5 Best Uses of Reversed Speech in Video Games
When I was a kid America was under this really bizarre spell where it saw the actual devil everywhere. The devil had worshippers working in daycares that secretly used your children for black mass purposes. The devil lived inside the dodecahedron you rolled to determine you next move in Dungeons and Dragons. Every time you bought a Procter & Gamble product, a portion of all sales went to charity... and that charities name was The Lucifer Foundation for Puppy Rape.
I am dead serious. People really believed all of this in the '80s and '90s. People went to freakin' prison over it.
My favorite part of the scare was the idea that Satanic heavy metal artists were using reversed messages to secretly trick you into either killing yourself or joining the Fallen One's army of darkness. While backmasking is a real thing that artists do (Such as our own P.L.X.T.X. to incredible effect) there's no way the human mind can hear backwards speech and being subliminally controlled by it.
That hasn't stopped video game makers from screwing with the paranoid, though.
Miranda Sings Live...You're Welcome
TicketsSun., Jan. 22, 8:00pm
The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time (Touring)
TicketsTue., Jan. 24, 7:30pm
Super Comedy Bowl Explosion
TicketsWed., Feb. 1, 8:00pm
Love Jones, The Musical
TicketsThu., Feb. 2, 7:30pm
TicketsSat., Feb. 11, 7:00pm
First on the list is this year's Bioshock Infinite, which followed its predecessors by allowing your main character to upgrade his abilities through genetic manipulation. My favorite of the lot was Possession, which allowed you to control an enemy, who would randomly shoot other enemies until the effect wore off and he would commit suicide out of remorse. The spirit forms that surround the target whisper what sounds like gibberish, but is actually lines by Juliet from the William Shakespeare play.
Ironically, Romeo and Juliet kill themselves in the play, and Judas Priest was brought to trial during the Satanic scare for allegedly putting suicidal messages in their music through backmasking.
The Legend of Zelda series has some rather impressive history of backmasking. In Wind Waker the noise that the Chuchu enemies makes is actually two Japanese men having an argument played in reverse and sped up. They're screaming things like, "At least I'm not bald!" at each other. Then later, in Twilight Princess, we'd get the fortune teller Madame Fanadi speaking what sounds like a made up language. In reality she's talking about loading times in reverse.
To understand this bit of backmasking fun, you have to realize that then man behind the Doom series, John Romero, kind of thought of himself as a living video game god. The annoying thing was, that with Doom, Quake, and Wolfenstein under his belt it was hard to argue with him even if he was reportedly somewhat of an egomaniac and obnoxious to be around.
So when it came time to fight the final boss in Doom II: Hell on Earth you're greeted with a bizarre demonic chant. In reverse, it's actually saying, "To win the game, you must kill me, John Romero". Then, if you turn on noclip mode and walk to the area behind the giant demon's skull where you have to fire rocket to beat him, you find Romero's severed head on a pike. If you're feeling wicked, you can then win the game by punching him in his face to death.
Then again, sometimes they really do put horrible, horrible things in the backmasking of tracks, as in Half-Life. People who have been converted into zombies by the headcrabs scream incoherently, which is already unnerving. When reversed, the sound is actually them pleading to God for help, which is so much worse.
For extra fun, the sound the head crabs make is also reversed and altered. It's a simple word; hell.
Mostly though, backmasking is used to screw with people. The absolute best example of this is Level 16 of Diablo, in which the beast for which the game is named greets you with some truly evil sounds. Is it another declaration of war and death like in Doom II?
Nope, it's a deep demonic voice saying, "Eat your vegetables and brush twice a day." In later games he says things like "Look beneath you and see the ruin of Heaven" in plain speech. Let that be a lesson to you. When demons want to get something terrible across, they just spit it out. If someone is playing with backwards recording, it's probably just to see what you'll do when you reverse.
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in Houston.