Video Game Urban Legends That’ll Give You Nightmares

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The world of video games has from the beginning been full of colourful characters, memorably bizarre moments and altogether strange universes, and it’s no wonder that we’ve all heard our fair share of urban legends since we first got our hands on that Atari 2600 nearly four decades ago.

From rumours about being able to remove female characters’ clothes in a particular action-adventure franchise, to claims of rampant Sasquatches in one sandbox classic, the world of gaming myth is full of stories that are usually convoluted, often nonsensical, but absolutely always entertaining.

Today we’re lifting the lid on some of the craziest urban gaming legends to find out if there’s any truth behind them – or whether they’re actually a load of pixellated codswallop.


1. True or False? There was an arcade game called Polybius which the US government used to control people’s minds

The myth

In the early 2000s, an urban legend concerning a 1981 arcade game called Polybius gained massive traction online.

The story was that for a brief time in 1981, an arcade game called Polybius was rolled out in Portland, Oregon, as a government-run psychological experiment.

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“Mysterious men in black would often visit the machines to harvest their data”

Players supposedly got rapidly addicted to the game and suffered intense hallucinations as a result of playing, while mysterious men in black would often visit the machines to harvest their data.

 
The verdict: false

The game’s existence has never been proven. It’s incredibly unlikely that it ever existed, given that no magazines or newspapers at the time ever mention the game. FOI requests to the FBI have also come up with no results, likely proving once and for all that Polybius never existed.

2. True or False? Madden NFL is cursed

The myth

This myth posits that any player who appears on the cover of Madden NFL will encounter some serious bad luck that season.

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The theory was popularised after Garrison Hearst broke his ankle in 1998 after appearing on the cover of Madden NFL 99.

 

“EA Sports have continually denied ‘cursing’ the game”

16 out of 22 players have faced a disrupted season or serious injury after appearing on the cover of Madden NFL.

The verdict: false

As weird as this whole thing is, it’s evidently just the case of there being a handful of weird coincidences rather than any real ‘curse.’

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3. True or False? There’s a hidden dungeon full of people hanging upside down in World of Warcraft

The myth

World of Warcraft is full of hidden areas abandoned by game developers – but you can still get into them if you’re clever.

 

One legend about WoW suggested that you can get inside a closed-off dungeon outside the area Karazhan.

“Packed full of drowned people hanging by their ankles underwater”

Once inside, apparently you could find an area called ‘The Upside-Down Sinners’ packed full of drowned people hanging by their ankles underwater.

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The verdict: true

You’d think that this would be too dark to make it into WoW at all, but it’s true – through a series of glitches, players can enter the dungeon and find the creepy room.

 

4. True or False? There are creepy shadow people in Super Mario Galaxy 2

The myth

This myth is pretty straightforward: in Super Mario Galaxy 2, if you look to your left while in Shiverburn, you will see a trio of ghostly-looking figures.

No matter where you go, as long as you’re still in Shiverburn, you’ll be able to see these figures as they appear to follow you through the game.

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“The creatures are called ‘Hell Valley trees'”

While you can always see these figures, at no point can you interact with them or get closer to them.

 
The verdict: true

If you examine the game’s files, you can see that the area inhabited by the creatures is called ‘Beyond Hell Valley,’ while the creatures themselves are called ‘Hell Valley trees.’

5. True or False? In the original Animal Crossing, if you power off without saving while visiting someone else’s town you’ll wake up with a creepy face

The myth

Animal Crossing is known for being cutesy and kitsch, so the idea that you could wake up in your town with a disturbing new face seems totally implausible.

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This legend stated that, in the original Animal Crossing made for the GameCube, if you travelled to another player’s town and turned the game off without saving while there (or powered off on the train there), you’d have a nasty surprise when you next opened the game.

 

“Your face replaced with empty eye sockets and a gaping mouth”

Apparently, you’d wake up with all of the items in your inventory gone and with your face replaced with empty eye sockets and a gaping mouth – exactly like the in-game ‘gyroids.’

