Video games are a form of entertainment and art that anyone of any age can enjoy- from a young child playing Minecraft to grandparents playing Wii sports. Like every form of art, video games must be able to grip its audience and hold them close like a fly to a glue trap. In order to do this, the games themselves must have at least great game-play and a beautiful world to discover. That is, if you’re going along the lines of Minecraft and other games that are made for their simplicity. Other games combine the gameplay and game world with interesting characters and a gripping story to raise it up to almost blockbuster movie level.
But even the most heartfelt and story can have a dark side to it- a secret that only the most astute and inquisitive viewers would notice. These moments may not even be found on the first play-through, or even found out through word-of-mouth or the internet.
Subliminal messages are messages, ideas, or even images that are so subtle that the human mind isn’t able to perceive it at first glance. Advertising companies use subliminal messaging to convince the viewers to go buy the product on TV. Subliminal Messaging is also a tool that the government utilized time and time again in order to accomplish some goal.
Why can’t the same also be true about video games?
These are examples of 15 disturbing subliminal messages in video games.
15. Dead Space – Nicole is Dead
Dead Space is a horror game that gives plenty of spooks and jump-scares. As the main protagonist Isaac Clarke you must blow apart- literally- the zombie-like creatures known as Necromorphs in order to survive and uncover the truth about this strange infestation. Oh and his girlfriend Nicole happens to be on the same ship as Isaac, so saving her is also on the list. Towards the end of the game however, you find out that Nicole has been dead the whole time.
Though what if you were already warned about Nichole’s death, but the message was so hidden that you weren’t able to figure it out? Looking at the first letter of each chapter, you’ll see that it spells out one sentence:
14. Doom (2016) – Satanic Imagery in Boss theme
The original Doom, released in 1993, spearheaded the First Person Shooter genre. Filled with a plethora of violence, blood, and questionable Satanic imagery it’s no surprise that this game was one of the first to cause controversy in this form entertainment. Twenty-three years later the Doom reboot was made in 2016, and did it live up to the hype!
Since this is a reboot of the original, familiar faces are bound to return. One such face- if you can say it has one- is the Cyberdemon. Making an awesome entrance with an awesome song, you would be forgiven to think that more satanic imagery could be found in the Cyberdemon’s song. No, it’s not in its audio. If using a Spectrograph- a device used to measure spectra in an audio clip and put them in visual form- you will find a Pentagram and “666” in the visual representation of this song. It may not be surprising to some, considering about half of this game takes place in Hell, but it’s still a bit of a shock to see symbols of direct connection to Satan himself formed in the spectra created by this song.
13. Super Princess Peach/Super Mario RPG – The Vibe Scepter
Super Princess Peach is a game in the Mario universe where the damsel in distress takes the spotlight for once. Using the power of her emotions, Peach must rescue Mario and defeat Bowser. Quite a role reversal in the game series! In this game Bowser uses an artifact called “The Vibe Scepter”, a device used to change people’s moods. Due to its semi-phallic form and the fact something with the words Vibe and Scepter changes one’s mood, it can only be assumed that this is an allusion to a certain sex toy . . .
If that’s not enough for you, travel back in time to 1996 to “Super Mario RPG” where you can find “Princess Toadstools” behind the fireplace (In the Japanese version of the game, it’s called Princess Peach’s XXX. XXX also meaning sex). When this item is found and Princess Peach is in her party, she will chastise you for finding it. Nintendo surely has a track record of games with dirty or depressing hidden messages, no matter what the demographic.
12. Batman Arkham City – Harley Quinn’s Miscarriage
Batman Arkham City is the second game in the three-part Arkham series, allowing the player to get behind the cowl of the caped crusader and defend Gotham. In the second game, you fight in a city where criminals run wild. And some of the baddest of the bad are there too, like the Clown Prince of Crime : The Joker. But in this game he’s dying from the Titan Mutagen from the first game, meaning he has to sit out of the spotlight. That leaves his long-time partner/girlfriend Harley Quinn to take the lead.
During a portion of the game you end up in the Joker’s hideout. Next to one of Harley’s outfits is a pregnancy test that is positive. Might have been a false-positive, but more evidence shows otherwise. In one part of the game Harley charges at you, and you end up throwing her to the ground. Extreme physical trauma can be enough to cause a miscarriage. Not only that, at the end of the game The Joker succumbs to the mutagen and dies. Batman carries his former foe’s lifeless corpse out of the theater in which they fought, all to the viewing eyes of the police and Harley Quinn herself. In a DLC where Harley is the main antagonist is it apparent that The Joker’s death broke her already broken psyche. But what if that wasn’t the only death had to endure. Exploring a part of the game you can find a baby crib with a creepy-looking doll inside, surrounded by negative tests. And in the post credits you can hear Harley singing a lullaby to a non-existent baby. Whether it was Batman’s assault or the Joker’s death, it shows that the player is inadvertently responsible for the death of Harley’s Child.
