Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
Before I start this off, I want to apologize to everyone who may be affected by this in a negative way. I’m writing this for journalistic purposes, and to hopefully spread some awareness about something that has plagued me for a good portion of my life. That’s all.
My name is Antonio, and I’m a video game developer. Specifically, a video game designer. I do graphic design work, as well as music production. I’ve wanted to make video games since I was a little kid, and I’ve always had a soft spot for arcade games in particular.
Growing up where I lived, there was an arcade located a couple towns over that I would beg my mom and dad to take me to. While I can’t remember the name of it, the memories of wasting precious time there are still very much intact. Spending an hour or two every weekend at that arcade was the best thing in the world to me. I didn’t have any friends growing up, so I would always go alone, but that was the best part about it. I didn’t have to share my tokens with anyone!
Now, this is going to sound incredibly basic, but in all honesty I don’t give a damn. Pac-Man was always my favorite game to play at the arcade. I mean come on, it’s a classic, who doesn’t love it? Chasing ghosts was the highlight of my childhood, and I wouldn’t dare change that, even if I had the chance to. I wish I could continue on about how much I loved Pac-Man, but unfortunately that’s not why I’m here. No, instead I’m here to tell you about another arcade game that had a rather dark effect on me.
I’m going to go ahead and assume that many of you are familiar with at least one urban legend. Whether it’s about a giant bipedal moth, or a cursed version of a children’s cartoon. There’s always one that just resonates with you, and you can never seem to let go of it. You believe in it wholeheartedly, and sometimes you have dreams about it. Sometimes those dreams turn into nightmares. Well, I wish I could say my experience was just a nightmare.
I had heard about the “Cirice” urban legend for the first time when I was about seventeen years old. Some locals told me about an arcade that had a special cabinet tucked away in the back room. I didn’t care too much at first, given the fact that I’ve always been the skeptical type of person, but I was floored when I heard that this arcade in particular was the one I grew up with, and that the game was far from normal. From that point onward, I began asking several questions about the game. What did the cabinet look like, what was the gameplay like, etc etc. To which they responded that if I wanted to find out more about the game, I’d have to ask the owner of the arcade. This brought me back to reality, and made me skeptical once more, but nevertheless I did my best to get to the bottom of it.
Try as I might, I couldn’t dig up anything regarding the arcade online. This was rather odd, considering the place was very popular in the early 2000s. Surely there would’ve been some photos on Google, maybe even a blog or two, but no. I found nothing, and because of this, I decided to take a different approach. While I don’t remember much about the arcade, I do remember that it was set in a mall. So, I did what any reasonable person would do, and I decided to contact the owner of the mall to (hopefully) get some answers.
Our phone call was relatively short and awkward, but I got the answers I was looking for. According to the mall owner, the name of the arcade was “Planet Arcade”, and it was closed down due to low income and unreliable employees. This was jarring to say the least, but it makes sense considering that arcades have become less popular in recent years, so I let that part go. What took me by surprise however, was the response to the first question I had regarding Cirice.
“It’s real, and we still have it.”
At that point, every question I had regarding the game went out the window. I was stupefied. I was expecting the whole ordeal to be debunked in a matter of minutes, but it went in the opposite direction and I let my curiosity get the best of me.
I asked if I could see it for myself.
To my surprise once again, the owner agreed to let me have a look, under one condition: I wasn’t allowed to touch it. An odd condition, but a reasonable one nonetheless. I figured he didn’t want me getting my fingerprints on the cabinet or something, seeing as how it must’ve been pretty hard to get a hold of, so I agreed to his request. After that, we arranged a time to meet up, and went our separate ways for the time being. A week passed, and the time had finally come. I was nervous to say the least, but my curiosity remained and far outweighed any anxiety I might’ve had. I was actually pretty ecstatic, getting to see the real deal behind a local urban legend was a big deal for me at the time. It was exciting.
I showed up to the mall about fifteen minutes early that day, and during the fifteen minutes I waited for the owner, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off. It felt like I was about to walk into a death trap. About as soon as I started to debate with myself as to whether or not I should get the hell out of there, I heard a light knock at the passenger side window. I looked over, and the owner was standing there with a rather uneasy grin on his face. It was unnerving to say the least, but I wasn’t about to be rude and peel out of the parking lot while he was standing right beside my car. So, I rolled down the window, and he greeted me with one word.
