Mythbusters: The Truth Behind 10 Great Videogame Myths
1. You can jump over the flagpole in Super Mario Bros.
The myth: Hey, so you know Timmy down the street? Well, he said he could jump OVER the flagpole in Super Mario Bros. He told me he could! No, I didn't see it, but his sister says she saw him do it. No, he can't do it on any level; he said you can only do it in World 3-3 when that elevator thingy gets high enough and you jump at just the right time. Oh, and once he said he did it in 7-1. I tried like a MILLION times, though, and I couldn't do it without the Game Genie. Come on, man, Timmy wouldn't lie! Would he?
2. It's illegal to play pinball in Ocean City, N.J. on Sundays
The myth: It's well known that pinball machines were once seen primarily as gambling devices and, for this reason, banned in many American towns. This ban was enforced perhaps most famously in New York City, where, in 1942, then-mayor Fiorello LaGuardia took a sledgehammer to dozens of pinball machines at a press conference.
The New York ban was lifted in 1976, after a dramatic demonstration before the City Council showed that pinball was indeed a game of skill. But, according to Internet sources (both respectable and less so), the word didn't fully reach Ocean City, N.J., where you're reportedly still not allowed to play pinball on Sundays.
The truth: Like many myths, there's a grain of truth in this one. Chapter 5, Section 3.7, Subsection F of the Ocean City, N.J. City Code does indeed discuss the legal hours of operation for not only pinball machines, but all "Coin-Operated and Non-Coin-Operated Amusement Machines or Devices ... including but not limited to pinball machines, pool, billiards, rifle or pistol target shooting, air hockey, simulated motor vehicle operations, aptitude testing, computer and/or electronic games." In other words, arcade games.
Here's the relevant section of the law, which at first glance seems to confirm the myth. But see if you can pick out the key phrase that throws a curveball at the myth as it's usually stated:
No licensee of a non-arcade premises containing coin-operated or non-coin-operated amusement machines or devices shall permit them to be played between 12:00 midnight and 9:00 a.m. weekdays or between 12:00 midnight Saturdays and 9:00 a.m. Monday.
If you caught that "non-arcade premises" phrase, you may have a future as a law reporter. Despite the myth, the law against Sunday arcade-game-playing actually exempts Ocean City's many arcades, which Subsection A defines as "any building, structure or premises which has for its primary purpose or function, the offering of coin and non-coin-operated amusement machine or devices." In other words, the locations most likely to have pinball machines (and other "Amusement Machines or Devices") in Ocean City, N.J. are indeed allowed to own and operate them on Sundays. Good news for vacationers looking for their Sunday gaming fix.
3. Luigi is hidden in Super Mario 64
The myth: When intrepid players found that collecting all 120 stars in Super Mario 64 unlocked a rooftop encounter with Yoshi, many gamers understandably wondered what other classic Mario characters might be hidden in the game. These gamers must have been incredibly excited when they ran into one of the many mythical methods for unlocking and/or playing as Mario's eternal understudy, Luigi.
Most of these methods were incredibly elaborate, making them hard for most casual players to confirm. But why go to the trouble, when the Internet is full of pictures and even videos that do the confirmation for you? And then there's the matter of the grainy message on the game's ghost fountain pedestal. If you squint real hard, it kind of looks like it says "L is Real 2401." How much more proof do you need?
The truth: Sorry, this one is just a rumor. Photos and videos that purport to show Mario's green-clad brother in Super Mario 64 are either Photoshop creations, emulator-powered modifications or from the game's Nintendo DS re-release, which actually did include a playable Luigi. Both Nintendo and Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto have denied the rumor many times, but that doesn't mean there's nothing to it. In fact, in a recent interview with Wired.com, Miyamoto did admit that an unreleased test version of the game "had Mario and Luigi running around in that 3-D world." Could some hint of that test have made it into the final game code? If so, it definitely hasn't been found yet.
4. Atari buried millions of unwanted VCS cartridges in the New Mexico desert
The myth: It's a powerful physical demonstration of the industry's first real financial crisis: an army of dump trucks dumping millions of excess game cartridges in a remote New Mexico desert and covering the resulting landfill up with concrete. As the story goes, in 1983 Atari was reeling from an unprecedented number of unsellable cartridges being returned by retailers that had once been desperate for product to sell. The main reason: hubris on Atari's part. The company reportedly manufactured 12 million copies of Pac-Man (despite the existence of only 10 million VCS systems at the time) and 5 million copies of a rushed, near-unplayable game based on the hit movie "E.T." With the company bordering on financial ruin and unable to sell or store the millions of returned games, they did the only thing they could think of: loaded them up into dump trucks and rolled them out to the desert.
