#4. EarthBound -- All About Abortion
For most people, their only experience with EarthBound (also known as Mother 2 in Japan) is the characters and levels that also appear in the Super Smash Bros. games: little kids with bats and yo-yos in bright, colorful environments. And that's a pretty accurate representation of about 95 percent of the game, where you run around with four little kids who are trying to save the world by fighting things like bugs and robots and taxicabs.
It's like Pokemon, but less flashy.
But the last hour of the game is something really different from everything that comes before it. First the kids have their souls ripped from their bodies and put into robots. When you finally reach the final boss, Giygas, an evil alien entity who is trying to destroy the world, things start to take a turn for the truly disturbing.
Take a look at Giygas' lair, The Devil Machine.
The middle part looks remarkably like an endoscopic image of a woman's cervix. As we'll see, that isn't an accident. When you fight Giygas, he starts out looking like this:
And ends up looking like this:
First a cervix and now something that looks like an Andy Warhol painting of a fetus. What could all of this possibly mean? The commonly accepted theory is that, in order to defeat the evil alien, the characters travel in time to the point where it's at its weakest: that is, as a fetus. So basically, Ness and his friends are performing a stylized abortion. In a game originally called Mother.
But this has to be a creepy accident, right? Not really. Shigesato Itoi, the game's creator, has said in interviews that he based the Giygas fight on a traumatic childhood experience: He accidentally walked into the wrong theater at the movies and witnessed a murder scene from the Japanese film The Military Policeman and the Dismembered Beauty (yes, that's a thing). As if that didn't sound horrible enough, Itoi thought he was watching a rape and was deeply affected by it.
Via Wikimedia Commons
Seriously, Japan. What are we going to do with you?
Apparently, Itoi decided to work out his childhood trauma by including something equally disturbing in a Nintendo game ... thus traumatizing millions of other kids.
#3. Braid -- The Girl Is an Atomic Bomb
On the surface, the critically acclaimed indie hit Braid is a straightforward platformer like so many 8- and 16-bit era games. You play Tim, a dude who can reverse time and uses his powers to find a missing princess, Mario-style. But the simplistic gameplay is deceptive; the symbolic and ambiguous ending hints at a larger, stranger story (SPOILER: The "princess" you're trying to rescue isn't exactly happy to see you). And beyond that, Braid has a creepy secret that you couldn't possibly find unless you're psychic. Or, y'know, someone just tells you about it. Whichever.
Psychics make up a pretty substantial chunk of the indie gaming demographic, eclipsed only by "people with mohawks."
Hidden throughout the game's five worlds are seven secret stars. The game doesn't give you any acknowledgment that they're even there -- no achievements, no hints, no clues, nothing. You can get through the whole game without even knowing they exist, and even if you know what you're after, they're exceptionally difficult to find and obtain. One star requires waiting in a screen for two hours just to get to it, and another can't be acquired if you've already completed the second world.
If you've got more free time than wisdom, feel free to try this for yourself.
So what happens after you gather the seven stars? Nothing, at first. If you return to the game's final level, however, there's a slight difference.
As we mentioned, the level is pretty trippy to begin with: At first it looks like you're helping the princess escape from a bad guy, but then it turns out you're watching the situation in reverse and she's actually escaping from you (apparently, you're a total douche). But play it after you have the hidden stars, and the level is subtly changed in such a way that you can actually catch up to the princess and touch her ... at which point she begins flashing freakishly and you hear the sound of a nuclear bomb detonating.
What the hell?
That's a phrase you say a lot while playing Braid.
So that game with cute enemies, pretty environments and an innocent quest to rescue a princess is apparently all a metaphor for the creation of the atomic bomb; or, more specifically, how its creators possibly wished they could turn back time and undo all the damage. Of course, that's so far removed from this colorful run-and-jump game that it really proves how out-there some of these conspiracy nuts are.
Oh, wait, did we mention that the game's epilogue features a quote from Kenneth Bainbridge, the head of the Trinity atomic bomb tests?
#2. Microsoft Office 95 -- Hall of Tortured Souls
If you've been on the Internet for longer than five minutes, you're probably aware of the thousands of email forwards and poorly designed Web pages accusing Bill Gates of being the devil, literally. Apparently, the Prince of Darkness has clumsily dropped evidence of his dark secret all over his products: One popular urban legend claims that names like "Bill Gates," "Windows 95" and "MS-DOS 6.21" somehow add up to 666, which is silly, because everyone knows you can't add letters.
