Video games have a long history of development, starting with a single pixel and bringing us to where we are now: virtual reality headsets and life-like graphics. Unfortunately, rather than be enjoyed as a form of escapism and harmless entertainment, video games are sometimes lobbied as harmful to children and geared towards the immature. That ridiculous notion aside, video games also have an interesting history of urban legends that range from the unsettling to the thought provoking. We certainly weren’t the only ones who obsessively tried to reach a faraway island across a body of water in the first level of GoldenEye 007 on Nintendo 64—only to find out it was inaccessible and simply an abandoned part of the map.
Whether it’s secret levels that don’t exist or attaining the unattainable, players spend countless hours chasing these dragons. Some of these urban legends are plausible, others are grounded in myth. Regardless, they make for good and sometimes chilling stories. As we’ll soon find out, gamers sometimes jump to conclusions after investing hours upon hours in these expertly crafted worlds. Still, many of these claims live on through rumours and the desire to believe in conspiracy theories. Everyone loves a good story, after all.
This list will explore some of these urban legends and what makes them such compelling stories. Whether it’s cursed Pokémon theme music, a deadly arcade game or government conspiracies, there’s wacky and bone-chilling tales aplenty. But let’s not spoil all the fun, read on to find out what we think are the 10 biggest urban legends in gaming.
10 Luigi Hangs ‘Em Up - Luigi’s Mansion
Luigi’s Mansion is a beloved classic for the Nintendo GameCube that offered some innocuous scares while retaining the light hearted fun of the Super Mario brand. But following its release, unusual and chilling reports had surfaced that players could enter a certain room and see Luigi’s shadow high on the wall, implying that he died via hanging. This led to some speculation among Internet forums that were never confirmed or debunked. Is the shadow resembling Luigi simply a glitch, an intentional easter egg left by the developers, or perhaps just fans wanting to believe in a conspiracy? Dum, dum, duuummm.
9 Secret Messages - Fallout 3
Everybody loves Three Dog, the loveable radio host in Fallout 3’s vast post-apocalyptic wasteland. Tuning into the various radio stations while scouring the playground Bethesda Game Studios created is an enjoyable distraction. Perhaps after listening to said radio station for hundreds of hours also plays with your sanity a bit, as some players have reported there being secret messages hidden within the airwaves. Such quotes like, “The Queen has died today. The world mourns as on days like this we are all Brits,” and “I can’t believe they’ve actually done it. Not long left. The noise. I can’t take the noise anymore. I have a pistol in the attic” are apparently said by Three Dog. Bethesda has denied these claims, but it’s interesting to ponder nonetheless.
8 Squall Died - Final Fantasy VIII
Back when expansive video games were divided by numbered discs—Xbox 360 shockingly had to do this for certain games—developers had the opportunity to convey different tones in the game in a clear manner. This didn’t help dispel the belief that Squall, the main character in Final Fantasy VIII actually died at the end of Disc 1. In Disc 2, the story goes, players controlled Squall in his dream state before he bites the dust. It makes sense considering the outlandish occurrences that begin to take place in the second half of the game, but this remains an urban legend to this day.
7 Pokémon Ghost - Pokémon Red (Hacked)
This urban legend originated from a supposedly hacked version of Pokémon Red, which was titled Pokémon Black (before the actual video game was released). The story goes that the player would have an additional Pokémon named Ghost in their starting roster. Ghost had the unique ability of actually murdering other Pokémon by using “Curse” which made the screen cut to black before a cry from the fallen combatant would emanate from the Game Boy. Creepier yet, this would lead to a post-apocalyptic epilogue in which everyone in Lavender Town was deceased. The story doesn’t end there, though, as Ghost would then reappear as an opponent and kill all your Pokémon, prompting a black screen that forced the player to reset the handheld only to find a deleted game file. Sounds like fiction, but it’s a fun story nonetheless.
6 Herobrine Returns - Minecraft
“Herobrine” was the username of the brother of Notch, the developer of Minecraft. What’s unsettling, however, is that his brother is now deceased and some players claim to have had interactions with a nameless user that appeared in offline sessions. One user finally decided to investigate the matter and took to the forums to ask other users if they had similar experiences. Upon his investigation, a user named “Herobrine” sent a direct message demanding him to “Stop.” It was then that the user discovered that Notch did indeed have a brother who had used the moniker. Of course, this story is laden with holes and remains only an urban legend.
5 Porto and Ghast - Killswitch
Much like Pokémon Black, Killswitch erases itself upon completion. Players choose between Porto or Ghast and uncover the grisly truth behind the collapse of a mine and its twisted past of abused and tortured miners. The game was said to inspire such horror titles as Silent Hill as it heavily incorporated survival horror elements. Thing is, Killswitch never existed. While the urban legend lived on for quite some time, it was later revealed that it was simply an idea concocted by author Catherynne Valente. So if you know anyone who claims to have played this game, they’re a big fat liar.
4 Lavender Town Suicides - Pokémon Red and Green
This urban legend will send chills up your spine. Back in Feb. 27, 1996, when Pokémon Red and Green were released in Japan, reports surfaced that there was a spike in suicides among children between the ages of 7 to 12. It was believed the theme music in Lavender Town caused headaches and suicidal thoughts among certain children are they were more susceptible to the high-pitch sounds. The music apparently caused hundreds of suicides before the developers had to change its sound to a lower pitch. Of course, this is likely a classic case of a placebo effect, but it’s a chilling tale all the same.
3 The Madden Curse - Madden NFL
Garrison Hearst? Injured. Barry Sanders? Retired. Dorsey Levens? Injured. Daunte Culpepper? Injured. You get the idea. The curse of the Madden cover has lived on to this day, with Adrian Peterson and Richard Sherman being the latest victims. It appeared as though Sherman would finally break the curse last season, but a crushing defeat in the Super Bowl and requiring surgery on his arm has ensured its survival. Is this simply an incredible run of coincidence in a highly physical sport, or is the Madden curse all too real for these cover athletes? Well, maybe we’ll find out in 2016?
2 Deadly High Scores - Berzerk
Berzerk was a popular arcade game that gained notoriety for being linked to the deaths of two individuals. The story goes that these two men died shortly after posting high scores on Berzerk. A cursed arcade game, you say? Sounds like a pile of rubbish, and it probably is considering the context surrounding their respective deaths. Nonetheless, a pair of coincidences subsequently led to this urban legend that is still argued today. So no, video games don’t kill people, unless of course you’re malnourished and refuse to get off the sofa. But that’s not the video game’s fault… People like their stories.
1 A Government Conspiracy - Polybius
Polybius was an unknown arcade game that surfaced in Portland, Oregon in 1981. The game supposedly spurred bouts of amnesia, night terrors, stress and other psychological effects to players. Legend has it that men in black would appear at random times to collect data on the game, leading some to believe Polybius was a government experiment. The game then disappeared without a trace, perpetuating one of gaming’s greatest urban legends. The Simpsons even jumped into the fray with a subtle reference in an episode where Bart is playing an arcade game. Is this simply a product of the grape vine, or is it so crazy it might actually be true?