And Elmo just strolls happily through it all, having long ago lost his sanity.
Let's face it: There aren't that many really creepy video games -- "horror" in the world of gaming is all about stupid jump scares and shooting huge monsters with a flamethrower. No, the best creepy moments always happen by accident, when you least expect them.
We're talking about the random glitches that make you shit your pants. We've told you twice now about how video games can, essentially, go rogue at a moment's notice, so let's again take time to gaze into the horrors that can lurk beneath innocent layers of code ...
Here's one underrated aspect of old-school video games: Every game cartridge was one nudge away from unrelenting horror. In the last iteration of this article we talked about cartridge tilting, in which slightly misaligning the cartridge in the slot messes with the game code in a way that makes demons come alive. But if you thought cartridges becoming obsolete would spare you the horror, you were wrong:
Uh ... Ernie?
YouTuber Vinesauce has an entire channel dedicated to playing "corruptions" -- game code that is run through emulator software that randomly alters the code, turning colorful characters into twisted deformities from a realm where terrified screams are the native language. The above is from a kids' game called Elmo's Letter Adventure for the Nintendo 64. Here's a clip, and you need to turn up your sound:
Yes, applying the corrupter opens the Pandora's box of misshapen nightmares hidden deep below Sesame Street. Muppets warp and jitter, their speech turns into demon hate language, and your childhood dies a violent death.
"Hi, Grover! What letter does 'dog' start w-"
"EMBRACE THE DARKNESS, MY CHILD."
As the first round of tears begins to exit your face, the Dark Muppets spew poetry of the damned in a sound not unlike Slayer lyrics sung underwater, while Elmo appears to understand every word. All the Muppets your childhood mind remembers from the PBS show are replaced by entities so evil that Death himself rejected them.
Actually, this is precisely how we remember Big Bird.
And Elmo just strolls happily through it all, having long ago lost his sanity.
Far Cry 3 is an open-world game about survival in the wilderness in which you fight off tigers and mercenaries in increasingly elaborate ways. But one thing they never prepare you for is how to fight off the most bloodthirsty menace of them all: an angry jeep.
This is just step one of its mating ritual.
Yep, that's a bad guy with his head stuck in the vehicle's undercarriage. The game apparently just can't cope with that, and so he thrashes around, screaming, with more blood than Quentin Tarantino's entire filmography fountaining out of his head. The player even tries to put the poor bastard out of his misery, with no luck, until he finally pops free on his own. The jeep has had its fill of blood ... for now.
This freak occurrence that looks like something out of Event Horizon actually happens in all sorts of games, because the whole point of open-world games is to create moments of spontaneous horror you can tell your therapist about later. Here's an equally horrifying one from Saints Row III:
"Wave your hands in the air like you just broke physics!"
That's an NPC with her head stuck in the side of a bus stop, a pool of blood slowly forming as she flails her arms in futility. Yes, even in a game in which the player is encouraged to wreak havoc among the innocent population, the very universe itself finds creative ways to endlessly mutilate and torture them, until they only find peace in death itself. Or maybe not ...
The whole appeal of a game like Skyrim is how alive the world feels, mostly due to the fact that the non-player characters seem to have lives of their own -- they go to bed and work and occasionally just sit around and watch Netflix, just like you! It's like they think they're people! So it wasn't that weird when a YouTube user called aaronrogers1975 went to talk to an NPC named Vilkas and found that he had been killed at some point off screen.
What was weird was that a few in-game days later, he found the man again:
Lose the eyeliner, dude; you look like The Crow.
Yes, Vilkas' body was now jutting out of a random field, looking like a freshly-dug-up Khal Drogo (sorry, but if you haven't seen Season 1 of Game of Thrones by now, we can't help you). Oh, and he talks. It's the same dialogue you'd get from the guy if he was alive, only everything Vilkas says is approximately 100 times more horrifying coming out of a fish-belly-white torso who can only stare at the sky.
"By home, I mean under your bed."
Now, for reference, this is what Vilkas looks like when he's alive:
Frankly, all Nords look the same to us.
It is worth mentioning that he's a werewolf, but that does not appear to be related to his condition in this particular instance. We hope. No, this seems to be an ordinary case of "Jesus Christ, what the fuck?"
"Yeah, a constant string of murders that won't end, even with my death. That sounds good."
Each game in the Assassin's Creed franchise tasks the player with assassinating historical targets while chilling out with famous people from your high school textbook. Each game is also a treasure trove of mind-boggling glitches. For instance, in Assassin's Creed: Revelations, you get this surreal nightmare that's like something out of a murderous version of Fantasia:
The player is hiding in a haystack waiting for a group of guards to calmly walk past. Soon, the player notices that something is amiss, specifically when a small group of guards turns into a never-ending stream of cloned soldiers originating from some off-screen portal to the unholy realm where such men are born:
"Well, one of us is gonna have to change."
