10. The Madden Curse
Professional athletes have dreamed their whole lives of making it to the big leagues and all the perks that come with it. But there’s that old phrase about being careful what you wish for, and any professional football player who gets drafted to appear on the box art of that year’s new edition of Madden NFL might start to regret their fame. The legend goes that along with the “prestige” of being a cover boy, comes a curse, that causes their upcoming season to be disastrous.
That may sound like a bunch of hooey, but it does get eerie when you look at stories of players like Dante Culpepper, who after gracing the 2002 cover, ended his next season with a back injury. Similar instances of injury, legal trouble, and all other manner of bad luck continue to happen to players who make the cover to this day, to players like the Saints’ Drew Brees in 2011, the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson in 2014 and the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski in 2017. But, to be fair, there are some players who walked away from the curse unscathed, like the Lions’ Calvin Johnson who had a great season after making the cover in 2013, as well Tom Brady in 2018, because not even malevolent curses can stop Tom Brady.
9. Killswitch: The Game That Deletes Itself
1989’s Killswitch was a game that notoriously deleted itself after you finished it. The game allegedly existed in the late 1980s, and its publisher the Karvina Corporation (not a real corporation outside of this legend) allegedly only created around 5,000 copies. While there is no firm evidence Killswitch ever existed, there is a surprising amount of detail out there about it, like the fact you were able to choose to play as a demon-ish character named Ghast or a woman named Porto.
Supposedly, players who picked Ghast found themselves controlling an invisible, fire-breathing mass that was near-impossible to navigate with. Alternatively, and perhaps usually in anger, players could then pick Porto, a woman with no combat abilities who the players would walk through an eerie, greyscale mining facility – presumably one where everyone had died. Working their way through a series of mazes and puzzles, the players would guide Porto to the end, only to find the screen turn to white, and all of the games files on their system delete themselves. Like a joke played by some cruel trickster god, the legend goes that all traces of the spooky game have vanished from the world – lest there be one copy buried in someone’s basement.
8. Adolescent Fantasy Codes
With the introduction of 3D video game women straight out of the male-gaze- fantasy – like Lara Croft or any number of the playable fighters in Tekken or Street Fighter – came rumors that there were, in fact, codes that could make them wear…less. Perhaps the most famous of these is the infamous Lara Croft Nude Code, which began circulating as far back as the original 1996 game’s release, flooding early message boards. No code like that ever existed – at least in the public realm – but of course, that didn’t stop the rumors.But the desire for codes revealing pixelated breasts didn’t begin or end with Lara Croft. There were rumored codes out there for games like Kombat – in which female characters would supposedly take off their clothes after a victory (charmingly called, “Nudealities,”) – and even one for the N64’s Goldeneye. None of these codes were ever actually real, with the latter just a prank started by the then-deputy-editor of the Australian magazine N64 Gamer, Narayan Pattison, who inserted a photo of a near-nude woman into a screenshot of the game, and promised to give people the code if they wrote to the magazine. “I’m sure most readers realized a photograph in a screenshot was a joke, but we got a couple of thousand letters asking for the code,” he reflected back in 2018.
7. Saddam Hussein Tried to Use the PS2 to Take Over the World
Considering the power we’re playing with today, it’s hard to imagine that the PlayStation 2 was once considered the pinnacle of console hardware. In fact, the 32-bit CPUs inside the machine were so powerful at the time, that it spurned a terrifying urban legend that capitalized on geopolitical issues that may ring freaky even today. The legend goes that with the release of the PS2 in 2000, Saddam Hussein and the Iraq government bought thousands of them with the intent of harvesting the processors and using them in their own weapons of mass destruction, as this supposedly would’ve been the easiest way to get a hold of the expensive, high-tech material.
Of course, America did not find any WMDs in Iraq of any kind back then, but especially not any WMDs powered by PS2 hardware. Sony had better hide all the tech specs for the PS5, though, just to be safe.
6. Pokémon’s Deadly Lavender Town Music
As the world of Pokémon has expanded over the years, it’s become more cute and colorful. However, for players old enough to remember, older Pokemon video games weren’t always this way; in fact, they could be downright unsettling. Lavender Town in Pokemon Red and Blue (Green in Japan) on the original GameBoy, for example, is home to the infamous Pokémon graveyard, reminding all players that, yes, your Pokémon will die at some point, because nothing in the world is fair.
Making matters more unsettling is the eerie, high-pitched minimalist music from composer Junichi Masuda that plays as you pass through the town. It was so unnerving that, according to the legend, the original Japanese versions of Red and Blue caused the death of several children who played it. Known around the internet as “Lavender Town Syndrome,” the legend varied in the telling, but the general thrust was that it caused children to have a mental break that led to suicide.Of course, there are no confirmable records that prove this tragedy ever took place. That said, its popularity as an urban legend and creepypasta makes some sense: in 1997, the Pokémon anime episode, “Dennō Senshi Porygon,” caused almost 700 people to be taken to the hospital after suffering from seizures due to rapidly flashing, colored lights covering the screen. If that could happen, perhaps there were other elements of the Pokémon world that were dangerous and terrifying.