The verdict: true

It’s shocking, but it’s true: you will in fact wake up with a creepy ‘gyroid face’ if you reset the original Animal Crossing while visiting someone else’s town. Thankfully, ‘Gyroid face’ doesn’t last forever, and your character’s face will go back to normal once you’ve saved and rebooted the game as normal.

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6. True or False? The princess in Braid is a metaphor for the atomic bomb

The myth

This legend about the 2008 game Braid suggests that the princess you’re trying to save is a metaphor for the atomic bomb.

 

The game supposedly contains eight ‘stars’ which are exceptionally difficult to find and obtain. Once you acquire seven of the eight stars, the ending changes slightly and you find yourself able to touch the princess – only she explodes and the screen turns white once you do so.

“The game’s ending sequence also features a famous quotation from Kenneth Bainbridge”

The game’s ending sequence also features a famous quotation from Kenneth Bainbridge, which he made after the detonation of the first atomic bomb: “Now we are all sons of b*tches.”

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The verdict: unknown

This is certainly a fascinating theory, and it all makes sense. Why else would the princess explode when you touch her, and why else would developers include quotes from atomic pioneer Kenneth Bainbridge? The theory has never been confirmed by the game’s developers, however, so it’s unclear as to whether the princess really was meant to be a metaphor for the atomic bomb.

 

7. True or False? Sonic is a playable character in Super Smash Bros 64

The myth

While nowadays a Sonic x Mario crossover isn’t exactly new and exciting, seeing Sonic and Mario onscreen together in the 80s or 90s would have been crazy.

This is why an urban legend claiming that you could play as Sonic on 1999’s Super Smash Bros 64 was so thrilling.

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“You could somehow unlock Sonic as a playable character”

The story supposed that you could somehow unlock Sonic as a playable character in the game. Some versions of the legend claimed you could unlock Tails, too.

 
The verdict: false

Nintendo and Sega had a huge rivalry in their formative years as they battled it out to see who would become the leading video game company.

The story supposed that you could somehow unlock Sonic as a playable character in the game. Some versions of the legend claimed you could unlock Tails, too.

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The verdict: false

Nintendo and Sega had a huge rivalry in their formative years as they battled it out to see who would become the leading video game company. Given the tense relations between the two developers, it’s no surprise that the Super Smash Bros rumour is false.

8. True or False? There’s a creepy hidden game in Excel 95

The myth

You wouldn’t think that Excel 95, a spreadsheet system, would be home to an incredibly creepy game.

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The idea was that going to Row 95 in Excel 95, moving over to column B, opening help/about, then holding down ctrl+alt+shift and clicking on the tech support button would launch a window called “Hall of Tortured Souls.”

 

“Clicking on the tech support button would launch a window called ‘Hall of Tortured Souls'”

Here you could walk around a very basic environment which featured the names of Microsoft programmers who worked on Excel.

The verdict: true

If you do the above steps, it will actually work. Also, if you type “excelkfa” while in the so-called Hall of Tortured Souls, you’ll be able to cross a bridge and see pixelated likenesses of more Microsoft employees.

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9. True or False? Fallout 3 predicted future events

The myth

This myth suggests that 2008 game Fallout 3 predicts the future. For those unaware, you can decide to kill Three Dog, the man who operates Galaxy News Radio.

 

If you then follow a specific set of conditions, you’ll be able to hear Three Dog broadcasting coded radio messages again.

“One player noticed something spooky”

These broadcasts all seemed nonsensical, until one player noticed something spooky: one broadcast referred to actor Gary Coleman’s death – but the game was released two years before Coleman’s passing in 2010. Others then noticed broadcasts which seemed to predict the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

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The verdict: false

It’s an elaborate theory with a lot of detail, but ultimately, this Fallout myth is just a myth. Bethesda, the developers of Fallout 3, have confirmed that they did not programme the game to predict the future.

 

10. True or False? You can obtain the Triforce in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

The myth

There have been lots of Legend of Zelda myths over the years, but arguably the most enduring is the theory about the Triforce in Ocarina of Time.

For years, players thought that the Triforce – an object which would grant the owner immense power – was a collectable item in the game.

