Gaming's most persistent myths and urban legends, debunked

Rumors and videogames have gone hand in hand for years now. From school yard bragging about your uncle who works for Nintendo, to the almost constant leaks that seem to plague new releases. We’re all suckers for a lie or myth, and even with a healthy dose of skepticism, I’m sure you believe in one at least of these falsehoods.

The Myth: Blowing in Game Cartridges Makes Them Work

The Truth: We all know this one. Blowing into game cartridges was meant to clear the dust off the pins, and allow you to continue playing.

In reality it was the removal of the cartridge from the console that helped. Blowing on a cartridge actually damages it. Instead of lightly dusting the pins, making them cleaner and happier, we were actually spitting all over them and causing the pins to corrode.

It actually makes a lot of sense, but as a kid it wasn’t important. I in a hurry to play Puggsy on the MegaDrive, and even my parents didn’t seem too bothered with the proper care of games. CDs and VHS got the same treatment because no one in my family had ever heard of an air duster or knew anything about micro fibre cloths.

Even being the learned and responsible adult that I am, I still have to force myself to stop when I boot up my GameBoy. Just because it hasn’t happened to me yet, doesn’t mean it won’t.

The Myth: Lara Croft Cheats Could Make Her Naked in the First Game

The Truth: The Lara Croft Nude Code first appeared in 1996, shortly after the debut Tomb Raider game released. Tomb Raider was a popular game, offering adventure, mystery, and atmospheric environments to ogle at. Or you could ogle Lara, who is one of videogames most well known sex icons despite having a rather triangular bosom. From there, it really isn’t that surprising that someone came up with the rumor that you could play through Tomb Raider with Lara in the nude if you had the right code.

This wasn’t restricted to just one game either. Game after game, the Tomb Raider franchise was rumored to allow you to see nude Lara. Even the 2015 reboot had players clamoring for an “almost topless” glitch from one of the costumes she could wear.

Not once was Lara ever nude, of course. As many times as the game developers said it wasn’t a feature, the rumor came back again and again – like some sort of nude Lara Croft hydra, which still isn’t the weirdest thing the explorer has encountered in twenty years of games.

The end of it is that there never was a nude Lara code, despite many wishing it existed, and there never will be. Unless you count mods of course.

The Myth: It Was Possible to Kill the Duck Hunt Dog in All His Smirking Glory

The Truth: I’ve never played Duck Hunt. Not one single game. Yet I still grew up with the knowledge that you could kill the Duck Hunt dog and wipe that stupid smile off his smug face. You can’t though. At least, not on the NES game with the snappily named NES Zapper.

The developers obviously knew of everyone’s hate for the annoying laughter that followed each miss, because in the arcade version – Vs. Duck Hunt – you could shoot the dog. In a bonus round which had you fire at as many ducks as possible, the dog would jump out of the grass, allowing him to be shot.

Even in Vs. Duck Hunt you can’t kill the dog, rather just maim him and cause him to complain a lot. Though probably not as much as we’ve complained about him.

The Myth: Legendary Pokemon Cheats

Sorry to disappoint.

The Truth: There were a lot of rumors about how to get legendary Pokemon from the first three sets of Pokémon games. Most of these died down when the DS came out, and you could download Pokemon via codes. We all knew that you could get legendary Pokemon via a GameShark, but that felt like cheating and was very expensive.

As an answer to very few people not having access to a GameShark – and probably just so people could have a few laughs at the gullibility of Pokemon players – there were hundreds of forums and websites offering various cheats and glitches for you to take advantage of. From cloning Pokemon, replicating items, and catching Safari Zone Pokemon outside of the Safari Zone, we all probably tried at least one.

The most famous of these myths was that Mew could be found under the truck parked next to the S.S. Anne. To do this you needed to come back with both Surf and Strength (as well as the badges to use them) without having gone on the S.S. Anne. This meant you had to trade a Pokemon with cut from another game so you could continue with the story. To attempt this you had to start a new game and spend hours hoping it would work.

It didn’t. There was no Mew hidden under the truck.

There was however, another way to get Mew in Pokémon Yellow that included battling specific trainers past nugget bridge, capturing an Abra and teleporting away from a battle. In the end though, you could glitch a Mew for yourself. All that meant however, was that I believed every other legendary Pokemon glitch for the next two games.