This made the whole situation feel even more off-putting, but I came to the conclusion that it was just my anxiety playing with me as per usual. I hesitantly unbuckled my seatbelt, opened the car door, and walked to the front doors of the mall with the owner by my side. The walk was quiet, but once we reached the doors he stopped, took a deep breath, and let out one of the weirdest things I’d ever heard anyone say.
“Whatever you do, whatever you feel, do not touch it.”
My anxiety went haywire for a split second before I mentally slapped myself. I once again assumed he was just trying to keep the cabinet in mint condition, but I digress. We walked through the front doors, and made our way to the back room, once again not saying a word to each other on the way there. He reached to his side, and grabbed a set of keys, impatiently trying to find the key to unlock the door to the back room. A loud sigh of relief took me by surprise when he found the correct key, followed by him quickly unlocking the door and opening it, gesturing for me to enter first. I felt uneasy once more, but I didn’t want to be rude, so I stepped inside.
The moment I entered the room, I immediately regretted my decision. There was something in the air, something that made me feel overwhelmingly disturbed and uncomfortable, but I set that feeling to the side when I laid my eyes upon the arcade cabinet. Sitting in the middle of the back room was a nearly pristine machine with a purple and red color palette, and a headboard bearing the logo.
“Cirice”. It was real.
I took one step toward the machine, before I felt a hand grab me by the arm. I turned my head, and saw the owner staring deep into my eyes with a worried expression on his face. His lips quivered before he spoke.
“Do you fear God?”
Once again, my anxiety ramped up. I didn’t know what to say in response. I was never really much of a religious person, but for the sake of my safety I chose my words carefully, and replied with a hesitant “yes”. After that, he let go of my arm, held his hand in front of himself for a second, then lowered it to his side. His worried expression remained, and he began to apologize profusely, offering an explanation to what had just transpired.
“The game- Cirice- it’s not normal. It’s nowhere near normal-”
He tried to continue, but he stumbled over his own words as he began to cry. His face turned a blotchy red before he covered it with his shaking hands, and I just stood there speechless. I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but I wasn’t about to stick around to find out. I had seen enough. I quickly made my way toward the door, before being grabbed by my shoulders and flung backwards, landing flat on my back. My vision went blurry for a few seconds as I groaned in pain, staring at the ceiling before I heard the door slam shut, followed by the sound of a lock clicking. I was trapped.
Eventually, I pulled myself to my feet, shaking violently as I did so. I was terrified, and I didn’t know what to do. My body took control and I ran up to the door, banging on it and shouting, demanding to be let out, but to no avail. My hands began to hurt, and my voice went hoarse, but I didn’t care. I just kept going and going.
Until the power went out.
I stopped almost immediately, as my vision became enveloped in darkness, and I began to cry. Why me? What could I possibly have done to deserve something like this? All I wanted was the truth behind some ridiculous urban legend, and I got much more than what I bargained for. I fell to my knees, as I rested my head against the door, ready to accept whatever was about to happen to me.
Then the arcade machine turned on.
I immediately picked myself up, and pressed my back against the door. Straight ahead of me was a blank screen filled with static. The static continued for what felt like a solid minute, until it finally displayed a title screen, and my mouth hung open. I was ill prepared for what was going on, and I still had no idea what to do. My body took control again, and I took one step toward the machine before I heard a loud bang against the door behind me, followed by the mall owner shouting at the top of his lungs.
“Don’t touch the fucking game!”
At that point I wanted to do the exact opposite of whatever he told me to do. After all, playing it safe landed me in this position to begin with. Why should I listen to him? He’s the one who locked me inside the damn room. With that said, I approached the cabinet once more until I was face-to-face with the screen. On the dash in front of me were six buttons. Two blue triangular buttons side-by-side at the top, two green circular buttons side-by-side in the middle, one yellow square button at the bottom, and a white rectangular button labeled “ENTER” between the two green buttons. There were no coin slots to be found, so I pressed the “ENTER” button. Just then, the startup music played, as the game began to load.