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“The Triforce was hidden in a temple”

Many of the most popular theories suggested that the Triforce was hidden in a temple – either the Temple of The Sages, the Temple of Light or The Sky Temple – and players had to perform complicated tasks to access it.

 
The verdict: false

The Ocarina of Time has been pored over for years now and there’s nothing in the game’s data to suggest that the Triforce exists in the game as a collectable object.

11. True or False? Atari buried thousands of unsold copies of the ET game in the desert

The myth

While ET is one of the most celebrated science fiction movies of all time, the ET video game produced by Atari has gone down in history as one of the worst video games ever made.

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Many customers demanded refunds once they realised how shoddy the game was – and, to make matters worse, Atari had been optimistic about the release and produced far more cartridges than needed.

 

“Atari buried hundreds of thousands of ET cartridges in the New Mexico desert”

Not long after the game’s disastrous release, rumours began to circulate that Atari buried hundreds of thousands of ET cartridges in the New Mexico desert to cover up the extent of the failure.

The verdict: true

As unbelievable as this sounds, it all turned out to be completely true. In 2014, Fuel Industries and Microsoft came together to excavate a New Mexico landfill site and soon after the digging started, the crew found what they were looking for: an ET cartridge. More than 1,300 cartridges were ultimately found at the site. Former Atari manager James Heller was forced to confirm that 728,000 games had been buried.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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12. True or False? There is a secret character in Street Fighter II called Sheng Long

The myth

If you were a schoolkid in the 80s and 90s, you might have been convinced that Street Fighter II: The World Warrior contained a secret character called Sheng Long whom, as far as you were aware, no one had been able to unlock.

 

Publications like GameDaily and GameSpot have described Sheng Long as one of the most famous video game legends ever.

“One of the most famous video game legends ever”

The verdict: false

It turns out that the rumour was due to a simple translation error: an early victory quote from Ryu incorrectly reads “You must defeat Sheng Long to stand a chance.” However, it should have said: “You must defeat Shoryuken to stand a chance,” in reference to Ryu and Ken’s famous ‘Dragon Punch’ technique.

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The rumour gained traction in 1992 when Electronic Gaming Monthly wrote an article about Sheng Long’s existence as an April Fool’s joke, resulting in publications from Europe, Hong Kong and other countries reprinting the story without first verifying it.

 

13. True or False? Michael Jackson composed the soundtrack to Sonic the Hedgehog 3

The myth

This myth claims that Michael Jackson composed the music for the Cap and Carnival Night Zones in the 1994 game Sonic the Hedgehog 3, but went uncredited for unknown reasons.

Sonic creators Sega skirted around addressing the rumours for a long time, refusing either to confirm or deny the legend.

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“He went uncredited for unknown reasons”

The verdict: partly true

Leading Sonic 3 developers eventually admitted that they did initially ask Jackson to compose music for the game – but the extent of Jackson’s contribution still remains unclear.

 

Some say that he was unhappy with the finished product and asked to remain uncredited. Others claim that Sega dropped him and had to dramatically alter his work after allegations of his abuse went public in the early 90s. All we know for sure is that it is true that he did work on the music for the game in some capacity.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

14. True or False? You can hunt down Bigfoot in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

The myth

Following the release of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a number of players claimed to have seen a tall, dark, hairy figure that looked suspiciously like the mythical beast Bigfoot.

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Back in 2004, players argued that they had seen Bigfoot in the game’s Back O’ Beyond area. However, no one ever managed to screenshot the elusive creature – at least in part because ‘screenshotting’ hadn’t yet been invented.

 

“Players argued that they had seen Bigfoot in the game’s Back O’ Beyond area”

The verdict: false

Rockstar has totally denied that Bigfoot exists in the game, which might explain the lack of available evidence – just like the ‘real’ Bigfoot!

However, although no such beast ever existed in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the popularity of the rumour did lead to Rockstar inserting Bigfoot Easter eggs into subsequent games, including Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare and Grand Theft Auto 5.