I spent hours in front of the Ilex Forest shrine trying to get a Celebi that just didn’t exist without an event.

The Myth: The First Videogame Ever Made Was Pong

The Truth: Pong was released in 1972 as an arcade game, and was definitely one of the first videogames to have any sort of commercial success. Even now it’s a household name, though many people haven't played it. Beating it by a year however was the arcade game Computer Space, which released in 1971 to moderate success. Computer Space is considered the first arcade game, though it is worth noting that Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabne – the creators – did go on to found Atari, the company behind Pong.

Even Computer Space wasn’t the first videogame though, just the first popular one. Computer Space was based off Spacewar, a 1962 project from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was programmed by Steve Russell and several others, but would continuously be improved on later by students and university employees. It wasn’t easy to get your hands on though, and if you didn’t have connections to a handful of different universities, you wouldn’t have a chance to play it. Hence why Computer Space and Pong are much more well known.

Earlier than even 1962 is Tennis for Two. Playable in 1958 at the Brookhaven Library, there is no doubt that Tennis for Two was a game, but questions arise as to if it counts as a videogame.

American physicist William Higinbotham designed Tennis for Two in 1958. The photo is a 1997 recreation of Higinbotham's original Tennis for Two setup.

It was played through an oscilloscope, powered by analogue computers. These fed an image to the oscilloscope of a bouncing ball. Add a net and two controllers, and you’re looking at a brand new experience that proved very popular at Brookhaven Library -- but largely forgotten after being dismantled. Legally, to be counted as a videogame however, there must be some sort of video signal manipulation, which Tennis for Two lacked.

Videogame or not, it’s easy to see where the idea for Pong came from.

The Myth: You Could Jump over the Flag in Super Mario Bros

The Truth: Reaching the flag indicated the end of a Super Mario Bros level, yet some players obviously wanted more. Rumor floated around for years that if you jumped in just the right way, at just the right time, you could maneuver Mario over the flagpole. Supposedly, you could do this on every level.

It just isn’t true. The levels weren’t designed to allow you that sweet flag-avoiding glory. Except, where there’s a will there’s a way, and while you weren’t designed to leap the flagpole, you technically can in two levels. When playing World 1-1 on a wide screen, you can take advantage of the horizontal and vertical looping techniques to make the jump.

World 3-3 however is the only world you can leap a flagpole in. By using a platform on a string you can gain the extra height to pass over the pole. Then you get to spend the next however-long running around doing nothing until timer runs out and Mario dies, making you play the level again.

Hey – you win some, you lose some.

The Myth: Windows 95 Hid a Secret Program That Proved Bill Gates Was a Devil Worshipper

The Truth: The rumor here is that Bill Gates hid a secret program in Windows 95 that took you through a sort of mini-game of horrors. Bloody halls, weird messages, and unsettling music.

Bill Gates is many things, but I think we all know that he’s not a devil worshipper. Or if he is, he has the sense to not bring that into his business. Of course there was no secret program hidden in Windows 95.

It was in Excel 95. Here’s how you accessed it.

  1. Open up Excel 95
  2. Make your way down to row 95
  3. Select the whole row
  4. Select cell B
  5. Go to Help/About Microsoft Excel
  6. Hold CTRL, ALT, and shift, then click on the tech support button
  7. A window should open, and you can play a mini-game

The program was called the Hall of Tortured Souls and featured several disturbing rooms, narrow bridges, and – worst of all – images of the programmers that worked on Excel 95.

While the Hall of Tortured Souls does exist, it doesn’t have any of the aforementioned bloody halls, weird messages, or unsettling music. This easter egg was left by the programmers because – let’s face it – no one ever reads who created any of the Microsoft Office programs.

The Myth: Polybius Existed, and Was Secret CIA Brainwashing

The Truth: Polybius was supposedly an arcade game from 1981. It has never been proven to actually exist, and is generally believed to be an urban legend. But what a legend it is.

Related: The Lost Arcade: a rose-colored look at the last arcade in NYC, the legendary Chinatown Fair

It goes that Polybius suddenly appeared in several Portland arcades. It was addictively good, and had queues to play it. Despite being popular, it disappeared a month later with no trace of it to ever surface again. The game was meant to have caused severe psychoactive effects, such as insomnia, hallucinations and amnesia. Men in black suits were also said to have visited the arcade cabinets regularly, to collect unknown information.