Once the game had finished loading, I was taken aback by the design of it. It looked kind of like Pac-Man. The screen looked somewhat like a maze, with colorful shapes present inside of it. Specifically; two blue triangles side-by-side at the top, two green circles side-by-side in the middle, and a yellow square at the bottom. There were also ghosts roaming around the maze, each one with a color matching the different shapes. All of it was genuinely pleasing to look at, and to be quite honest, I started to get excited. I wanted to play it. Out of curiosity, I pressed the blue triangular button located to the left. Just then, the blue triangle on the left side of the maze flashed, and each blue ghost close to it was destroyed. I did the same thing with every other button, and in accordance, each ghost was destroyed. So this game was interesting to look at, easy to figure out, and overall fun? What part of it wasn’t normal?
I continued playing for what felt like an hour, and I was having a blast while doing so, completely forgetting about the situation I was in. Racking up points had never been this fun before. Along the way, I discovered the objective of the game. Essentially you had to keep the ghosts from covering the map in white tiles, presumably ectoplasm or something of that nature. I’m not entirely sure, it was from the 80s, people had to use their imagination back then when it came to stuff like that. Eventually, the map was covered in white tiles, and I was promptly given a “game over”, followed by my high score.
113,990 points. Not too shabby if I do say so myself.
After that, I was taken back to the title screen. I was fully prepared to play the game again, until I noticed something a bit off. The command “press enter to begin” beneath the logo kept flickering, often showing a single phrase in its place.
“Do you fear God?”
A chill went down my spine, and I backed away from the machine a bit. About as soon as I did so, the machine quickly rebooted, and took itself back to the normal title screen. I took a quick glance around the dimly lit room. It felt like someone, or something, was watching me. I wasn’t sure what to do at that point. It’s not like I had any other options but to play the game again. So, with hesitation, I pressed “ENTER”.
It didn’t take long for me to get sucked back into the game. I continued playing for about five minutes or so, until I noticed something rather new that I hadn’t seen before. In addition to the three other kinds of ghosts roaming around the maze, a red one joined in, moving about in a frantic manner. This was odd, considering there were no red shapes in the maze, so I wasn’t sure if there was a method to destroying this ghost in particular. I waited for it to get close enough to one of the other shapes, and pressed a button in hopes of destroying it. It worked, but the game rebooted almost immediately afterwards, taking me back to the title screen, this time with a dark red filter on it.
I assumed I had just found a glitch or something, so I pressed “ENTER” in hopes of playing the game as normal, but the red filter remained. Just then, the startup music played once more, except it essentially fell apart as it progressed, resulting in an ear-piercing mess. With the red filter still intact, the ghosts were almost impossible to differentiate. I did the best I could to get a decent score, but I kept using the wrong buttons to destroy the wrong ghosts. This lasted for about a minute, until I eventually got frustrated and gave up, resulting in a “game over”. Instead of taking me to the scoring screen, the game instead took me to a pitch black screen, sporting nothing but faint static. The game was broken.
Or so I thought.
After a few seconds, a red angular head began to emerge from the blackness, its design reminiscent of the game Battlezone in the sense that it was vectored. I waited for a few more seconds until it was completely visible, and it just sat there. I continued waiting, in hopes that something else would happen, but no. Nothing happened. At least, until I pressed “ENTER”. About as soon as I pressed the button, a phrase appeared under the head.
“Do you fear God?”
Another chill went down my spine. What was the importance of this phrase, and why was it being repeated? I didn’t know, and at that point I didn’t care. I just wanted to get the hell out of there. Almost immediately after the thought of running away entered my mind, the door to the back room unlocked and flung open, with the mall owner standing in the doorway. He paused for a few seconds, before he spoke, quivering in fear.
“What have you done?”
I redirected my gaze back to the machine, only to find the head inching closer and closer to the screen, along with static that grew in volume until it was almost deafening. I panicked, and turned to rush out of the room, shoving the mall owner out of my way in the process. I ran as fast as I could out of the room, only caring about getting away, until I heard the owner yelling after me. I stopped dead in my tracks, full of anger and disbelief, until I turned around and saw the single most disturbing thing I’d ever seen.
It was the owner, standing there with a wide toothless grin, along with gaping holes for eyes. I felt my heart beating out of my chest. I went to turn back around and book it to my car, but before I did so, he spoke once more.
“God has a special plan for you.”
Credit : GameNWatch
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