11. Braid – The Manhattan Project
The game Braid is a quirky little platformer with the unique feature of allowing the player to travel back in time. This means that the player is able to go back and fix their mistakes, essentially negating the ability to lose. Towards the end of the game you must help the main protagonist, Tim, catch up with the princess while escaping an approaching wall of flame. The ending itself is a bit of a twist all in its own, and it won’t be spoiled here. However, the alternate ending to the game is the juicy bit of this tale. If you manipulate certain points of the final scene, you are able to reach the princess. What happens when you finally reach her?
She blows up.
No, not in a gory mess filled with blood and viscera. She freaks out, glitching across the screen, until finally the sound of an explosion is heard followed by a bright light. This ending indicates that this game is also a metaphor of how some of the scientists of the Manhattan Project felt: wishing they could turn back time and stop the catastrophe that will happen.
10. Majora’s Mask- The Five Stages of Grief
Okay, Majora’s mask in itself is a bit dark. As Link, the main protagonist of almost all the Legend of Zelda Games, you must stop a moon (with a terrifying face that would give anyone chills) from crashing into the earth and killing everyone within a three-day time limit. Yeah, already that’s depressing. Well several stages in the game represent the Five Stages of Grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance (DABDA for short). Denial is represented in Clock Town, where everyone is planning a festival and not really caring about the giant celestial sphere hovering above them. Anger can be shown in the Woodfall Temple where the Deku King plans to execute an innocent monkey for a crime he didn’t commit. Bargaining is shown when the ghost of Darmani trying to convince Link to use his magic to bring him back to life. Depression is represented by the character Lulu and her missing eggs. Finally, Acceptance is show in Ikana Valley- or the valley of the dead.
9. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth – Issac’s “Rebirth”
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is a remake of the original that dwells into the horrors that little Isaac must endure, using his tears as projectiles and fending off enemies such as feces, his mother, and even Satan himself. Already right there it shows what the tone of this game will be.
At the beginning of the game the player is presented with an introduction explaining Isaac’s upbringing. He was a quiet boy who kept to himself while his mother spent her time watching Christian programs on T.V., and all seems well. That is until Isaac’s mother is spoken to by a voice above, saying that Isaac is corrupted and needs to be saved. Then things go downhill for little Isaac . . .
The game itself has multiple endings, but the one in question is Ending 16. In this ending you find Isaac crying in his box (along with his dead cat) and he flashes between a visage of himself and a more demon-like version. This suggests Isaac’s “Rebirth”- or coming to terms with problems that he has grown with. He has come to terms with his sins.
8. Sonic CD – Fun is Infinite
Sonic the Hedgehog is one of gaming’s famous- or infamous- mascots. The blue blur and his entourage have starred in many games; some good, some bad, some so heinous that they deserve to be buried in the sands of New Mexico with E.T. Sonic CD is a delightful game that sticks with some as one of the greatest in the franchise’s 2-D run.
But not everything is sunshine and daisies with this game. Accessing the game’s Sound Test menu will allow you to access a few interesting images. Some are cute- like a small Sonic with “You are cool” written above his head. Others are weird- like the one where Sonic looks like Batman. But there is one that stands out above the rest. If the code “FM46 PCM12 DA25” is put in, you are greeted with a backdrop of a bunch of Sonic’s wearing creepy masks. Written on the screen is the phrase “Fun is Infinite” signed by “Majin.” As some may know, “Majin” is Japanese for “Devil”. Although some have said it’s actually Madin, the game’s artist, it is still something creepy to find in a game as colorful and bright as this.
7. Half-Life 2 – Cries for help
Half-Life 2 is considered a masterpiece, with an engaging story and a great mixture of Horror and First Person Shooter action and two episodes (yes the game is divided into two episodes) of twists and turns. This game gives the main character- silent protagonist Gordon Freeman- plenty of enemies to shoot, explode, and toss with the awesome Gravity Gun. One of these enemies is the iconic Headcrab, an alien parasite that latches onto a victim’s head and turns them into zombie-like creatures.
With that little detail you would expect them to be like zombies: basically dead with no emotion or feeling. Well that may not be true at all. If one of these creatures is set on fire, they will scream and cry in pain. Obviously that shows that they feel some semblance of pain. However, that may just be the Headcrab parasite making these noises. Reversing the audio of these cries shows that they are very much recognizable messages:
“Help me! Oh God, Help me!”
6. Splatoon – Cries of the Damned
Splatoon in itself is a fun game filled with bright colors and wacky characters. The player controls a member of the Inkling species and they paint the arena in bright paint. They are also able to swim in the paint by switching to a squid-like form. There is also a Campaign, where the Inkling the player controls is recruited to rescue The Great Zapfish- a source of power- from the Octarians. Even with this type of mission, it seems like a cute little game for all to enjoy.