The truth: Despite some doubts by a former Atari insider that the company would simply throw out so many cartridges (rather than recycling and repurposing them), the story is corroborated by contemporaneous accounts in The Almogorado (N.M.) Daily News (from the city that houses the infamous landfill) and The New York Times, which even quoted an Atari spokesman as confirming the dumping. Cry "liberal mainstream media" all you want, but on this one, I think you can trust the Times.
5. Saddam Hussein tried to use linked PlayStation 2s as a missile-guiding supercomputer
The myth: Rather than rewrite history, I'll simply quote extensively from the
always-reliable almost-never reliable WorldNetDaily, whose Dec. 2000 story seems to have started this myth:
Both the U.S. Customs Service and the FBI are investigating the apparent transfer of large numbers of Sony PlayStation 2s to Iraq, according to military intelligence sources.
A secret Defense Intelligence Agency report states that as many as 4,000 of the popular video game units have been purchased in the United States and shipped to Iraq in the last two to three months.
A single PlayStation can generate up to 75 million polygons per second. Polygons, as noted in the DIA report, are the basic units used to generate the surface of 3-D models -- extremely useful in military design and modeling applications.
What could Iraq do with such a primitive super-computer constructed with Sony PlayStation 2s?
"Applications for this system are potentially frightening," said an intelligence source. "One expert I spoke with estimated that an integrated bundle of 12-15 PlayStations could provide enough computer power to control an Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV -- a pilotless aircraft."
Current United Nations sanctions prohibit the sale or transfer of virtually all types of computer hardware and technology to Iraq. However, computer-based video game systems -- like the PlayStation 2 -- are not included in the ban. Iraq's scientists and engineers have apparently found a convenient loophole in the U.N. sanctions.
The truth: Again, there's a grain of truth to this one: The PlayStation 2 was reportedly subject to special military export permits in Japan, and researchers were later able to used linked PS2s to craft a supercomputer. That said, many of the computing claims in the WorldNetdaily story were wildly overblown, and UK intelligence sources told ZDNet that the charges were "nonsense." Also, as far as I know, no stockpiles of modified PlayStation 2s were discovered during the invasion of Iraq. Then again, maybe they're hiding with the weapons of mass destruction...
6. The U.S. Government tested a mysterious arcade game that caused health problems in players
The myth: In 1981, a strange new game appeared in a few Portland, Ore. area arcades. Described as a flashy, Tempest-style puzzle/shooter in later accounts, Polybius became an instant hit with its fast action and flashy psychedelic graphics, attracting long lines of addicted children at all hours. But the game wasn't without its problems: Some players reportedly encountered ill effects ranging from nausea and nightmares to amnesia and even suicide, depending on who you talked to. But all those problems were downright normal compared to the reports of shadowy men in black who were hanging out in the corners of the arcades, hushing up the illnesses and even abducting the top players for Lord knows what.
The few Polybius cabinets that existed supposedly all disappeared without a trace soon after their sudden appearance. No ROMs have survived, but there is a screenshot of the title screen floating around, and even a few pictures of supposed cabinets that escaped the men in black. Is it an elaborate hoax or an elaborate cover-up?
The truth: While alleged government conspiracies are hard to categorically disprove (the truth is OUT there, man!), the evidence overwhelmingly suggests this was a tall tale started during the extremely early days of the Internet. Despite the game's supposed popularity, no reliable sources have first-hand accounts of it, and the few photos and screenshots out there are way too easily faked to be credible. Unless some sort of physical evidence pops up, this one is either completely false or the greatest cover-up in the history of the government.
7. It's possible to revive Aeris after she dies in Final Fantasy VII
The myth: It's the closest thing gamers have to the shared trauma of the Kennedy assassination: the death of Aeris at the end of the first disc of Final Fantasy VII. If you somehow haven't played the game and I just spoiled the experience for you, then you know how I felt when Jeremy Marcus told me about this HUGE SPOILER months before I even owned a PlayStation. Yes, JEREMY MARCUS, I have not forgotten your game-spoiling treachery, and one of these days I will make you pay!
