering the pitch and frequencies of some beats and notes of the theme--as they felt it would be too off-putting for international audiences.
Around the height of Pokemon's popularity in the '90s, there were several reports in Japan of fans developing an unhealthy interest in the game. During this time, many health experts attributed Pokemon to the wave of deaths among the young population at the time, most of whom were playing the game. Fans online noticed the differences between the songs for Lavender Town in the West and back in Japan, and wondered if there was a connection--which resulted in the Urban Legend of Lavender Town Syndrome. While these theories are purely speculation, this particular urban legend gained popularity over the years as Pokemon caught on in the West.