When urban legends meet videogames

Most people can cite at least a couple of urban legends or conspiracy theories. Paul McCartney isn’t really Paul McCartney. A ghost haunts a single shot in the 80s comedy hit Three Men And A Baby. Blowing on Nintendo cartridges makes them work better.

With the advent of the internet, we might be forgiven for thinking that outlandish claims and tall tales would be chased away by the might of Google or a website like Snopes, where myth-busting facts are but a search term or click away. Instead, the web has allowed creepy stories and urban legends to travel more quickly than ever, as they’re copied and pasted in forums, emails and social media posts – hence the oft-used term ‘creepypasta’, used to describe these strange, viral tales.

So what happens when urban legends collide with the realm of videogames? All kinds of weird and wonderful things, it turns out, with myths inspiring games and vice versa. To mark the upcoming The Evil Within 2, we’ve taken a look…

The Philadelphia experiment

If you’re into your 80s sci-fi films, you may have heard of The Philadelphia Experiment, a 1984 thriller reputedly based on fact. The widely-shared story suggested that, during World War II, the US navy was researching into ways of making its ships invisible. The secret program had an unexpected side effect, however: it caused a ship, the USS Eldridge, to travel through time. The story was eventually debunked, but it’s still proved a popular staple in pop culture: just look at such games as Xenogears or Half-Life 2: Episode Two, where the Philadelphia experiment gets a mention during the course of their stories.

Curiously, the Half-Life series has itself become something of an urban legend in videogaming circles; it’s over a decade and counting since the last entry, and Episode Three still hasn’t appeared. Our guess is that Valve have been working on an advanced, VR Half-Life 3, which itself seems to have disappeared into the mists of time.

The Madden curse

The John Madden series of American football games has been going strong since the 16-bit era, which has given it plenty of time to build up its own conspiracy theory. The thinking goes that appearing on the cover of a Madden game is something of a poisoned chalice; such players as Garrison Hearst, Eddie George and Ron Gronkowski have all suffered injuries in the same season their determined-looking faces graced the Madden packaging. If you’re an American football player yourself, this might sound like a fate worth avoiding – though it’s worth bearing in mind that the sport’s a fairly brutal one in any event, so all those injuries could be put down to plain old coincidence.

Yurei and The Evil Within

Japanese culture is full of myths and urban legends, and The Evil Within, Shinji Mikami’s survival horror hit from 2014, drew on at least one of these – as well as the imagery of classic movies by George A Romero and David Lynch. Mikami revealed at the time of The Evil Within’s release that Laura – one of the game’s spookiest characters – was directly inspired by a being from Japanese folklore called Yurei. Literally meaning “faint spirit”, Yurei are traditionally characterised by their white clothing and long black hair, and are said to be the vengeful ghosts of people who’ve been wronged in their previous life.

The Evil Within therefore draws on the same urban tales as seminal J-horror Ringu (remade in the US as The Ring), in which a long-haired, malevolent spirit named Sadako emerges from a cursed videotape. All of which only goes to prove that the most powerful ghost stories never really go away – they’re just updated for modern tastes.

Slender Man

A frankly terrifying horror concept that first emerged in the bowels of the website Something Awful, the Slender Man is a wraith-like presence who pops up in old photos – photos siad to have been taken shortly before a series of disappearances and other inexplicable events. Since his first appearance in 2009, the Slender Man has taken on a life of his own, having appeared in his own games (Slender: The Eight Pages and Slender: The Arrival), and immortalised in the indie phenomenon Minecraft when its creators added a character called Enderman as a tribute.

Prophecies in Fallout 3

Forget Nostradamus: if you’re looking for predictions of the future, look no further than Fallout 3. Some time after the game first emerged in 2008, stories began to circulate that brief, crackly radio messages had forecast the date when Queen Elizabeth II would die (March 19th, 2014, we were told). The news soon spread, along with other radio messages heard in the game, such as the revelation that the world would end in 2012. As you may have guessed, neither prophecy came to pass, though we’re still waiting on a confirmation for one prediction: that Britney Spears will win an Oscar in 2023. It could happen, folks.

Final Fantasy VIII

Here’s an urban legend that’s so popular, it even has its own website. The theory is that Squall, one of Final Fantasy VIII’s central characters, actually dies at the game’s midpoint, and that everything we see unfolding thereafter is some kind of nightmarish vision of the afterlife. Could it be true? The game’s developers aren’t saying, which makes this one of videogaming’s more persistent legends.

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