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15. True or False? Minecraft has an elusive secret character called ‘Herobrine’

The myth

Herobrine is said to be a creepy character found in Minecraft. He supposedly takes the form of the game’s default character, Steve, but appears with disturbing, white eyes. Some players believe that Herobrine is responsible for destroying buildings and taking player’s animals.

 

Rumours of Herobrine’s existence began to circulate after a creepypasta detailed one player’s encounter with the elusive character.

“Herobrine is responsible for destroying buildings and taking player’s animals”

The message read: “He didn’t stay long, he looked at me and quickly ran into the fog.”

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The verdict: false

Analysis of the Minecraft code disproves Herobrine’s existence. The Minecraft Wiki page also confirms his nonexistence: “Herobrine has not been present in any version of Minecraft.”

 

16. True or False? All of the actors who portrayed James Bond are in GoldenEye 007

The myth

In GoldenEye 007, players control James Bond and attempt to prevent a criminal syndicate from causing a global financial meltdown.

Rumours began to circulate almost immediately that players could somehow unlock and play as any actor that had portrayed Bond in the films.

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The verdict: true and false

While it wasn’t possible to play as other versions of Bond, the actors were originally going to be included in the game. Before GoldenEye 007 was released, developer Rare had placed a feature in the multiplayer mode of the game, known as the ‘All Bonds’ option.

 

This was meant to permit players to play as either Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan. However, licensing issues got in the way, and these alternative Bonds remained abandoned deep in the game’s code.

17. True or False? You can save Aeris in Final Fantasy VII

The myth

One of the most moving video game moments of all time has to be Aeris’ death in Final Fantasy VII.

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Her death is so heartbreaking that you won’t be surprised to learn that rumours of a method of saving the character from a katana-based fate abounded in the wake of the game’s release.

 

“One of the most moving video game moments of all time”

The verdict: false

For years people claimed that there was some way of glitching the game or that it was possible to do something to stop the evil Sephiroth killing Aeris, but this simply isn’t true.

There’s no legitimate way to stop it, as Aeris’ death is integral to the game’s storyline. As scarring and horrible as the death scene is, Aeris’ death earnt the game a lot of good press and has been hailed as one of the most iconic moments from the entire Final Fantasy series.

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18. True or False? Super Mario Bros. 3 is a stage play

The myth

One fan theory about the game suggests that the entire platform-jumping, turtle-crushing adventure is nothing more than a stage performance.

 

As the game opens with a rising curtain and certain details appear suspended from a ceiling or screwed into the background, the theory was widely accepted.

“The game opens with a rising curtain”

The verdict: true

In 2015 Miyamoto confirmed to Nintendo UK that this legend was in fact completely true.

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It made sense – the graphics did have a lot of details which made the whole setting look a lot like a stage. Ultimately, this had no bearing on gameplay, but it’s a pretty cool detail about the game nonetheless.

 

19. True or False? Sonic the Hedgehog’s Dr Robotnik was meant to be the franchise’s hero

The myth

Rumours that the Sonic franchise’s main villain Dr Robotnik was originally intended to be the game’s hero seem utterly unbelievable.

With his menacing smile, soulless eyes, and threatening aura – how could he have possibly been regarded as anything but a villain?

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“How could he have possibly been regarded as anything but a villain?”

The verdict: true

Bizarrely, this rumour turned out to be completely true. Before a certain blue hedgehog stole the show, Dr Robotnik was meant to be the game’s hero. Back when Sega was first creating the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, they designed several potential protagonists before settling on Sonic – including Dr Robotnik.

 

Many of the team grew to love him as a character, and even though Sonic was chosen as the game’s protagonist, developers were reluctant to ditch Dr Robotnik completely – and so they reworked the character into Sonic’s arch-nemesis.

20. True or False? Saddam Hussein tried to take over the world using PlayStations

The myth

A particularly far-fetched gaming rumour suggested that President of Iraq Saddam Hussein purchased thousands of PlayStation 2 consoles with the intent of using them as weapons of mass destruction.

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According to a since-deleted report published in 2000 by World Net Daily, the dictator imported nearly 4,000 PlayStation 2 consoles in order to use their components to construct deadly weapons.