Anyway, many people responded to the trauma of losing their carefully crafted characters by seeking out some method to undo this grave injustice (short of restarting the game). The Internet provided plenty of supposed revival methods, ranging from the simple to the ridiculously complex, and each one has likely been tried at least once. There's even some questionable video evidence floating around out there. And what's this I hear about an Aeris ghost visible in the church area?
The truth: Sorry, but despite what must be dozens of man-years of effort to turn up some sort of hidden option, there's no actual way to revive Aeris in the game. Any videos are likely based on modified copies of the PC version, and the ghost in the church is either a glitch or an intentional tease added by the developers, but nothing more.
And really, why would Squaresoft spoil the emotional impact of one of the most touching moments in all of gaming by allowing you to overturn it? After all, spoiling Square games is Jeremy Marcus' job. MARCUUUUUUUUUUS!
8. You can fight Sheng Long in Street Fighter II
The myth: "You must defeat Sheng Long to stand a chance." Ryu says it regularly after defeating chumps in Street Fighter II, but no matter how hard you look or how well you play you'll never face, let alone defeat, Sheng Long. Or will you?
The "Tricks of the Trade" section in the April 1992 issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly sure thinks you will -- if you're good enough. All you have to do is play through the entire game without getting hit, then fight M. Bison to a pacifistic draw 10 times in a row. If you can complete this awesome feat, the ultra-powerful Sheng Long will supposedly appear to fight you with his super-fast projectiles, killer spinning-bird kick and ultra-powerful dragon punch.
The truth: Sorry, true believers, but he's not there. As if the near-impossible series of steps to achieve the goal weren't a tipoff, EGM itself revealed in its December '92 issue that the April story was the second in a recurring series of annual April Fools' jokes.
Even before the revelation, though, I remember my nine-year-old self being extremely wary of this story when it first appeared. Why? Because I remembered being tricked by the magazine's first April Fools' joke the year before, spending literally HOURS in a fruitless attempt to get Castlevania's Simon Belmont to appear in my copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2. As the Wikipedia page accurately puts it, "The method of getting the code to work was just out of the realm of possibility (the title screen would disappear a second before readers were able to finish the code), frustrating people who believed the code to be legitimate." You can't trust everything you read on Wikipedia, but trust me, you can definitely believe that line.
9. Playing with the Tails Doll in Sonic R causes a horrible curse
The myth: This was one I actually hadn't heard of before I started researching this article, but it seems to be quite prevalent among a certain subset of the Sonic fandom community. The myth centers on the Tails Doll, an unlockable, smaller version of Tails in the relatively obscure (and relatively awful) racing game Sonic R. According to numerous Internet stories (and at least one really crappy Flash game), you might want to leave that character locked, since anyone who races as the Tails doll will suffer real-life consequences ranging from bad luck to creepy messages and even death and "soul-sucking" at the hands of a REAL, red-eyed version of the doll. Hey, I read it on the Internet so it must be true, right?
The truth: OK, there's obviously no truth to this one (news flash: videogame characters ARE NOT REAL) but the phenomenon of the Tails Doll curse story is just incredible to me. The rumor seems to have its seeds in the game's tendency to freeze when you play as Tails Doll, but I have no idea how this small glitch ballooned into a much larger story about a red-eyed, soul-sucking horror. However it happened, the fact that the myth has survived and spread in the community says something about the power of these characters and the use of fandom as a storytelling medium. Or maybe I'm just overanalyzing a stupid fanfic story that's gotten out of hand. Your call.
10. There's a "Nude Lara" code hidden in Tomb Raider
The myth: Ever since before Samus Aran took off her space suit, lonely, horny gamers have been desperate to see their favorite female characters expose a little more skin. This trend reached its apex when Tomb Raider and its well endowed cave-crawling heroine hit the scene in 1996. Rumors about some sort of code to remove that tight shirt and short shorts began to circulate almost immediately, with the existence and method a hotly debated topic on the nascent Internet message boards. Pictures of a nude Lara (search for them yourself, perv) were easy to come by, as were countless message-board posts with various methods to uncover those fleshy bits. Did any of them work?
The truth: Nope. Though a number of "Nude Raider" patches allow the PC version of the game to include all manners of scantily/oddly clad Croft, there's no officially sanctioned way to get Lara's clothes off built into any version of the games. The best evidence against the "Nude Raider" code? Eidos has sent cease-and-desist letters to people who were merely drawing pictures that showed Ms. Croft in the buff. If they're so eager to protect her nakedness on the Internet, why would they go ahead and include it in their game?
Status: BUSTed (get it?)
Check out more Crispy Gamer features: