5 Things in Video Games With Absolutely Horrifying Origins
Video games are art, and art mirrors life... though I have yet to find a mirror that grants me a rocket launcher with infinite ammo to blow up zombies with, but hey, thems the breaks. The point is that the people who make video games draw on real world experiences in order to create what they create.
And sometimes that's wonderful. I did a whole article about how many of our most beloved characters were based on programmer's friends and family. That's amazing! What's better than finding out that you are now a pink hero beating up trees.
On the other hand, sometimes programmers get their ideas from things in the real world that are stomach-turningly horrible. And I've decided to collect them all together in one place like a traveling cart full of pickled punks. Why? Because if I'm going to be full of twisted trivia then so are you.
The Game: In BioShock Andrew Ryan's libertarian undersea utopia fell into chaos after a new gene-splicing designer drug hit an unregulated market. The victims of the drug known as splicers turned into savage brutes that would hunt and kill any person they saw, all sporting facial scars resulting from the use of the ADAM compound.
The Origin: The distinctive look of many of the splicers was based off pictures of facial reconstructions from World War One plastic surgeries, like this one done on sailor Walter Yeo. These were the work of Sir Harold Gilles, the father of plastic surgery who perfected the grafting of skin over the wounds sustained in the fighting on thousands of patients. Further inspiration would also come from the work of Francis Derwent Wood, who sculpted masks to use as replacements for soldiers who had lost portions of skull bone from gas and explosions.
The Game: In the first Portal our hero Chell is trapped in the Aperture Science Testing Facility, being forced to perform for the amusement of a psychotic AI. In the 17th test chamber, she's required use a Weighted Companion Cube to solve a long puzzle. Eventually, Chell is forced to drop the Cube in an incinerator to proceed, and the AI implies that this was a form of murder on the part of the player.
The Origin: Lead programmer Kim Swift was inspired to create the Companion Cube after reading a declassified government document about interrogation techniques. Subjects in isolation tended to form deep personal attachments to inanimate objects, personifying them and treating them as friends. Swift was delighted with the idea, and had the AI imply that the Cube was Chell's only friend in order to make burning the Cube feel like torture to the player.
The Game: In case you're an alien trying to blend in with the hu-mans and their pop culture, Super Mario Bros followed two plumbers as they entered the magical Mushroom Kingdom, currently under siege by the dreaded Koopas. You set out to rescue the Mushroom Princess, stomping the turtle-like Koopas along the way.
The Origin: I'm probably the only person that actively screamed triumphant war cries throughout the entire game. For others killing Koopas was just another cartoon enemy to get passed in light-hearted game. For me, I recognized them as kappas, shelled imps from Japanese mythology that I learned about from Tom McGowen's Encyclopedia of Legendary Creatures, where they are described thusly...
Kappa were the wicked river sprites of old Japan. They delighted in drowning children.
That plus the horrible illustration above mixed with a drowning phobia made me very keen on eradicating the Koopas.
The Game: One of the most revered RPGs of the 16-bit era, Earthbound followed a young American boy named Ness as he and his friends try to stop an alien invasion. That alien was the legendary final boss Giygas, who has spent most of the game possessing people to perform the evil acts necessary to forward the conquest of Earth.
The Origin: Shigesato Itoi made a mistake as a young child when he went to the movies, and accidentally stumbled into a horror film called The Military Policeman and the Dismembered Beauty. Itoi happened to walk in right in the middle of a lovemaking scene that resulted in a murder. He was traumatized by the scene, and the mixture of horror and eroticism was a driving force behind Giygas' creation.
The Game: In The Last of Us the world has been decimated by a strange fungus that overtakes human bodies and turns them into zombies that kill the living. There's not cure for it, and the fungus attaches itself straight to the brain where eventually it grows right out of your freakin' head.
The Origin: Hey, it's totally a real thing. It's called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, and luckily it only affects insects like ants so far. The fungus invades the ants and starts eating everything non-essential inside it. Then it somehow alters the ant's brain in order to make it climb up to a leaf, embed its jaws, and dangle their until the ant dies and a eventual shoot spores out of the ant's skull. The behavior-altering effects of the fungus are extremely rigid and acute, and all we can do is prey it never figures out how to live in our own bodies.
Did I mention that there are literally thousands of types of these fungi, and that each has developed it's own specialized way of overtaking its host? Nighty night.
Get the Theater and Arts Newsletter
Exclusive discounts and announcements to Houston theater shows and art events