Everybody loves a good story, and a good story that totally happened to a cousin of your best friend is even better. The internet makes everyone our best friend’s cousin, and video games, much like movies before them, give us a set of shared experiences and expectations to draw from and relate to. Haunted video game cartridges, long forgotten games with mysterious plots, children going mad, these are all things that somehow seem like they could have happened.
Sometimes the lure is just allowing the line between fantasy and reality to blur for a little while. Sometimes it’s nice to believe that somewhere out there is an incredibly rare treasure to be sought. Other times we just latch onto an idea that plays into our pre-conceived ideas about the way the world works. Whatever brings you into the world of conspiracy, these 8 theories are sure to get your brain juices moving.
1. Haunted Majora’s Mask Cartridge
4Chan user Jadusable was presented with a blank cartridge labeled “MAJORA” in sharpie by an old man. Upon loading the game he found that a save file was already present. It was labeled “BEN.” He started his own game, but found that characters would still refer to his character as Ben. In a bid to solve this little glitch he deleted the saved game.
Apparently that was the wrong answer. The game decided that it didn’t like being fucked with and started fucking with Jadusable right back. Textures would disappear. Music would be distorted or played backwards. Link was being followed by a creepy statue of himself. He began to record videos of him playing the alleged haunted game and posting them on YouTube.
The BEN save file returned, along with one simply labeled “drowned.” The game began displaying strange warnings like, “You shouldn’t have done that…” or garbled mish mash instead of the usual messages. Things were certainly getting strange, but it’s a glitched out, or perhaps tampered version of a video game. Even if it was an evil spirit only the game was haunted. He could just stop playing it right?
But it turned out things were much deeper and more sinister than that. On September 15th, 2010, at 23:04 PM someone claiming to be Jadusable’s roommate posted a final video called “free.wmv” to Jad’s Youtube channel as well as a diary called “TheTruth.txt” on Mediafire. The video was a black, in game screen that first displayed, “The counter resets,” and then, “I’m glad you did that.” The txt file chronicled the kind of descent into torment and madness reserved for horror movies. Ben had taken over Jad’s computer. He was having terrifying nightmares about the Moon Children. His online presence was being filtered by Ben to keep certain things secret.
So, did a haunted video game cartridge drive a young man from his dorm? No. There’s a whole other chapter involving cults, parody videos and proposed video games now on hiatus. All of this information is easily available Jadusable’s wiki page. What began as a creepypasta on 4Chan has evolved into a full on Alter Reality Game. It’s a conspiracy only in so much as every story is a conspiracy. It has all of the elements of a good horror movie. It’s a perfectly passable ARG, it’s just not true.
2. The Lavender Town Suicide Spike
In 1996 you couldn’t get away from Pokemon. It was on the television, on the playground and in everybody’s GameBoys (which I didn’t have). At least, that’s what it was like in America. Reportedly Japan was much less impressed with Pokemon because it had caused strange behavior in children who play the game, and in a disturbing number of cases, suicide. These cases of strange behavior universally happened after the children reached a stage in the game called Lavender Town.
Apparently the original music for the area, which is a legitimately creepy place in the game, contained some high-pitched, piercing tones that only children, with their preternaturally sensitive ears can hear. That pitch caused pain, headaches, nightmares and suicides as the children tried to drive the noise from their tiny, Japanese skulls. The music was changed for the American release and the game took off.
This benefits from a whole lot of things, not least of which the perception of Japan as a place of rampant strangeness. There’s also the perception of the culture as one accepting of ritual suicide. It also sets up the American version to be “superior.” Lavender Town is also one of, if not the, darkest areas of the game. It’s meanst to be a little scary. Of course changing certain things because they prove to be unpleasant or dangerous does happen, and differences between regional editions of games and movies are common.
The idea that an unpleasant musical score would cause a rash of children to commit suicide without any notice is absurd though. I have not been able to track down whether or not the purported video of the original music is authentic, or even whether or not the music was changed. It remains true that there are no contemporaneous accounts to support a rash of child suicides in Japan in 1996 though. The earliest reference to this story seems to be in 2006.
Additionally the most common number of suicides that I see being claimed is 200. In 2009, the only year I can immediately find stats for, there were a total of 55 suicides in children under 14. So 200 over the course of a few days, weeks or even months would be a huge and noticeable increase. In addition the suicide rates for 1996 were significantly lower than in 2009. Was the msuic unpleasant? Did they change it? Entirely possible, but the idea that there was a rash of suicides because of the music is entirely false.
3. The Mafia Had Its Own Game System
Did the mafia have their fingers in the mobile game console market along with gambling, drug dealing and prostitution? They’ve had their hands in all kinds of other things, and money is money. Why not cash in on the video game cow? They certainly couldn’t fail with a little bit of muscle behind them.
The Gizmondo was released in the United Kingdom, Sweden and America in 2005. It sold very poorly, less than 25,000 units, and by early 2006 the company was forced to file for bankruptcy. It was later alleged that executives were members of a Swedish, organized crime organization. One of them spent time in jail stemming from a car accident in Southern California.