 

“Intelligence agencies actually looked into the issue”

The verdict: false

While the ridiculous rumours claimed the Ba’athist autocrat was using the PS2’s state-of-the-art processors for his world domination plans, the whole thing was a load of complete and utter nonsense.

Intelligence agencies actually looked into the issue and publicly confirmed that the dictator was not hoarding PS2s for nefarious purposes.

Credit: Vanity Fair

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21. True or False? Yoshi will meet you on the roof in Super Mario 64 if you collect all 120 stars

The myth

After the release of Super Mario 64, rumours abounded that you could meet Yoshi after completing the game.

 

The story went that after collecting 120 stars, Mario would somehow be able to get onto the Mushroom Castle roof and be reunited with his dinosaur friend.

The verdict: true

If you collect all of the game’s Power Stars, it will unlock a cannon outside Princess Peach’s castle that you can be use to launch Mario onto the castle’s roof.

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You’ll be able to find Yoshi up there, who will congratulate you for finishing the game and gift you 100 extra lives.

 

22. True or False? Grand Theft Auto: Vice City features a particularly gruesome Scarface reference

The myth

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is packed full of references to the movie Scarface. For instance, the Vercetti Estate is loosely based on Tony Montana’s mansion.

Due to these similarities, a rumour arose which claimed that you could locate the apartment where Tony’s friend Angel meets a gruesome end.

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“A bloody bathroom and a chainsaw”

The verdict: true

Nobody could find this hidden location for a long time, but players eventually found that if you drove to Ocean Beach and went to Apartment 3C, you were able to enter the building.

 

Inside, players would find a bloody bathroom and a chainsaw – which you could actually add to your own weapons inventory.

23. True or False? Blowing on a Nintendo cartridge resolves loading issues

The myth

We all remember doing it. Your NES or SNES game failed to load properly so you removed the cartridge, blew into the open end, and all of a sudden you were back controlling Mario once again.

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The idea was that the trick cleared out any dust trapped in the cartridge, which was ostensibly stopping games from working properly.

 

“The trick cleared out any dust trapped in the cartridge”

The verdict: false

Nintendo consoles’ connectors would often wear out over time, and the mere act of reconnecting the cartridge would resolve the issue – making it appear as though blowing fixed things, when, in reality, all you needed to do was take the cartridge out and put it back in again.

A Mental Floss article from 2012 looked at the phenomenon in-depth and concluded that blowing did nothing at all. What’s worse is that the moisture in your breath could actually damage cartridges over time, so blowing really didn’t help at all!

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24. True or False? The pistol was genuinely overpowered in Halo

The myth

In a lot of first-person shooter games, you start off with a pretty basic weapon that you’ll doubtless ditch as soon as possible.

 

The one exception to this rule is the M6D pistol from Halo. The pistol boasts pinpoint accuracy and immense power, which led to a rumour gaining traction among fans: that it was overpowered as developers tweaked the game’s code right at the tail-end of development.

“The pistol boasts pinpoint accuracy and immense power”

The verdict: true

In a 2013 interview with IGN, Jason Jones, co-founder of Bungie, confirmed that he was personally responsible for the M6D’s incredible power. “I will take the credit and blame for the pistol in Halo,” he confessed.

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According to Jones, many of the developers felt the pistol wasn’t quite up to scratch but since the game was basically finished, nobody wanted to risk messing around with the code. Jones, however, took the plunge and adjusted the code for the pistol – which inadvertently resulted in it becoming one of the game’s best weapons.

 

25. True or False? There’s a Rebecca Chambers Easter egg in Resident Evil 2

The myth

There were all sorts of weird rumours about the early Resident Evil games back in the day – one being that you could play as S.T.A.R.S. member Rebecca Chambers in Resident Evil 2.

While Rebecca wouldn’t become playable until Resident Evil Zero, fans were right in thinking that RE2 does have an Easter egg related to the character.

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“A photo of Rebecca in a basketball uniform”

The verdict: true

If you search Albert Wesker’s desk 50 times in a row then you’ll find a photo of Rebecca in a basketball uniform.