Somewhere around 1:30 in the above video, the player sprints out of the haystack. Seconds later, he turns around to see a massive flood of enemies staring him down, holding swords. (For those who don't know, battles in the game normally involve a number of enemies that you can count on one hand.)
"H-hey, guys, look over there, a woman is trying to buy property!"
And strangely, that's not the only unsettling clone glitch -- the first game sometimes spawns a clone of the protagonist ... and of course, you can murder it.
"Is that what my butt looks like? You'd think 10 hours of parkour per day would be enough."
There was a glitch that sometimes occurred when you died in certain areas of the map (like if you fell off a cliff). The game respawned you with an exact clone of yourself who copied all your actions, as if an alternate version of you had stepped out of the floor-length mirror you used to get dressed in your assassin hoodie that morning. The Mirror Man would follow you around, fight with you, and, presumably, masturbate with you.
You can interact with the clone as if it were any other character in the game, which means you can fight yourself, or ... assassinate yourself.
If you murder your clone in cold blood, the game reacts as if your character died and respawns you at a checkpoint. Wait a minute, but that means ... were you the clone the whole time?
Batman has had to deal with some scary shit while patrolling the streets of Gotham. Hell, the dude saw his own parents murdered right in front of him. The Dark Knight Trilogy's Scarecrow alone was freakier than a lot of horror movie monsters. Batman can handle his shit, is what we're saying.
Unless that shit involves finding a hidden corner of Arkham City and getting whisked into some Escher-like landscape players call "Blue Hell," that is. Alternate dimensions of madness utterly divorced from all that we know to be true are not the sort of thing you can take out with a batarang.
"I knew putting that mescaline in my utility belt was a bad idea."
As demonstrated in this video, all you need to do is fly onto a tiny precipice on Gotham's waterfront, then slide through an invisible wall, which will bring you to a normal, albeit glitchy, room inside the building. But on the far side of the room is a door that leads into the Other Gotham, an empty void taken up by nothing but a small floating structure.
"Can't a guy find a place to masturbate in peace?!"
Below is a bottomless pit (if you fall into it, you'll fall forever -- you can only stop by reloading your last save), and ... who's that standing on the platform out in the middle of the nothingness?
"WHAT'S YOUR GAME, NYGMA?"
Yes, for no apparent reason at all, the Riddler (who you otherwise only briefly see in the game) is hanging out on a platform nearby, making a stupid pose and staring. He's alive, as Batman's equipment detects a heartbeat and you can see him breathe ... but he never does anything. He's just there, watching you in this dark place, as if to say, "Uh, yeah, I think this one got away from me."
Yes, Skyrim makes the list a second time, its digital world so vast and glitchy that it somehow becomes a grand incubator where dark abominations are born. Which brings us to the mannequins.
Half of the 200 hours we spent in Skyrim was dedicated to managing our ever-growing collection of swords and armor. Luckily, you could acquire mannequins to put in your house so you could display your battle treasures for, um, no one, since it was a single-player game. And on occasion, just out of the corner of your eye, you could catch them moving.
It starts very subtly indeed -- you simply notice that the mannequins don't quite stay where you left them. The player comes back to his house and notices that the mannequins are no longer standing on their pedestals.
"Mom, I told you not to move my 300-pound stuff!"
But then, one day, you walk in and see this:
"Um ... you're home early."
That's not a GIF error. The person in the video walks in on the mannequins casually prancing about, and when they notice the player, they immediately teleport to their stands, like some Lovecraftian version of Toy Story.
Now here's what happens when the same guy goes to check his basement:
"Oh no, it's Andar! Back to your stations!"
For some bonus fun, check out this short machinima made with a modded game about the inevitable conclusion of this madness. If your own soul doesn't spontaneously reject your body upon seeing the ending, it means you didn't watch it alone, in the dark, with headphones.
Pro Tip: Keep a fresh pair of underwear nearby.
And here's a little bonus horror for you from the Elder Scrolls series:
Skyrim's predecessor, Oblivion, contains an armor enchantment called chameleon. If you wear enough pieces of chameleon-enchanted armor, you become totally invisible, which makes sense if you paid attention in bio class.
But apparently this creates a glitch that can sometimes make mysterious shadow assassins appear out of nowhere.
They are invulnerable and do not speak or move, until you promise them that you will be a better person if given another chance.
"Oh, did I wake you? Good."
Related Reading: Have you seen Call of Duty's terrifying undead glitch? Once you've digested that, click here and see Connor Kenway, compulsive masturbator. Cool down by scaring the bejeezus out of yourself with even more video game glitches.