This is actually totally true. Stefan Eriksson wasn’t part of the Sicilian mafia we think of from the Godfather movies, but he was a gangster. He’d already served nearly ten years in Swedish prison for drug possession, assault, burglary and torture by the time he became an executive, along with fellow torturer Peter Uf, of UK based Gizmondo. The lead witness in the assault and torture case survived two bomb attacks.
As Gizmondo consoles failed to sell, despite heavy promotion, advanced technology and a program very similar to Amazon’s ad based discounts for Kindles, and a Swedish newspaper brought attention to shady business and the criminal past of some of its executives, the company filed for bankruptcy. In it’s final months the company managed to spend $300 million dollars, 90% of it’s total net worth, lining the pockets of it’s executives and funding their escapes. Stefan Eriksson conveniently ended up in California to oversee the American launch months before the company folded.
Always a fan of things fast enough to do something stupid in, Stefan crashed an Enzo Ferrari into a pole at more than 160 miles an hour. He walked away with a split lip and a mountain of charges (cocaine, weapons, embezzlement, grand theft auto and drunk driving) that resulted in another 3 years in prison and a deportation to Sweden, a country more than happy to accept him into their own criminal justice system.
4. Atari Buried Truckloads Of E.T. Games In The Desert
I loved the movie E.T. when I was a kid, not least because the kids were playing Dungeons and Dragons in the opening scene. The tie-in Atari video game was legendarily bad however. It’s likely to top any list of “worst games of all time.” It was so bad that millions were returned and Atari was left with literal tons of unsellable game cartridges.
What was there to do but bury them in the desert and never speak of them again? So Atari did just that and hauled truckloads of E.T. and other languishing games to a landfill in the Arizona desert. The financially beleaguered company unloaded 14 truckloads of something at the dump in September, 1983 and tried to move on.
This one is actually completely true. The site was even dug up recently by a documentary crew covering the story. The entire cache wasn’t all E.T. games, as legend would have it, but there were plenty of unsold cartridges, still in shrink wrap, waiting to be uncovered.
Now here’s a good old fashioned government spook conspiracy! A mysterious game called Polybius was unloaded in Portland, Oregon in 1981. Reports of it’s exact play style are conflicted, but the story goes that the cabinets soon became the most popular around. They were so popular in fact that fights over whose turn it was next were common. Like any drug though this game had some side effects, like seizures, night terrors, amnesia and anxiety.
That could just be a malfunctioning game, but mysterious Men In Black were frequently seen messing with the games, presumably retrieving information for nefarious purposes. Were they study the effects of weaponized video games? Were the games a test for stamina, hand eye coordination and other baseline skills that might indicate good soldiers?
Like most government conspiracies this gets credence from the fact that the CIA is known to fuck around with projects like MK-ULTRA, spiking each other’s drinks with LSD and feeding the same to unsuspecting johns in a brothel in San Francisco. Once you see a bunch of grown men in government employ admit that they set up a fake whore house in order to test the effects of LSD on random dudes who wanted to get laid nothing seems ridiculous.
All information about this mysterious game comes from a single, anonymously posted, internet article. It fits quite neatly in with other rumors at the time of video games making kids sick and spooks coming around to gather high score information. The Last Starfighter wasn’t made in a vacuum. It was tailored to play on those rumors. No footage of the game has ever been seen. No cabinets have ever surfaced. Polybius, unfortunately, never existed.
6. Saddam Hussein Tried To Build A Supercomputer Out of PS2s
Apparently that son of a bitch Saddam Hussein built a supercomputer out of 4,000 PS2s at the height of their 2000 Christmas-time release. U.N. sanctions on Iraq forbade the sale of technology that could be bent to military applications. Computers of all kinds were banned, but Playstations aren’t computers. They’re toys, and therefore not subject to U.N. restrictions and ignored by customs officials.
This one sounds pretty damn good, right? There were very heavy sanctions against Iraq in 2000, and it seems plausible that the U.N. wouldn’t really be thinking too hard about something they consider a toy being turned to sinister ends. It’s the perfect application of cleverness to bureaucratic ignorance. It’s the kind of thing you see in a movie that you suspect would work just fine in real life if someone gave it a try.
The problem is that the whole thing leads back to this article on World Net Daily. Give it a read. It’s much less than compelling. There are illusions to secret documents and a strangely specific focus on the capabilities of the systems as, well, game systems. It claims they can generate up to 75 million polygons per second, which is a thing that game enthusiasts are likely to get excited about and not militaries. Also notice how the end of the article reads a lot like a product description from a press release and focuses on the difficulty of getting one for Christmas. It specifically mentions that it can play PS1 games as well as DVD movies, two things that are wholly irrelevant to cobbling together a supercomputer.
The possible threats of this cobbled together supercomputer are also way far off. They might attempt to use them to design and build UAVs! In this case it appears they are discussing a completely robotic UAV, a thing we don’t even really have now. It seems fairly far fetched that Iraq was going to manage a robo-air force in a few years with game systems. The next thing that’s brought up is the possibility that they could be used to calculate ballistic trajectories or to calculate the yield of atomic bombs. You see, apparently it’s very important to be able to know the size of the atomic explosion before you ever set one off.
None of that makes sense. If we’re talking about intercontinental ballistic missiles, presumably with nuclear warheads, well, we’ve been building those since 19 goddamn 59. A single PS2 has far more computing power than necessary to guide a ballistic missile. We’ve also been calculating the yield of nuclear weapons since we started dropping them, and we set off the first before we had any clue, whatsoever, at all, about the size of the explosion. Raw computation power is not needed for either of those tasks. Technical knowledge and advanced manufacturing capabilities are far more important.
Strangely, the real conspiracy to consider here is whether Sony paid some right-wing wacko website to promote their product by using jingoistic fear mongering or if it was just the bright idea of a single person.
7. The Madden Curse
The first John Madden Football game was released in 1988, and after skipping a year, has come out annually since 1990. It’s been a consistent best seller, and the players on the cover have become as iconic as the players on the Wheaties box. Do they still make Wheaties? Am I referencing something that nobody knows about anymore?
Okay, I am back from a quick Google hunt. They do still make Wheaties, but it seems like maybe they are moving away from putting “scandal prone” athletes on the cover in favor of… less scandal prone politicians? That was a Fox News report and maybe I should take it with a grain of salt. We have established that I successfully referenced an item of relevant pop culture at least.
The Madden cover, honor though it may be, has come with a terrible curse since 1999 however. 17 out of the 18 players since have suffered injuries and other mishaps, some of them season ending. Fans all over have campaigned to keep their star players off the cover. Book makers have taken bets on whether or not the featured player will be injured during the season. The moans of fantasy football buffs have rocked the foundations of homes.
EA’s position is that players are chosen after a peak season, and are likely to perform less well or be injured after what is probably a career topping performance. that makes perfect sense, EA, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a curse! No, no seriously, the players on the cover are going to be the best. They are often the cornerstones of their respective teams. Football is an inherently violent game and these players are the ones most likely to spend a lot of time on the field, with the ball, being crushed by 200 and 300 pound men. It makes sense they’d be more prone to injury.
For a full history of the curse go here.
In 1989 the mysterious Karvina company released an equally mysterious game called Killswitch. It caught on with American students, but some unique aspects of the game made it hard to describe. There were two characters to choose from. Porto was a young woman who change sizes apparently at random. Ghast was an invisible imp with the ability to breathe fire and spew poison gas. The game also deleted itself upon the player’s death or completion of the game. Porto quickly became the standard choice, but the game was still terrifyingly difficult, and often surreal or nonsensical. It was not an easy game to beat in a single go.
Eventually a player named Porto881 posted details from a complete run through on the Colombia University BBS. Porto worked in the coal mine the player must navigate, it is never revealed in what capacity. There was some kind of labor dispute between the managers of the mine and their corporate higher ups. Eventually an overseer was assigned to each miner and instructed to beat, torture and maim them if they didn’t perform. Eventually angry spirits referred to as The Fires Of The Earth awakened to avenge the workers, but were less than discriminating in their efforts. The overseers were driven mad or killed, along with many miners.
Players soon demanded that more than the already released 5,000 copies of the game be released so that they could give it another go. They were met with this response: “Killswitch was designed to be a unique playing experience: like reality, it is unrepeatable, irretrievable, and illogical. One might even say ineffable. Death is final; death is complete. The fates of Porto and her beloved Ghast are as unknowable as our own. It is the desire of the KarvinaCorporation that this be so, and we ask our customers to respect that desire. Rest assured, Karvina will continue to provide the highest quality of games to the West, and that Killswitch is merelyone among our many wonders.”
No copies of the game were made available or circulated until 2003 when Yamamoto Ryuichi of Tokyo bought an unopened copy on eBay for $733,000. He promised to share his playthrough on YouTube for any fans to enjoy, but the only video that emerged was a one minute and forty-five second clip of him crying into the camera with the character selection screen visible over his shoulder. The video, and his account, have since been deleted.
None of this happened. It goes back to a story posted on invisiblegames.net a site active for three months at the end of 2007 referencing a small list of fictional devices and games, including other Karvina releases. There is a small link to the “mythpunk” author Catherynne M. Valente’s home page listed as “intercepted by” alongside another, unlinked set of three initials. She has yet to confirm if she is the author behind the site, and the final entry by “The Archivist” is fairly opaque, and seems to indicate that there is more work to be done.
Karvina is an actual coal mining town in the Czech Republic. It’s seen it’s fair share of mining accidents and disasters. Was the myth started by someone with a connection there? Is it there way of processing grief? Is it the creation of an author experimenting with creating her own myths? It stands out from something like the haunted Majora’s Mask cartridge by focusing not on the afflicted person, but by creating a supposedly transfixed, nearly obsessive, audience. Is this an ego creating a fictional audience for itself or a cast aside victim of the coal mining industry looking for recognition, no matter how oblique? Certainly something about Killswitch took hold much more deeply than the other entries on Invisible Games.