The cd-rom said “earthjim.exe” so I popped it in, being the worlds greatest gamer and all, I had no fear. Sure the man who sold me the disk said it was haunted, but who cares. I sure didn’t. But then, when the game opened, the screen was black, and the voice over that says “Earthworm Jim” had a childs voice saying the same thing underneath the deeper voice. And Jim’s eye’s as he stared at me, blood seeping from his very sockets.. I had to press on and press start! Knowing full well I could just turn the thing off, I decided to keep on going because reasons. The game started, the title screen just said “welcome to hell” when it should have said “New-Junk City”, the background track was in reverse and Jim was out of his power suit. Just when i started to move, Jim stopped, turned and looked RIGHT at me, missing pupils they just looked, dead. He then screamed “HEEEEELPPP!” as a raven swoops down and grabs him. He fights valiantly, screaming bloody murder the entire time he was being torn to shreds. Blood flying everywhere, soaking the level in a crimson red. Finally, jim’s mortal coil was shed, as he drooped limp in the crows maw, and carried him off to finish the job. The screen fades to black. At this point, a crow smashes into my bedroom window! I take the game out and smash it with a hammer, surely it must be the cause! The funny thing, after I did that? The crow never came back. I swear, I could have died that day.
One day I happened to be perusing a yard sale, when I saw a stack of old video games on the cheap. Excitedly, I slid on over and started fanning through them. Some great old stuff in here from a lot of different console. Decent, Half Life, and to my joy I spotted an SNES cart with without a label, just permanent marker that said “earthjim” on it. I was excited because, being 23, I missed out on Earthworm Jim, and hadn’t really given it too much thought up until now. I look through the rest and determine nothing else of interest, so I take the cart to the person running the yard sale.
“Hey how much for this one?” I ask
“Oh shit,” he mutters under his breath. I could barely hear him as he continued “How did that get there..”
“Is there a problem?” I inquire
“Uh, well, no not really. Just a warning, I was supposed to toss this one in the dump many years ago, as it’s not.. quite right” he explains.
“Really? So it doesn’t work?” I ask, feeling a little disappointed
“No, it works just fine.. look I’ll let it go for.. two dollars” he bartered
It was a deal. I reached in for two singles and we exchanged handshakes. I hurried home.
Once I got to my room, I had to hook my super nintendo up again, not a big problem but annoying all the same. Once I do I pop the game into the top loader and slide the power button. Blackness.
“Shit” I mutter to myself, as I turn the console off, eject the cart, blow into the cartridges bottom, and throw it back in again. Still, blackness. “Aw come on, a bunk cart? Damnit”. Frustrated, I leave the room immediately to fix something to eat, forgetting to turn off the console.
Some moments later, fresh peanut butter toast in hand, I return to my room to see Earthworm Jim’s mug on my television screen. The letters for “Earthworm Jim” dance around on screen, but something about the color scheme struck a nerve with me. It made me kind of sick actually. The tones were muted, and everything had a weird off kilter tint. The colors triggered something in me, a queasy feeling. So I reset the console, to once again: pure blackness.
I decide to wait a few moments this time, maybe this is what the man meant by “not quite right”. it could simply be a damaged cart. After a couple agonizing minutes staring intently at a black screen, it flashes a seizure inducing white for a split moment before showing me the same sickly screen. This time I heard a voice over say “Earthworm Jim” but the audio was a little scrambled. That couldn’t have been right either..
This time I decide to hit start and see if it get’s any better from there. The text label that’s probably supposed to be showing me the name of the level, instead shows me a series of random letters, “OFX KVOL DJUZ” as they dance on screen. I briefly think this may be some kind of password, and jot it down once I could find a pen and paper. It dawned on me though, why would the first level show me password? What would be the point of that? Old game logic?
I try out the controls. At first, I try moving around. Moving the left looked fine, but its when I moved to the right, every once in a while Jim’s sprite would swap for another randomly. I just ran back and fourth here trying to see if there was some kind of pattern, and the answer is no, there was not. Next came shooting, looked fine as far as I could tell, but there was no audio to it. I pressed a button and could see Jim extract himself out of the suit and attempt to whip.
The crack of the whip escaped out my televisions speakers with such wicked ferocity, it felt like it stabbed my ear drums. I cover my ears in reaction but it was far too late, the ringing in my head so maddening I started seeing double until it died down. I decided to take a small break and swallow some aspirin.
“What the fuck was that about.” I exclaim to myself, kind of as a way to test my hearing as the ringing died down. I checked the volume, it was mostly all the way down, how the hell did the game make such a loud noise? I grabbed a pair of construction earmuffs from my work uniform, and press the whip button again…
Nothing? soundless? No.. no there was sound. I take off the muffs and notice it’s making a relatively normal, albeit stereotypical whipping noise at a normal volume level. I couldn’t have possibly imagined that? No, the pain in my ears still rang, it definitely happened. Do I continue, I think to myself, or toss it in the trash? I’ll be honest, curiosity got the best of me. This was all too weird not to endure, but I just dont know what to be prepared for next.
Aside from Jim’s character swapping glitch, the game played relatively like “normal” for a while. Got past some areas, died a few times, hell I even found out that the level text was just “NEW JUNK CITY” but with each letter shifted up letter up. Must be the text sprite being loaded in weird. I finally get to the first boss, a weird trashcan looking dude, and start laying waste to him with my silent machine gun.
And then blackness.
“Goddamnit, did the game rese-” before I could finish my sentence the game came back and the trashcan dude was in the middle of throttling me. Once I started getting back into winning again, the screen dips out again, but with a tiny bit of small text in the bottom right of the screen, I’m surprised I noticed it at all. “tbwf_nf”. I barely have time to commit it to memory before the game comes back to me having mostly lost the fight. I pause at this point and jot down the letters.
Using the decryption tactic as before I found the message said “save_me”. Figured this was some weird wayward debug text caught in the same rendering problem as the level text. Giving it a few more moments thought, I put the pencil in my mouth and unpaused the game.
Through some miracle I managed to win the fight against the trashcan guy. So I pressed on. After some more bouncing around on mounds of pixelated tires, and getting used enough to the graphics where I was no longer feeling queasy looking at it, the screen decided to flash white for a brief glimpse. You know when a bright light burns your retinas and you can still faintly see it after it had already gone away? Everything I looked at on screen and around my room had a white washed tint as I tried desperately to blink it away. I swear continuously under my breath..
“I don’t know how much more of this I can take” I confess to myself, I mean this game is starting to affect my health and who knows whats going to happen next. And before I even have a chance to think, it happens again, like someone had thrown a flash bang in my room!
As I again, desperately try to blink away the white wash, I notice something amidst the white square, it was faint but it definitely looked like a near silhouette of a young boy. I couldn’t make out anything else.
That’s it, I’m done. Now it’s getting too real.
I turn off the machine and yank the cart out of the console, and go so far as to throw it in the kitchen trash. I pop a couple tylenol and lets be honest, some cold medicine to help knock me out for the night.
I turn off the lights with a yawn that would make a black bear blush, and retire by falling face first into my bed. The medicine did it’s job.
Whew, it’s cold in here tonight.. I end up with goosebumps on my arms and legs from the cold in my room and try to sleepishly tuck under my covers without opening my eyes, still too knocked out.
Whew.. it’s cold again. My mind is conscious enough to notice my blankets were mostly off again, but I couldn’t open my eyes yet. I just reach down and re-cover myself.
Whew… what the hell, I’m so fucking cold again! where are my covers? I think to myself. Mind startled awake again but my eyes just won’t open properly. I feel around but can’t find my covers anywhere near me as I desperately attempt to grasp at anything that feels like them. I pry my eyes open to find them
All I see is a fucking face damn near touching my own!
In a bought of fear, i madly take multiple swings into the air that don’t connect to anything, and scuttle back as far as I again until my back is up against the wall. I open my eyes again and look straight ahead, but nothing was there. Look to my right, nothing, left, nothing, down, nothing. When I look up at the ceiling though, there was the face, and again only mere millimeters from my nose, staring at me!
It took me a full second to piece it together, this was the silhouette I saw!
My eyes widen so much I could almost swear they could have just fallen out at any moment. The figure then starts reaching for me
I duck and attempt to dodge the touch, but in one motion his vaporous hand lands on my shoulder.
“Thank you” he whispered to me without opening his mouth.
I blinked, and in that moment, he was gone.
“Did I just fucking imagine that”, eyes still so wide open. The temperature even returned back to it’s normal heat. If I didn’t imagine that, how long was he standing there fucking watching me? Was he causing the cold? I just sat there, wide eyes, barely blinking, for the remainder of the night until the sun came up the next morning.
My muscles felt stiff as a board. I could barely move my arms, let alone my legs from having stayed in the same upward position for seemingly an eternity. Once I regained my composure, I wrapped myself in my blanket, despite the heat, and walked over to the kitchen to quench my parched throat. The only thing in the fridge was a juicebox, so I hurriedly stabbed the foil opening with the straw and drank it so quickly I don’t even think the liquid touched my tongue.
I walked over to to the trash to discard the used tetrabox, and after having tossed the item in, noticed that the super nes cart was actually torn in half, no.. not torn, more like burst from the inside out.
Both stories were written by me, not lifted from anywhere. I hope you got a chuckle out of the first bit, and I hope the second story kept you interested the whole way through
The important part I’m trying to illustrate here was I utilized elements of the supernatural, while still staying well within the framework provided by entertainment mediums such as video games, using an understanding of the technology and making literal use of it’s limitations. Simply put, game characters “bleeding”, especially sprites, isn’t scary, nor is it unnerving at all. This would have to mean the assets stored in the data were tampered with in a physical way, and most hardware like game carts and disks simply cannot be written too again like that. So utilize a digital characters worst fear: glitching, or being erased. A fictional character hurt, bleeding, or otherwise insulted in a real-life setting is simply not threatening to them. A simple fridge magnet is your basic gun to a digital entity.
So that’s the tip, hope this helps! Probably wont, but I hope. I’m just so tired of sprites bleeding at the eyes………….