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May 04 2014

The Legend of Ben

The Legend of Zelda is a game franchise that is much beloved, has sold millions upon millions of copies franchise-wide, and has sixteen-plus installments spanning the rough time-frame such that people prone to creating ghost stories — teenagers to young adults — have grown up with these games making a large part of their childhood. It’s honestly no surprise that a creepypasta — an internet ghost story — was created out of the game series, and in fact it seems that it was just a matter of time.

The statue of Link created by playing the Elegy of Emptiness. It's not a particularly faithful representation of Link.

The statue of Link created by playing the Elegy of Emptiness. It’s not a particularly faithful representation of Link. To people familiar with this story, this is Ben.

One game in the series, Majora’s Mask, is already incredibly dark and unusual in the series. It is one of the very few that does not take place in the Kingdom of Hyrule (or what would eventually become or once was that kingdom — there’s actually a very involved canonical timeline that connects all the games in the series). It is one of the very few games whose chief antagonist is not Ganondorf or a god, but rather, a recurring character who’s gained access to some specific magic. It is also the only game whose chief motivation is preventing the destruction of the world through the manipulation of time, attempting to forestall a natural disaster that’s about to occur — the moon is falling on Terminus, and the Skull Kid, having stolen the magical artifact called Majora’s Mask, is both the impetus for and in possession of the only way to prevent this disaster. In this game, Link has fallen into a doomed world and needs to prevent this doom; as the Mask Salesman tells him, he’s “met with a terrible fate”.

Today’s ghost story involves someone discovering that a young boy named Ben, a boy who’d once apparently owned a bootleg copy of Majora’s Mask, himself met with a terrible fate: he drowned. But then he went on to haunt this bootleg copy, and subsequently the poor hapless 4chan Paranormal board denizen who found it.

This particular instance of creepypasta is something more than a simple ghost story that’s evolved over time, unlike the last two examples I’ve documented (to do with Pokemon and Minecraft). This one was built single-handedly by an evidently quite talented author, and it’s well worth a thorough read, and at least one viewing of the accompanying videos, if you’re not easily frightened by such things. The story of exploring the creepy, bootleg, glitchy, possibly-haunted game was told over four posts — mirroring the game itself, which takes place over three days which repeat at your use of the Song of Time a la Groundhog Day, but can be expanded to a fourth day through use of a glitch. This glitch actually figures into the story, so the parallel is almost certainly intentional.

The story goes, a young man finds a bootleg copy of Majora’s Mask at an old man’s yard sale, which as it turns out was once the property of a boy named Ben who had drowned some years prior. The game itself is a plain grey unlabeled N64 cart with MAJORA scrawled across it in marker. He takes it home, tries to play it, and finds a game saved on it called “BEN”. In trying to play that game, a very large number of weird and altogether creepy events happen, none of which happen in the original game. The gamer takes careful notes and uploads them to 4chan’s /x/ (Paranormal) board over the next few days. It’s left ambiguous whether the cart was hacked by a clever hacker, or altered by the ghost of a drowned child named Ben with malicious intent.

The narrative shifts there (in a sort of overtime after the fourth post — which, frankly, feels like robbing the original four posts of their charm) from the game to the use of a chat bot called Cleverbot, which generally takes its responses to chats from other chat participants — seeing the types of phrases that prompt certain other phrases from the end users, the AI algorithm replies to other users’ queries the way other users have replied to its similar queries. It’s fairly obvious the use of this ‘bot was explicitly to allow for real-time conversation between the player and the “ghost”, given that Zelda games don’t generally allow for terribly much protagonist-driven conversation. It also helps to make ambiguous whether or not the bootleg game was hacked by a clever hacker who went on to horrify the victim through other means, or whether there was actually a ghost associated with the item that crossed from the Nintendo 64 to the user’s computer in order to attack the victim through multiple means.

The story of obtaining the cart mirrors many other ghost stories or horror movie plots, wherein a haunted artifact is passed along to an unwitting victim by a grizzled old shade of a man who goes on to disappear shortly thereafter. The actual storytelling takes on an impressive level of care when one factors in the fact that not only did this user plot out a long, drawn-out series of posts, but he also evidently hacked a real Zelda: Majora’s Mask rom (either through editing the rom file itself, or using an emulator that allowed for Game Genie-like codes to be run that edit the game much like how a Game Genie patches the game in an actual machine), in such a way that all the odd effects and creepy happenstances, the sudden deaths and backward musical elements described in the narrative, actually play that way in an emulator. He then used a video capture program and stitched them together in Windows Movie Maker; he uploaded them to file sharing sites as Day4.wmv, BEN.wmv, DROWNED.wmv, and Jadusable.wmv (this last being his username). It’s possible he created the glitchy effects first, randomizing effects by inserting bad code or rearranging certain bits of data so the wrong text is displayed from text lookup tables, and he wrote the narrative based on what happened with the hacked games, rather than finding hacks to achieve the ends he intended. It’s also possible he had a narrative in mind, and wanted to achieve certain effects for narrative transitions, creating them manually by cutting and pasting them together in the wrong order from actual events in the game. Or, of course, some hybrid of the two courses. As I said, the game itself is more than a little creepy in its original form, ripe for cherry-picking and rearranging to maximum creep-out effect.

One major component of the myth makes use of the game mechanic used in one dungeon, wherein Link can play on his Ocarina the Elegy of Emptiness, which creates a duplicate of the current character you’re playing as a statue. (Majora’s Mask’s major gimmick is that various masks grant Link special powers; three main plot masks give him the ability to transform into three other races from the game series, all derived from people who’ve lost their lives.) An interesting aspect of this plot element is that you should only be able to create statue duplicates of people who’ve actually deceased, as with the three race masks; if you play that song as Link, you get a statue that looks vaguely and superficially like Link, but is very obviously not. It’s a fairly creepy statue itself, with dull eyes and a smile that doesn’t evoke any friendliness. And it’s in the original game.

