Haunted houses are passe. It’s 2017. We have haunted video games now.
Kotaku is celebrating all things ghostly and gaming this week with Spooky Week. All week, look forward to ghoulish blogs on the unlikely games that scared us most, the real tales behind some of gaming’s most legendary scary stories and what specific mechanics make us twitchy when we play horror games.
For our inaugural Spooky Week post, we wanted to share some of the real-life scary stories we’ve heard from gamers who are pretty sure they’ve come in contact with the supernatural—or at least, something that made their hair stand on end. Ghost, glitch or good luck? You decide. And share your scariest stories of when games got too real in the comments.
20 years ago, when he was a teenager, LazyCouchGamer picked up a used copy of the fantasy role-playing game Secret of Mana at a video rental store. He was playing through the game’s fire palace alongside a princess, when enemy blobs of lava began multiplying. Suddenly, an enemy blob seemed to grab the princess and disappeared, he recalled. Her HP gauge disappeared, too. It was like she had never existed. He freaked out, but reconsidered, thinking it was just a sudden and unexpected plot twist in the game. But later on, he couldn’t progress further: The game would wait and wait for a text box from the princess, who had vanished into nothing. He reset the game, and for years, joked that it was haunted.
In the mid-2000s, SaskFPS and his buddy were flouncing around Halo 2 on the Xbox 360, launching themselves into the air with super bounces, as one did. Another friend logged on to join them on Headlong, Halo 2’s multiplayer map. The host changed to the mutual friend. They all continued playing, just jumping around and shooting all over. Moments later, an unidentified player joined. They player hovered around the brownish map, no name above their head. Confused, SaskFPS eyed the scoreboard. Nothing about them was there. SaskFPS recalled a video he’d seen called the “Ghost of Lockout,” a Halo 2 superstition that made the rounds back in 2006. Some players claimed to have encountered an unidentified, no-name white Spartan who repeatedly blew up their party with plasma grenades. Seemingly invincible in the video, the Spartan was seen wrecking the players’ party, totally anonymously, in instants.
SaskFPS had always thought the video was fake. He and his buddy tried to take down the new player’s shields, meleeing and shooting in a fatal combination known as BXRing. Then, his friend quad shotted it, “because he just wanted to practice,” SaskFPS told me. Halo 2’s blue loading screen appeared; time for the hosts to migrate. When the game began anew, there was a second unidentified player. The original one came at SaskFPS with a rifle, he remembered, repeating his fatal attack back on him and then quad-shotting his friend. SaskFPS now believes in the Ghost of Lockout.
Jake O’Connell and his friend David took a trip to a farm in the UK county of Cornwall to celebrate another friend’s birthday. At the celebration, Jake and David drank enough to feel buzzed, and, of course, susceptible to bad ideas. He and David noticed an old, rotten caravan in one of the farm’s far-flung fields earlier that night and thought it might be fun to stay in it. Making their way over and opening its door, Jake and David found the van full of cobwebs, with a brutal stench rising from its rotting interior. It seemed too creepy to stay in—but then they noticed an SNES console loaded up with Mario Kart, an old CRT TV and a small stereo.
Pumped, they fired up the console, which miraculously still worked. They were thrilled to race in Mario Kart in a decrepit old van. But when they flicked on the CRT TV, creepy synth music began to play—not from the television, but from whatever CD was in the car stereo, totally unconnected, he said. In the rear of the van, the television began sparking and banging and smoking. Frantically, they tried to turn the TV off, but it wouldn’t respond. Smoke continued to rise. The TV crackled. It remained on.
Duke, an avid Battlefield 1 player, logged on to the World War 1 first-person shooter around midnight to mow down some enemies alongside his friends. It was dark outside, and Duke played in his living room with the lights off. Dead, he was waiting to respawn when, out of nowhere, he heard a scream resounding from inside the game. It was a pinging, blood-curdling digital scream that resounded twice, one that, when you hear it, sends a bracing vibration through your head. He’d played more hours of Battlefield 1 than he’s willing to admit, and he had never heard this sound before. “What the fuck was that?” David asked his friends. None of his friends had heard the scream. He’s not sure to this day whether it was a bad patch of code of a screaming woman. Listen for yourself:
In the spring of 2016, a gamer named Martin picked up The Forest. In it, the player has survived a plane crash and must shelter, feed and protect himself from the elements on a remote island. Martin enjoyed the game, gathering items and materials to sustain himself, and after some time playing, turned off his console, satisfied. Martin later decided to load up The Forest again. He was eager to explore more of the island where his character was marooned. Searching the wreckage of the plane crash, Martin found a passenger manifest. It included his name: Martin H. He was seated in 11C.