Another one says there's something called "The Hall of Tortured Souls" or "The Hall of Lost Souls" hidden inside Word 95; supposedly, it's a creepy first-person game with Doom-like graphics, and if you make it to the end of a narrow path, it will show you "something really, really eerie" or "reveal something about Microsoft." Or both.
That is completely false. There is no creepy game hidden inside Word 95.
It's on Excel 95.
Wait ... what? They put that inside a program used to create spreadsheets?
Yup: If you open a new Excel file, go to Row 95 and follow a few other steps, a new window will pop up on your screen and possibly take 10 years away from your life with the resulting shock. Turns out that "Hall of Tortured Souls" isn't a dramatic nickname people on the Internet invented: It's what the window actually says.
If you're wondering why the sky outside is red, you've never heard of hell before.
The "game" appears to have only two rooms, separated by some stairs: The one with the blue pillars and the green pools, and another with red names raining down a window. That's it. The place is completely deserted except for you, which somehow makes it even creepier. However ... if you type "EXCELKFA" while facing a certain direction, one of the walls will disappear while you're not looking, and behind it you'll see a narrow, very hard-to-cross bridge with something weird at the other end.
You know what? Let's go home.
If you make it to the other side, you'll find what looks like a bizarre other-dimensional re-enactment of the Last Supper:
Now, before you curl up under the bed and start crying -- those are actually the guys who developed Excel 95. Apparently, Microsoft programmers used to do this all the time: There's also a 3D flight simulator in Excel 97 and a racing game in Excel 2000. It's simply a fun way for them to credit their work, because seriously, when was the last time you read the "About" page for a program?
Of course, some people still see this as definite proof that Bill Gates is, in fact, the Antichrist, accusing him of personally putting the game there to ... you know, be all Antichristy and stuff.
"Mwa-ha-ha. My cunning plan to destroy the world through tens of billions of dollars in charitable donations is nearly complete."
#1. Polybius -- The Mind-Destroying Arcade Game
The story of Polybius has all the ingredients of a good urban legend: It's creepy, it's mysterious and teenagers die in it (or are traumatized, at the very least). And it's likely based on truth, at least to some degree. How much? Who knows.
It was in The Simpsons, so it must be true.
According to the legend, Polybius was a game that appeared in a few arcades in Portland, Ore., for a short time in 1981. The cabinet was supposedly completely black (minus the logo), and the game was supposed to be very similar to Atari's shoot 'em up Tempest, except for the addition of Pac-Man-type mazes and logic puzzles, and the fact that it drove people insane. Kids hooked on the game began experiencing side effects like nausea, sleep disturbance and aversion to video games.
"That whole last part? Not good for business, it turns out."
"Charlie seems strangely OK with his new suicidal tendencies."
Now here's where it starts to stretch into Alex Jones territory. According to an unnamed arcade owner, men in black coats could be seen collecting data from the machines, leading some to believe that the whole thing was a CIA-type experiment.
Anyway, the only "evidence" of the game's existence, so far, is a screencap of the title screen ...
"Sinnesloschen" translates to either "sense-deletion" or "very large sausage."
... and a black and white photo of the cabinet:
Of course, any serious attempt to search for more information on the game is hindered by the fact that people have started building their own Polybius cabinets and trying to re-create the game based on its descriptions. So, basically, they make it look like something that might give someone a seizure:
Of course, it seems kinda convenient that the story of Polybius surfaced only within the past decade or so, presumably when the people who witnessed the events in the first place all went, "You know that mind-fucking video game from '81? In retrospect, that was rather odd." Obviously, the part about the men in black seems like something made up by someone trying to be creepy on a message board.
Boy, the shadow government was really phoning it in back then.
So what's the truth? Well, we know there was a glitchy prototype of Tempest (the game Polybius was supposed to resemble) that caused nausea, and we also know the U.S. government approached Atari to design a special version of one of its games in 1980. Snopes.com, while completely dismissing the legend, claims it could be an updated version of the early '80s rumor that special agents collected information in arcades -- which seems to confirm that the "men in black" sightings go back that long.
Wait, what was that about amnesia ...?
For more on video games, check out 9 Video Game Easter Eggs That Took Years to Find and 5 Creepy Ways Video Games Are Trying to Get You Addicted.