But sadly, it’s not all sunshine and daisies. When defeating a boss, wait around in the arena for a while. What do you hear? Well, what you will hear are eerie screams of panic and the sounds of clanking metal. As you get closer to rescuing The Great Zapfish you are also shutting off power for the Octarians. Every time you defeat a boss, you also doom members of the spices as their world literally falls apart around them. This raises a question: Who are the real antagonists in the game?
5. Kirby’s Dream Land 2 – The Naked Lady
Kirby’s Dream Land 2 was one of the first games that the Pink Powerhouse had during the Nintendo Gameboy Era. A fun little platformer which gives you the ability to suck up certain enemies and gain their powers, Kirby’s Dream Land 2 was a great game for young gamers. Nothing bad or disturbing could be found in something like this, right?
Well if you’re this far into this list, you know better than that.
On the Red Canyon level there are a few sets of blocks that don’t look like they mean anything. That’s because the game screen was too small reveal the whole picture. In a Japanese guidebook of the game, you can see that this particular set of blocks is the image form a crude image of a naked woman. It was actually cleaver how this image was hidden, but once it was known to the public no one saw this level the same again.
4. Bioshock Infinite – The Possession Vigor
The Bioshock series has been a cult classic since the first games were released, and the same can be said about the third game in the series: Bioshock Infinite. In this game you play as Booker DeWitt, a man looking for a mysterious girl in order to pay off some debt. This game has a beautiful atmosphere, touches on serious issues, and has one of the most confusing but greatest plot twists in modern gaming.
In this world, Booker uses special abilities known as Vigors. One such Vigor is called Possession and allows to player to, obviously, take control of certain enemies. When upgraded completely, human enemies will commit suicide after the effects wear off. What is disturbing about this Vigor is what transpires when you first get it. When you get the Vigor a strange murmuring can be heard, but in reversed it sounds like:
” . . . And when I shall die, Take him and cut him out in little stars . . .”
This is a line from the famous William Shakespeare play “Romeo and Juliet”, where two star-crossed lovers commit suicide at the end. Also when the Possession Vigor is used a ghostly green woman can be seen floating around the target. Perhaps she is whispering this quote in the poor man’s ear, convincing him to take his own life . . .
3. Grand Theft Auto Series – Isolationism
The Grand Theft Auto Series is a perfect blend of mayhem, controversy, and satire. From being able to hire a virtual prostitute then beating her up to get her money back to robbing banks, The Grand Theft Auto games have always found some way to push the envelope. What is strange about the games- particularly the 3D games- is how they are all set on islands that seem to be a part of the United States of America.
Other than being total satirical takes on famous United States cities- New York and Los Angeles are the two big contenders- the cities in the 3D games may also be a representation of what some Americans think: Isolationism. Being cut off from the rest of the world in order to solve their problems. The violence and crime within these cut-off cities represents the inner anger that some United States citizens feel, and how they lash out at others.
2. Mother 3 – A Fetus
Earthbound was an RPG on the Super Nintendo that gained an immense cult following. With a charming art-style and storyline that grew darker with every turn, this game has embedded itself into the memories of young gamers who touched it. It’s also an inspiration for the RPG “Undertale”.
One of the bosses, Giygas, is probably the most memorable boss in the game. Mainly due to his second phase form. His first phase looks like a red squiggle forming a screaming face. Nothing too bad there. His second form is that squiggle repeating over and over again. Nothing seems too creepy at first, but when you look into the black spaces on the screen you will be chilled.
Giygas’s second form looks like a Fetus. This is a chilling form for this character to take, essentially making the entire boss fight seem like a glorified abortion. Part of the reason why Giygas was so memorable was due to the form he takes that can never be unseen.
1. Mega Man 4 – Cannibalism
The Mega Man franchise is one of the first to grace the Sega console. With the blue bomber running around and defeating the robot monstrosities of Dr.Wily, it was a fun inclusion to the game itself. By the 4th game though, it seem as if some of the robot ideas were a bit . . . bland. Take Dust Man for example: He’s a robot with a vacuum on his head. Sure, not all that intimidating, that is until you look at his level.
Dust Man’s level is a Junkyard. Sure, nothing too bad about a junkyard. Well if you know anything about Dr. Wily’s obsession of turning good bots bad, you’ll see why this is a bit disturbing. Before Dr. Wily came to the scene, Dust Man was a sanitation bot (hence the vacuum). But afterwards, Dust Man seems to have a bit of a cannibalistic streak. If you look closely at Dust Man’s level, you will find that the Junkyard is littered with robot parts. It’s a Robot Junkyard. And to an evil robot whose job is to suck up useless junk, what’s a bit of robotic pieces going to add up to? Think about it.