5. The CIA Designed a Mind Control Arcade Game
It’s no secret that many urban legends are just a hair’s breadth away from conspiracy theories, and the tale of Polybius bridges that gap like few others. The story dates back to the early 1980s, when arcade cabinets for a game called Polybius were delivered to arcades around Portland, Oregon. Players flocked to the weird new puzzle-shooter that featured plenty of strobing effects and twisty visuals, which supposedly led some to experience mental health issues, such as hallucinations, amnesia, and more sinister problems. If this wasn’t bad enough, the legend goes that the CIA was behind it, collecting data about the players of the machine and using brainwashing technology to infect the minds of young arcade goers.
Though the legend permeates, there has never been any irrefutable proof that Polybius ever existed, with only a screenshot of the Polybius title screen upheld as shaky canon. “Polybius makes games seem powerful and it makes games seem kind of potent in mind-controlling,” said Portland-based author Joe Strekert, who wrote the book The Legend of Polybius, to IGN. “They really can do something to your behavior and by making them seem powerful, that gives it a kind of legitimacy.”
4. Diablo’s Secret Warrior Cows
Soon after the first Diablo came out back in the late 90s, many players fervently believed there was a secret realm full of warrior cows. While there are cows you can interact with in Diablo, (don’t expect to get further than a benign “moo”), rumors began to circulate that there was actually a way to access an entire “Cow Dimension,” wherein you could slaughter a group of Future Hamburgers who have gone through a “Planet of the Apes”-style evolution, and are ready to fight back intruders.While this was initially just a rumor, it became a meme in the Diablo community, inspiring Blizzard to include a “secret cow level” in Diablo II. By combining a certain set of items, a portal opens up and allows players to enter the actual Cow Dimension (also known as Moo Moo Farms), where the player will encounter Hell Bovine, led by the mighty “Cow King.” If only all developers took fan theories this seriously – or, on second thought, maybe it’s a good thing they don’t.
3. The San Andreas Sasquatch
Whether it be in any of America’s dense, dark forests or in the fictitious hills of a video game world, people are hungry to find the mighty and elusive Bigfoot. In 2004, the mythical beast allegedly leaped out of North American folklore and into Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Fans reportedly started seeing the mythical ape in the hills of Back O Beyond, claiming they had seen a tall, dark figure somewhere on the screen, only to vanish before they could get a good look.
Rockstar has since gone on to say there is no such thing as a Bigfoot in its game, but dedicated myth hunters still believe in its existence. The legend has become so popular in GTA lore that Rockstar went on to include a “bigfoot mission” in the Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, and even put a nod to that in GTA 5. There was even a well-hidden easter egg in GTA 5 that let players unlock the ability to play as the beast, all so they could lumber around the city as an 8-ft tall 600-pound gorilla man, then hop into an SUV and run over some pedestrians.
2. Sheng Long Was a Secret Boss in Street Fighter II
Anyone who frequented an arcade around 1991-1992 likely has fond memories of spending endless quarters on Street Fighter II, mastering the styles of your favorite characters and greatly accelerating your arthritis. Likewise, if you were in the SF2 loop, there was a good chance you had heard the legend of Sheng Long, a mysterious secret character lurking somewhere within the game. The rumor was based on a mistranslation of Ryu’s famous Shōryūken attack (“shēng lóng” in the Latin spelling of the Chinese characters), that Ryu spouted during one of his victory quotes: “you must defeat Shen Long to stand a chance”.
The rumor was bolstered by an April Fool’s joke in the April ‘92 issue of EGM that claimed they had “discovered” how to unlock the secret boss. All you had to do was beat the whole game without taking any damage and not land a single punch on M. Bison at the end, meaning you must let the timer run out instead — no biggie.
This was eventually corrected in the user manual for the 1992 SNES port, wherein the design team got in on the joke and officially named Sheng Long as Ryu’s master, and later incorporated him into a 1993 Street Fighter comic series. Hitting at a time when the gaming industry was building into the force it’s become, the legend of Sheng Long has become a massive fixture in the canon of gaming urban legends.
1. Blowing on Your Nintendo Cartridge Actually Did Something
Anyone who grew with cartridge-based gaming has run into the same problem at one point, and no doubt the same solution. You pop in a cartridge, and for some reason, nothing seems to be working. You take out the cartridge, give it a good blow thinking the problem might be dust in the cartridge, and presto, your game is working again. But was the blowing on the cartridge ever actually effective, or is it just something that made its way around the playground?
Turns out, this trick that made you feel like a genius years ago wasn’t really doing anything. While the blowing gave our brains some sort of comfort, the reality is that Nintendo’s connectors in the system could often wear out over time (especially in the NES), but simply taking out the cartridge and putting it back tended to do the job – though that didn’t stop each and every one of us from taking deep breaths and “fixing” them ourselves.Those are our favorite video game urban legends – what are some of yours? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to check out more from our Urban Legends month, like how the Kinect found new life among ghost hunters, or why the Japanese government allegedly changed a law because of Dragon Quest.
Matt Rooney is a freelance writer. He is likely somewhere playing a game, dying too often, and getting very frustrated.