 

It’s unclear how this Easter egg was discovered, given that there’s no real reason to search Wesker’s desk 50 times in one go.

26. True or False? There is a secret code that removes Lara Croft’s clothes

The myth

The games she has appeared in have sold over 60 million copies across the globe and are considered to be pioneers of the action-adventure genre.

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But are there really cheat codes that, once entered, allow you to catch a glimpse of Lara Croft’s polygonal assets?

 

“Rumours persisted thanks to an abundance of manipulated images circulating online”

The verdict: mostly false

Core Design vehemently denied the existence of such a code – and yet the rumours persisted thanks to an abundance of manipulated images circulating online. While there is no code in any console version of the game, fans created a software patch for the game’s PC version which did remove Lara’s clothes.

Moreover, there is a code in Tomb Raider 2 called the “Naked Lara” cheat which does rob Lara of her dignity, per se. However, many an adolescent youth was disappointed to learn that the code simply makes Lara explode into a scattered mass of limbs.

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27. True or False? Pokémon’s music caused children to commit suicide

The myth

A rather unsettling old rumour claimed that the Lavender Town theme in Pokémon Red and Blue caused a number of children to suffer mental breakdowns and ultimately commit suicide.

 

The rumour persisted because the town is home to the eerie Pokémon Tower, a multistorey graveyard haunted by a mother Marowak executed in cold blood by Team Rocket.

“Caused a number of children to suffer mental breakdowns”

The verdict: false

The rumour originated from a creepypasta story that was anonymously posted on Pastebin.com in 2010, and there is no evidence to suggest that the Lavender Town music did cause any suicides.

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However, while the rumour about Lavender Town causing suicides is wholly unsubstantiated, it is true that one episode of the Pokémon anime series did have a serious adverse effect on children. The episode featured flashing red and blue lights which caused headaches, dizziness, blurred vision and even seizures.

 

28. True or False? You can fight a secret character called Reptile in Mortal Kombat

The myth

Before forums like Reddit were around for debating the veracity of video game secrets, gaming legends were shared in school playgrounds.

One of the most popular urban legends from the early 90s concerned a secret character in Mortal Kombat named Reptile, who could only be unlocked by decrypting mysterious hints.

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“He could only be unlocked by decrypting mysterious hints”

The verdict: true

Reptile is real! Finding and defeating Reptile became a gaming rite of passage for 90s kids everywhere.

 

The game’s designers had even hoped that word of mouth would confirm the character’s existence, given the tricky conditions needed to play against him. Hints on how to unlock a fight against Reptile were conveyed by Reptile randomly appearing and offering cryptic clues.

29. True or False? There is a game that deletes itself after you finish playing it

The myth

For decades, there have been many reports of a 1989 PC game called Killswitch, where the aim of the game is to escape from a coal mine.

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There are two strands to the myth: that the game never even existed, or that it did, but deleted itself from your computer’s hard drive as soon as you completed it, vanishing without a trace. Some versions of the myth claim that there is still one remaining uncompleted version of Killswitch out there today.

 

“There is still one remaining uncompleted version of Killswitch out there today”

The verdict: unknown, but likely false

While there is no hard evidence that Killswitch ever existed, a number of very specific details are known about the game, including the names of the characters – Ghast and Porto – which suggests that maybe, the game was real.

Several YouTube videos have been made apparently demonstrating Killswitch gameplay, but they have all been proven to be fake. Furthermore, it does seem convenient that the game deletes itself upon completion and that only 5,000 copies were ever made – so perhaps it’s more likely that Killswitch was never real.

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30. True or False? You can enter a secret cow dimension in Diablo

The myth

This wild rumour did the rounds when the first Diablo game was launched back in 1997.

 

The myth said that if you repeatedly clicked on the cows in the game, you would end up in a secret cow dimension.

“You would end up in a secret cow dimension”

The verdict: partly true

While there was never a secret cow level in the original game, Blizzard thought this idea so funny that they actually added it into Diablo 2.

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You can now access the insane cow level via a random ritual which you can perform once you have completed the rest of the game.