As a plot element of the creepypasta, this statue starts following the character around, teleporting just behind the character (which could easily be done with clever video-editing, as the statue in the core game actually appears directly behind the character. (Sort of. See this walkthrough at ~10mins. The effect could be achieved by running forward, playing the ocarina and continuing forward, and cutting out the part where you played the ocarina.)

The creepypasta is itself a masterful work; it’s obvious a lot of effort went into building the narrative elements with the amount of actual hacking that would have to have been done to make certain effects happen in the game. Notably, most of what was visible in the videos used existing resources, phrases in the game and artifacts that could fairly easily be reproduced by manipulating the text generation routines, and the out-of-order nature of game transitions could be achieved fairly easily using a video editor, or more faithfully by altering the code for where certain doors would transition you to another zone. The apparent changes to the save files during repeated plays could very easily be achieved by editing the files the emulators generate to simulate the memory carts that the N64 would ordinarily save to.

The interesting thing about this particular myth is that, as I’ve said a few times now, the Majora’s Mask game is already creepy as hell in a number of ways, and I could probably make a pretty good case that the game itself is actually about Link coming to terms with his own death in some sort of purgatory realm. A few Youtubers have made such videos exploring that topic, though, so I’ll recommend you check those out rather than my making a whole other post about the theories. Unless, I suppose, you’d like to hear my spin on them.

One thing you might notice from the three video game ghost stories I’ve told recently, is that they’re all extremely popular franchises, which almost certainly everyone who might be interested in ghost stories might have heard of, even if you’re not particularly a gamer. But what if I told you there’s another sort of pseudoscientific story involving video games, that instead of being about ghosts, is about secret shadowy governmental mind control experiments run via a few coin-operated arcade machines in Portland, Oregon in 1981? And that, while nobody remembers any such thing happening at the time, the games weren’t particularly popular, and they have effectively evaporated into the mists, recently ROM images of the game have apparently surfaced?

Maybe I’ll tell you all about that game in my next post.

In the meantime, while it’s on hiatus, apparently Jadusable expanded this ghost story into an entire alternate-reality game, with secret clues and hidden puzzles in each update rewarding clever participants with extras that are intended to build the narrative beyond the surface story. It’s worth exploring, if you found the origin stories interesting.

11 comments

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  1. 1
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    I love weird stuff, and these posts are highly entertaining to me. I would definitely like to hear about the 1981 coin-op black op ROMs. Do they run on MAME, I wonder? XD

  2. 2
    Psychopomp Gecko

    Ben Drowned was a good creepypasta. I also enjoyed the NES Godzilla Creepypasta, though I hear other people didn’t care for the ending so much.

    Never was a fan of that Jeff the Killer fellow, but I enjoy some Slenderman.

    As for the 1981 thing, I wonder if that’s supposed to be about Polybius. If so, I know there was a short film you can see on youtube about a similar premise called Polydeus. I think it was by Daywalt Fear Factory or Fewdio, or possibly both as the same guy has done stuff for both.

  3. 3
    Jason Thibeault

    Oh, it’s Polybius, but I don’t want people spoiling themselves early. ;)

  4. 4
    Psychopomp Gecko

    soiling themselves early*

    Corrected that one for ya.

  5. 5
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Lol. Yeah, I don’t want to do either, I’ll just wait for the article. Once I start looking things up, I probably would end up skimming the article poorly when it comes out. I’d rather defer one pleasure until after the other. (Minus any soiling. Not my sort of pleasure at all.)

    This one, though: To poke through the Wikia site, it is utterly confusing, what with little explanation of the game which is on “permanent hiatus”, partial non-canonical re-creations of the original sites where the “web-game” of clues played out, etc. So I gave up and just enjoyed the original story.

  6. 6
    Jason Thibeault

    F: That seems to be by necessity. The original game played out heavily on a free forum hoster, and these forums have apparently since disappeared in the ether. It’s just really cool that someone dedicated to his craft actually built a whole game, with community participation, out of a creepy story built using Game Genie codes.

  7. 7
    Psychopomp Gecko

    The area where I read it met with a terrible fate, hasn’t it?

    It’s dangerous to hunt alone. Here, take this!

    http://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/20745027/18FebYSHDTzip/18FebYSHDT/chapters.htm

  8. 8
    carlie

    I just managed to show this one to my son – I said “Hey, that guy who wrote the stories about Pokemon and Herobrine did one about Majora’s Mask”, and he said “If he’s going to do Majora’s mask, he should be writing about the story of Ben.” :)

  9. 9
    Jason Thibeault

    Ahaha! Ooh, opportunity — you should totally ask him what to do next. After Polybius, that is. :D

  10. 10
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Ah, and ahhhh. kk thx!

  11. 11
    carlie

    You’ve stumped him! He said he hadn’t heard of Polybius, but then when he read the first line of the Wikipedia entry he said “Oh yeah, I have heard of this one, it makes people insane from flashing lights, I think? But I don’t know much about that one.” This was, however, after he’d said that he’s been awake since 2am and spent the time looking up video game and cartoon conspiracies. :)

  1. 12
    The Reading List, 5/11/2014 » Almost Diamonds

    […] The Legend of Ben–”The creepypasta is itself a masterful work; it’s obvious a lot of effort went into building the narrative elements with the amount of actual hacking that would have to have been done to make certain effects happen in the game.” […]

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