Creepypasta and the search for the ghost in the machine

Lavender Town is quite eerie, in fairness.

It was the music, they said, that drove the children to madness. The eerie, detuned soundtrack to Pokémon Red’s Lavender Town contained harmful sonic irregularities played at such high frequencies that only the youngest players could hear them. In extreme cases, these could alter brain chemistry and trigger psychosis—after playing the game, hundreds of Japanese children put down their Game Boys, climbed on to the roof, and jumped to their deaths.

None of this is true, of course. Lavender Town Syndrome is just a legend, a ghost story for the gaming generation. No cases of child suicide were ever conclusively linked to the game’s music—the closest case was a 1997 episode of the Pokémon TV show featuring strobing lights that triggered epileptic seizures.

Stories of haunted video games have circulated for decades. They were more believable before the Internet, when you could still come across a game nobody else knew. Back then, game development was the domain of hobbyists and lone programmers who could create curious experiments and distribute them at computer fairs or yard sales. It wasn’t outlandish, either, to suspect games had secrets: even on a program as unassuming as Excel 95 a particular combination of commands opens the “Hall of Tortured Souls,” a lurid, game-like hellscape within the spreadsheet that displays the names and photos of the Microsoft developers.

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