Men in black suits means only one thing of course; the government was experimenting on people via videogames. The experiments ranged from subliminal messaging to brainwashing. It’s worth noting that Polybius shares a name with a Greek historian, who was known for firmly believing that nothing should be recorded as history until there was sufficient proof via interviews and witnesses. Something which this urban legend lacks.

American author Brian Dunning looked into Polybius in 2013 and raises several alternative ideas surrounding it. While he firmly believes that Polybius didn’t exist, it does have a few things in common with events that happened around the same time. Another game called Tempest released in the same year as Polybius, and supposedly had issues with vertigo, and photosensitive epilepsy.

Related: A Microsoft exec's long, arduous quest to restore the first color arcade game

Dunning believed that the Polybius rumors started with exaggerated reports of the effects of Tempest.

This was combined with a couple of gamers falling ill in arcades in Portland; one with a migraine, another with stomach pains after trying to beat a world record for playing Asteroids.

Shortly after these illnesses was another incident. Apparently several arcades were raided by FBI during an investigation of gambling. In preparation of the raid, several FBI agents were said to have checked arcade cabinets for tampering, and recorded several high score tables.

It all mixes together rather well to conspiratorial young minds, and with no actual proof that Polybius even existed (such as a patent), it’s pretty safe to say that this myth is just that.

But who knows, stranger things have happened.

Schizophrenic Conspiracy Theorist Shirt $21.68

Homeless People Are Sexy Shirt $21.68

Schizophrenic Conspiracy Theorist Shirt $21.68

  1. 6 years ago

    Lara croft was never naked, until someone modded her to be,

    • 6 years ago


      • 6 years ago


        • 6 years ago

          Well Gabe did make Pc gaming the monster it is today. at least in most of the world.

          • 6 years ago

            shouts 2 the monopolization of PC game distribution, pioneering microtransactions, and the birth of video game DRM

            • 6 years ago

              Monopolizing or birthing, different people see different things, but hey at least they don't charge membership fees, and you can always choose to use another service,

              oh and how are those refunds and name changing features on ps4 going? better to have the choice to choose another service on your platform or choice.

  2. 6 years ago

    Ahhh, the hours upon hours I spent trying various tasks to resurrect Aeris.

  3. 6 years ago

    I spent countless hours trying to get Mew under that truck! guess I was one of the gullible idiots. I remember the Missingno glitch could replicate your items if you had it in the right slot, hello infinite masterballs!

  4. 6 years ago

    Awesome list. I definitely heard these gems and more. "Sheng Long" anyone (although, technically it's a viral April fools but achieved myth status in an age before the internet).

  5. 6 years ago

    GREAT read Bronwyn. Very entertaining list. Some I knew about and some were total news to me 🙂

    My early gaming days are limited in scope too but I did play the sh*t out of Duck Hunt and spent many hours trying to shoot the dog.

    The TR one was infamous even for me who never liked the original games.

    And SO many hours lost trying to get mew around the SS Anne.

    Thanks for the entertaining read.

  6. 6 years ago

    Remember the 'All Bond' unlock for Goldeneye on the N64. Where you could play as any of the previous bonds in multiplayer. Apparently its in the code......

  7. 6 years ago

    I remember there was a myth that you could fly a plane in GTA 3, of course there was the hilarious Dodo which was a plane but couldn't fly because it didn't have wings (What!). I am sure there are many of us that tried our best to get it to fly but you could never stay in the air for more than 20-30 seconds until you crashed. Flying was a welcome addition in San Andreas, finally the dream was realised!

    • 6 years ago

      The Dodo was able to be flown, albeit very poorly. The trick was to dip the nose every few seconds to prevent stalling, spend a good chunk of time perfecting that.
      Speaking of the old GTA games, there was a cheat code that made cars fly in Vice City once they reached a certain speed, however the cars had no propulsion once airborne. The best part about it is that it did not only apply to the car you were driving but to all cars. I would get police wanted levels then park on a bridge, as the cops rushed over their cars would lift off and I could steer them off the bridge and into the water.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *