Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Part 6: The Marathon

Adam and Brian had never met in real life before that afternoon. It was rather awkward, Brian reported, but Adam seemed eager to get right to work when he arrived.

As they sat down on the couch in Adam’s basement, it quickly sunk in for both of them how little a plan they had. Adam had his knife and Brian had his tape recorder, but neither of them had any idea what they would do if The Princess actually appeared. Up to this point, all anyone wanted to know was what exactly The Princess was. So…do they just ask her? How would they communicate? What would they say?

These were mostly Brian’s questions. Adam was more focused on how they would react if The Princess turned hostile. Brian didn’t even want to consider the possibility. For a second, there was a period of silence. They both knew they had a chance to back out.

The society was waiting, though.

With a deep breath, they put in the first game off the stack. Brian idly started taking some notes on the afternoon’s events while Adam played. His notes read…

Super Mario 64: Played 20 minutes. No sign.

War Gods: Played 15 minutes. No sign.

Chameleon Twist: Played 25 minutes. No sign.

F-Zero: Played 5 minutes, realized it would be a really hard game for The Princess to manifest in.

Harvest Moon 64: Played 10 minutes, got too frustrated trying to explain game to Adam.

Snowboard Kids 2: Played 35 minutes. No sign. Also this game rules.

Goldeneye: Played 20 minutes. No sign.

Earthworm Jim 3D: Fuck this game.

Goemon’s Great Adventure: Played 20 minutes. No sign. Mistook a girl in a town for The Princess, but it wasn’t her.

Blast Corps: Played 14 minutes until game randomly locked up. Princess?

Snowboard Kids 2: Played 20 more minutes. No sign.

Game after game, they worked through their stack. Every single time, there was no sign of The Princess anywhere.

The sun was setting with no data collected. Adam and Brian didn’t say it, but it was actually a relief to be able to go back to the board and say The Princess didn’t show. They’d tempted the beast and lived to tell about it. That was enough for them. They were ready to bail.

But there was one game left. Ocarina of Time.

Brian had put it on the bottom of the stack in the hopes that they might not get to it. Even with what little data the society had in these early years, they knew Ocarina of Time meant something special to The Princess. They couldn’t leave until they’d at least taken a peek. Ten minutes. No, five! Just enough to be sure she wasn’t there.

The game took a little longer to boot up than normal.

At first, the game seemed normal enough. The duo walked Link from one end of Hyrule to the other. They were both noticing the subtle increases in transition times between areas, but neither said anything. The Princess hadn’t appeared. The game was still largely normal. Maybe the cart was just old. Maybe the missing textures on that Peahat were just a fluke.

They’d been sitting in silence for ten whole minutes without realizing. Adam broke it. “She’s toying with us. She knows we know she’s here.”

"You don't know that."

"You wanna explain these load times?"

“But she wouldn't play with us like this. Is that a thing she does? Isn't she just like a glitch ghost or something?”

Adam didn’t answer. He walked Link slowly through Kakariko Village, he and Brian scanning every inch of the screen.

Brian saw her first.

At least, he thought he did, out of the corner of his eye. “There! She’s there!” he shouted. Adam shook his head, replying it’s just the girl who makes you chase cuckoos. He panned the camera back to illustrate. Indeed, The Princess wasn’t there. However, the cuckoo girl wasn’t, either. There was no one there.

“So what do we do, now?”

“You think I know?”

“Let’s shut the game off. No one’ll know.”

“No. We’re finding her.”

With that, Adam ran Link into the Graveyard. Brian noticed Adam checking his knife.

From that point on, it was like so many Princess stories. Textures disappearing, music not loading, transitions not going to the proper place, everything we’d come to expect. The only difference was The Princess wasn’t appearing. In fact, no one was appearing. Every time they’d revisit an area, fewer and fewer NPCs would be there. Shops and houses were empty. Even enemies weren’t spawning anymore. Those that did appear usually did so missing all their textures, appearing blank white and unable to interact with the player.

And yet, no Princess. Link stood alone in the middle of the village. Adam had had enough, slamming his controller down and shouting at the screen.

“We just want to talk!”

No reply.

“Why are you doing this?”

No reply. Adam's voice suddenly took a deep, deathly serious tone.

“Answer us or we turn off the game.”

Brian couldn’t help but shoot a confused glance at Adam. He saw Adam just glaring at the screen, deep in concentration. But, whatever the reason for what Adam said, it worked. Link immediately fell right through the ground, as if though into a hole.

There was a long period of darkness, or loading if you prefer.

And there she was. The Princess, just as everyone had described her. With her red hair and white dress, she was hovering in the middle of a Great Fairy Fountain. Adam made Link approach her slowly. With the fairy fountain music playing, the atmosphere was so peaceful, so serene, Brian almost felt as though The Princess were welcoming them.

This was what Brian had hoped for. This was finally their chance to talk. The Princess was going to tell them everything.

Yeah, I already mentioned Adam dies, so you can imagine how well this goes.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Part 5: The Mistake

In the early days, so I’ve been told, The Princess Society was very different. The society was formed around 2003 by a small collection of gamers, all of whom had seen The Princess at some point. Apparently it grew out of a discussion on GameFAQs where one poster excitedly recounted his experience with a strange glitched character model, only to be amazed that a couple others had seen the exact same thing in several other games.

At first, they assumed this was some sort of easter egg. A bit like the Wilhelm Scream, game designers were putting this model into the code of various games as a joke. But the stories were too elaborate for something like that. Moreover, the way this character appeared was never quite the same, even in the same game. As more and more stories were added, it became clear this character calling herself The Princess had more to her. Whether or not she was "alive," no one was certain, but what was certain was that more investigation was needed.

This handful of gamers opened The Princess Society board for a single purpose, to perform “experiments” regarding The Princess phenomenon and record any findings. Members would play games obsessively in the hopes of drawing The Princess out. Then, upon encountering her, they would invariably chicken out and turn the game off before giving an exaggerated account of the night’s events to their fellow society members. No rules were being written and nothing was really getting cataloged. It was all done in the spirit of fun, like kids saying “Bloody Mary” in a mirror or something. More than any sort of investigation, they were doing it for the thrill.

This was before they knew The Princess could kill people.

As the group became closer and closer friends, they started to reveal more about themselves to each other. Real names came out, ages, genders and even the cities in which they lived. Eventually, two society members realized they lived very close to each other; within walking distance, in fact. No two society members had ever met in real life before, so this was treated as an exciting new possibility. What would happen if two society members played a game together to try and draw The Princess out? They could provide each other moral support as well as a little strength in numbers. While The Princess had never exhibited any true hostility, there was always a vaguely unsettling quality to her appearances, so it was agreed that two people working together were the best way to attempt deeper communication with The Princess, just for safety’s sake.

We’ll call the two society members Adam and Brian.

The plan was simple. Brian would go to Adam’s house one afternoon with a stack of N64 games. The two of them would play game after game in the stack until The Princess showed herself. And, this being the important part, they would not chicken out. They would not shut off the game. They would keep each other calm and allow the game to run. Even if the screen froze or got filled with garbage, they were prepared to leave it on to see if there was something on the other side.

Anticipation grew as the day approached. The society was convinced that everything would be revealed with this experience. No one knew how The Princess would react to such direct confrontation, but everyone wanted to know. Adam mentioned that he was going to keep a knife handy in case “anything went wrong.” Brian was bringing a tape recorder in case The Princess had any sort of message. Neither of them owned a video camera, and cameras in general weren’t quite as ubiquitous as they are today.

It’s debatable how much a camera would have helped anyway.

The day finally arrived with much fanfare on the society message board. A “Good Luck Team” banner went up on the board’s main index. There was a pool going on whether or not the team would get any useful information or if they’d just wuss out immediately and shut off the game. “Wuss out” was in the lead by a good margin.

Adam and Brian had both agreed that they would check in around 6 PM whether or not they’d found anything, so society members all made sure to log in at 6 PM for the news. It was like New Year’s, with everyone counting down. 5...4...3...2...1...

6 PM hit. Nothing.

There were two theories, either something had gone wrong, or Adam and Brian had established contact with The Princess and couldn’t get away to write anything yet. At the very least, the “wuss out” predictions were looking less and less likely. Something was clearly going on. Excitement just got greater as the society members considered the possibilities of this delay.

7 PM hit. Nothing.

A few people were starting to get worried at this point. Could an encounter with The Princess really tie a person up this long? People were starting to swing more towards the possibility that something bad might have happened, though no one could think of what. There was speculation that "she got them," but what did that even mean? Up until this point she'd just been an off-looking model in a video game.

8 PM hit. Nothing.

It was around this time that an “RIP Adam and Brian” thread was made on the board as a joke. I think people wanted to laugh at it because they didn’t want to consider what was on the backs of all their minds. Fake eulogies were said, jokes about how Adam should have kept an NES Zapper on him were made. People were starting to get desperate for distractions while they waited for some sort of news.

They waited until midnight.

Actually, they waited for a week and a half. Midnight of that night was just when most of them logged off. Ostensibly, it was to go to sleep, but I doubt any of them slept well that night. For a week and a half neither Adam nor Brian logged in. Admins watched their accounts day and night for any sign of activity. People sent worried emails to the both of them and tried to contact them on AIM. It was like they had just disappeared…at least, from the internet.

After a week and a half, Brian logged in. Users saw he was logged in before he even posted anything, opening a thread called “BRIAN!!” and demanding he tell them what had happened. Brian only made one post.

“adam is dead. the princess is evil. if you see her turn off the game”

And he logged back off.

The forums exploded, as one might expect. Was this some kind of prank? Why wouldn’t he say what happened? How did Adam die? Where had Brian been? Did they learn anything about The Princess?

Brian would return to the forums to answer these questions six months later. Six months may seem like a long time, but he had good reason. He had only just been cleared of charges for Adam’s murder.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Part 4: The Rules

Through the trading and analysis of stories, we eventually worked out a series of “rules” regarding The Princess. These “rules” were really just constants we noticed between stories. The rules, I feel, were the best and worst part of the society. They were the best part of the society because they actually provided pretty solid advice for dealing with The Princess and staying safe should she appear. They were the worst part of the society because having these rules made us feel safe. We started to think that just because we’d written these rules, The Princess was somehow obligated to obey them. But, with the number of times these rules had to be re-written, it was increasingly obvious our petty analysis was barely scratching the surface.

The following are the rules in their latest incarnation, taken more-or-less directly from the board (with some fixing and explaining from me).


If you see her, you’re safe if you turn off the game. She has no power if you turn off the game. You can turn it right back on without fear. She’ll be gone. Note that you must turn the game completely off, meaning powering down your console. If you encounter her in a PC game, quitting the application should be enough, but this seems to vary by program so your best bet is just to shut the computer off for a second.


There doesn’t appear to be any video game, or type of video game, in which she straight-up cannot appear. She has strong preferences, but not limits. She only ever appears in video games.


The Princess comes for those who look for her. If you specifically play a game trying to see her, she is very likely to appear. To a lesser extent, simply thinking about her seems to increase her chance to appear. For this reason, she has a tendency to appear to people multiple times.


Her preference for games appears to be largely chronological. She appears most frequently in N64 and PS1 games. Going further back or forward in era, she becomes less and less likely to appear. Her “favorite” game appears to be Ocarina of Time. We have more Ocarina of Time sightings of her than any other game by a wide margin.


Any browser game, online multiplayer game, or game that otherwise streams a significant amount of data from the internet seems to keep her at bay. LANs also seem to hold her off to a lesser extent.


The Princess can absolutely appear even if you aren’t alone. Being with a friend will not keep her away.


The Princess doesn’t always directly appear the moment she enters the game, so be wary. Other signs she’s entered a game are increased load times, music and sound distortions, graphical glitches (especially the failure of graphics to load), AI glitches (especially the disabling of AI) and the removal of text.


Always be aware that The Princess seems to be able to see you, the player, while she is in your game. She has been known to react directly to things players say or do. You can quickly make a situation far worse by saying the wrong thing. If you are trying to establish communication, keep it to simple and innocuous questions.


She can, if sufficiently provoked, kill players. She does this rarely, but this must always be kept in mind, because next to nothing is known about how or why she does it. It does not appear to be related to the amount of time one spends playing. It does not appear to be related to the type of person you are. For now, it must be assumed it occurs at The Princess’ inscrutable whim.

RULE 10:

You cannot fight her. Once she begins whatever she does that kills her victims, there appears to be no way to fight back or resist. It is not currently known how she kills players. There is evidence to suggest that something physical appears in the room with the player, brutalizes their body, and disappears. There is nothing that directly indicates “The Princess jumps out of the TV and beats you to death.” This is just a theory.

RULE 11:

If you ever, ever get the sense while encountering The Princess that she is trying to communicate with you, be extremely careful. If necessary, log onto this board and ask your fellow society members for advice. You are in a very dangerous situation and it is likely you could trigger The Princess’ kill ability very easily. You could also provide the key to unlocking this entire mystery. Please consider what you do very carefully.

RULE 12:

The following theories are wild conjecture and, while often brought up on this board, should not be taken as fact.

-“The Princess can only enter one game at a time.” While this certainly seems likely, there’s no way to test it

-“The Princess steals your soul if she kills you.” All the evidence we have suggests that those she kills are, simply, dead.

-“The Princess is the ghost of Mr. Carver’s daughter.” (My Note: I’ll get into who Mr. Carver is a few parts from now.) There is nothing to suggest The Princess is the ghost of anyone, or even a ghost at all.

-“You can’t just turn off the game. You have to unplug it.” On modern consoles, The Princess has been shown capable of preventing the system from powering down naturally (as this is accomplished by a program and not a simple switch being flipped). In those cases, it is indeed usually necessary to unplug the console. You don’t need to do this for EVERY console, though, and The Princess has only overridden a modern console’s natural power-down sequence once on record.

-“Attacking The Princess’ avatar in a game ‘hurts’ her.” While it does occasionally seem to aggravate her, there is nothing to suggest that The Princess could be injured or destroyed simply by attacking her with in-game weapons.

-“The Princess will be destroyed when someone figures out her true name.” This is just a rumor that got way, way out of hand.

-“I could totally fight off The Princess if she attacked me.” You are welcome to test this theory, but do not expect to be correct.

Part 3: The Stories

The Princess Society was, simply put, a bunch of idiots.

I couldn’t really blame them. These weren’t people brought together because they were problem solvers. They were just random gamers who’d all happened to encounter the same thing. I was only twenty when I first joined, but I was actually one of the older members. Most of The Princess Society was still in high school. Of course, in spite of this, they still liked to act as though they were superspies figuring out some ancient mystery. They’d obsess about installing apps to make their board (marginally) harder to find by search. They’d write up and edit lists of complex rules about how to deal with The Princess should you encounter her. One person even took to backing up the board on an external hard drive so there would “be a record in case she got us.” The fact that we didn’t have a damn clue what we were doing was generally brushed aside.

What we spent the majority of our time doing was just swapping stories. Everyone had their own Princess story they were proud of telling. I’ll admit it was rather fascinating. Most of the stories were like mine, vaguely creepy but nothing horrifying. Here are a few I remember, heavily abridged.

Wild 00000000! – While playing Pokemon Blue on an emulator, a player encountered a tile in the middle of the road in Celadon City which could not be walked on. The tile appeared empty, but resisted attempts to enter it as though an NPC was there. The player eventually realized he could talk to this blank square, but all it opened was a blank dialogue box. Moving on, the player noticed periods of silence between music transitions, which were getting longer and longer. After a while, NPCs stopped responding and animating, and some building textures were being replaced with nonsense.

As the player considered resetting the emulator, he absent-mindedly walked back to the location of the invisible Celadon NPC. On that space he now found a “fuzzy” sprite of a girl. The moment he approached her, she got an exclamation mark over her head and ran at him, acting like a rival trainer. Unlike most rival trainers, she actually walked INTO the player sprite before opening a blank dialogue box. After a battle transition, the player found himself fighting a “Wild 00000000!” with the sprite of what the player said at the time looked like an angel with no face. She behaved mostly like one of those Ghosts that can only be unmasked with the Sylph Scope. Pokemon were too afraid to fight her and instead of attacking she opened dialogue boxes of garbage characters. Eventually one of these boxes froze the game on a high-pitched whining sound, at which point the player just reset the emulator.

The player remembers that there was a lingering effect on his file from this. His character’s name was now blank. Specifically, it had been replaced by five spaces.

A Face in the Crowd – Now, I actually forget which game this was. It wasn't the one pictured above, I don't think. It was some WWE wrestling game on the original Xbox. Apparently, this player booted up an exhibition match only to realize the crowd wasn’t animating during the introductions. They were frozen still. Also, no sounds of cheering were playing. It was just the entrance music and sound effects.

When the match began, the player noticed someone out in the crowd. It was a 3D polygonal model of a girl with white hair and a red dress, who stood out immensely because the normal crowd was just 2D sprites. She was actually animated, and would turn her head to follow the movements of the first-player wrestler. Sometimes she would fidget her arms for some unknown reason. Most of the time she just held her arms straight out to her sides.

Though they both started the match at full health, both wrestlers immediately began acting as though they’d taken a heavy beating, clutching their chests and limping towards each other. Despite this, both wrestlers were suddenly far more resilient than usual, and the match just went on and on. It had also somehow turned into a submission-only match, with all ref features turned off. By the time the player finally forced his opponent to tap out, both wrestlers had pretty much every possible “battle damage” decal the game could put on them. They both looked like bloody pulps.

Once the match ended, a low droning of what sounded like improperly-mixed crowd sounds kicked in as the player-one wrester did his victory pose. After that, a menu appeared. The player realized he couldn’t move the menu selector off of “Rematch” no matter what button he pressed.

Dreamland Nightmare - Playing Vigilante 8 (a car combat game in the vein of Twisted Metal) on the N64, a player encountered The Princess standing around (in her usual pose) in the Casino City map during Johnny Torque’s campaign. Thinking she was some kind of easter egg, player’s first inclination was to shoot her, at which point she exploded like any other destructible object.

The player finished the map as normal, but when the next map began to load, there was no “story summary” screen like normal. Instead, it was a corrupted image with a blank space where text should be. This screen lasted about twenty seconds, during which time the player was convinced his game had frozen. It hadn’t.

The “mission” began with the player, as Johnny Torque, on the “Super Dreamland” map. This map, for those who don’t know, is a bonus map only available in the N64 version of the game. It’s basically a joke map made to look like a cartoon fantasy kingdom, in contrast to the rest of the game’s 1970s grindhouse aesthetic. The map, however, was very different from usual. There was no music playing, but even more unsettling, the lighting was way off. As the player described it “It was night, or supposed to be night, I think. As close as the game could get. It was like a video game version of day-for-night movie scenes.”

The player drove around a bit. At first, it seemed like there were no enemies, but after some searching the player found that Beezwax and Dave were sitting on their spawn points, not moving. They appeared to have no AI. The player rammed them a couple times to see if they would react, but they didn’t. Eventually, he tried blowing them up to see if they would respawn with the proper AI or something. Nothing that simple, unfortunately.

The moment the player defeated Beezwax, the Super Dreamland music began playing very loudly and full of audio artifacting. The player looked around for Beezwax’s respawn, but instead saw what appeared to be a glowing car driving around on the other end of the map. On closer inspection, the car wasn’t glowing so much as the weird night-time filter wasn’t mapping to it, making it appear a lot brighter than everything else. This car didn’t match any other vehicle in the game, looking like a boxy, untextured mess of polygons in a vague car-ish shape.

The mystery car had actual enemy AI, though it was erratic. It was constantly ramming into walls and trying to drive places it couldn’t. It would only get it together to attack if the player got very close. Even then, it would just kind of spam weapons without much strategy or attempt at aiming. Overall, a very weak opponent, made weaker by the quick discovery that it could be killed with one hit. By anything.

But it had a trick. For every one of these vehicles the player destroyed, several more would appear. It seemed to be anywhere from two to four new ones appearing every time one was destroyed. Stopping attacking didn’t help the situation, because the vehicles were attacking and destroying each other, too. Very quickly the map exceeded the usual maximum of vehicles and the already-weak framerate plummeted.

It should be noted that, this entire time, the Super Dreamland music was getting louder, slower and glitchier. It was actually the overwhelming music that eventually forced the player to shut off the game. By the end, the player says the music was just a high-pitched screech that almost sounded like a voice.

Peek-a-boo! - A short one, but an important lesson was learned from it. A player encountered The Princess while playing the first Portal on his PC. In this case, the player in question was already a member of The Princess Society and immediately quit the game upon seeing her. (She was in one of the offices near the end of the game, if you’re curious.)

The player immediately went to the Princess Society message board to log his sighting. While typing his post, he heard a voice very clearly through his headphones.

“I see you.”

It was the sentry turret dialogue. The player immediately shut off his computer, realizing that just quitting the game wasn’t enough.

And most of the stories were just like that. A lot of them ended with the player’s game freezing or becoming so unplayable the player turned the game off. Very few ended quite as dramatically as mine. However, as I’ll get into later, my story was also unique in a much more important way.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Part 2: The Society

Of course, after my experience, I made sure to tell absolutely everyone what had happened. I told my parents, my sister, the kids at school, and even made a huge post on that message board I frequented. For obvious reasons, no one I told believed me. (Well, a couple of people on the message board believed me, but you can find people to believe anything on the internet.) Honestly, I couldn't blame them.

As the weeks turned into months, even I started to question what I’d seen. It was so nonsensical, how could it have happened? I do have vivid dreams, sometimes, and scary ones too. I’ve had dreams where I’d get shot or stabbed and be absolutely certain I was going to die. I would feel energy slowly leaving my body, start lamenting how I never properly said goodbye to my family, try desperately to think of how to get the most out of my final seconds…and then my watch would go off and it’d be time for breakfast. I’ve never suffered a wound that severe in real life, but somehow, it’s like my mind knew how it feels to die.

I’m…getting sidetracked here. My point is that I wondered if the incident with the video game was just one of those vivid nightmares. It felt about as real. I didn’t remember waking up afterwards, though.

After about six months I just kinda dropped the whole thing. No one was listening and it wasn’t worth the effort anymore. I hadn’t had anything like it happen since, so I stopped telling people my video game ghost story and went back to leading a normal life.

Seven years passed. (This has nothing to do with Ocarina of Time and the similarity is complete coincidence.) I was now a college student struggling with a degree in film. I’d always wanted to get into video games, truth be told, but I just never had the head for programming. I’d programmed exactly one video game in my life, and all it boiled down to was watching four circles race from one side of the screen to the other. It was less fun than it sounds.

Completely out of the blue, seven years since I'd thought of that afternoon, I received a message on Instant Messenger. (This was a few years ago, when people still used Instant Messenger.) The following conversation occurred. This is not a transcript and is instead done from memory. When you read it, keep in mind that the actual person’s grammar was much, much worse.

Person: You’re not alone.

Me: Thanks. Who is this?

Person: Remember that incident seven years ago?

Me: I think you messaged the wrong person, guy.

Person: No. Ocarina of Time. The girl with the red hair.

At this point I had to pause for a second. I hadn’t even thought about this for years. I became very agitated for some reason, more than I probably should have. Still, polite to the last, I repressed my urge to type “HOW THE FUCK DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THAT?!” in all caps and tried to hear him out.

Me: Where did you hear about that?

Person: We found your old post. It’s archived. Everything is. We’re good at finding stuff.

Me: Why? And who’s “we?”

Person: She’s real.

There was about a thirty second pause here. I think the person was expecting me to reply with something like “What!?” Or “No fucking way!” Honestly, I wasn’t sure how to respond.

Me: Go on.

Person: You really saw what you think you saw. She’s called “The Princess.” We’ve all seen her.

Me: Again, who’s “we?”

Person: We need you. Come here.

He then posted a URL. I was dubious, but if he knew about my story, at the very least he wasn’t some spam bot trying to get me to buy cheap pills. I took a breath and clicked. I probably should have taken a deeper breath, because I was immediately confronted with an image of the girl I’d seen seven years ago. It was a screencap of her from the game. The red hair, the white dress, the creepy arms-out pose, the face…no, wait. In this picture, the polygons for her face were simply missing, allowing you to see inside her head. Her hair and dress looked different, too, and it looked like she might be missing a hand. Was it the same girl?

It took me a second, but I finally noticed the background of the picture. There was some kind of building behind her, but not anything I recognized from Ocarina of Time. It wasn’t even the same style. SThis screencap wasn’t from Ocarina of Time at all. It was from Megaman Legends.

She was in Megaman Legends.

I shook my head. I wanted to wake up. This wasn't possible. I'd spent six and a half years convinced it was all just a bad dream. Now I was seeing it in front of me, but not just what I'd seen seven years ago. This one screenshot implied something far worse, something that would soon be confirmed.

My eyes moved down the page, and I finally realized what I was seeing. This image was the header for a message board. It was a crappy-looking board, using some ready-made template, and with only one forum called “The Meeting Room.” Inside, a stickied thread with an all caps title begged for my attention. “NEW HERE? READ THIS!”

So I read it. This is a direct copy-paste of the thread’s message, which remains on the forum to this day. Pardon any spelling and grammar issues. I didn’t write it.

If you’re here, it’s because you’ve seen her, the girl with red hair and a white dress. She appeared to you in a video game you were playing, perhaps recently, perhaps years ago. Either way, you are now one of us. We are “The Princess Society.”

First, let me make one thing clear. She’s real. It wasn't a dream or a hallucination. You aren't crazy. Second, she’s dangerous. You should consider it a blessing that you saw her and lived. It means you had the sense to shut off the game. Not everyone can say the same. We know of at least two cases where players who encountered her did not shut off their game, and they are no longer with us.

Here’s what we know: We know she appears in video games. I don’t know what game you saw her in, but she isn’t confined to it. She can appear in any video game. There are some types of games she seems to prefer, and some from which she seems to stay away, but it can be any game, on any system, from any era. She never looks exactly the same twice, but her red hair and white dress are constants. We know she usually gives an “unfinished” appearance.

We know she calls herself “The Princess.” We know she can alter and glitch games in unpredictable ways. We know that if you allow this to continue for too long, something happens. We don’t know what happens, but those to whom it happens turn up dead, often in ways that suggest they died in great pain.

This is not a ghost story or a game. This is a very real danger. At any time, anyone playing a video game could encounter her. This is why we exist. We have to stop her. Somehow. Someway. We’ve all come together to put an end to this and try to keep her from claiming anyone else.

Now, there’s some bad news we must break to all members. You’re a target now. We have reason to believe that thinking about her or being aware of her makes her more likely to appear. As such, if she appears to you once, she’ll be increasingly likely to come back. This is also why you must never tell anyone about her. Just knowing about her puts people at greater risk. It’s too late for you, but not for those you care about. Please, tell them nothing. Delete any online posts you’ve made about her. Don’t tell anyone or you put them in danger.

We’re trying to find a solution. We’re trying to find a way to either fight her or communicate with her or do SOMETHING to put an end to all this. The more minds we have, the more chance we have to stop her. We need your help, and you need ours.

You don’t need to be afraid. You have our support now. You don’t need to stop playing video games or hide in a shack or anything crazy. She can’t hurt you if you remember one thing.


My life was never going to be the same.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Part 1: The Girl

I think we’re all familiar with a game called Ocarina of Time. It was one of the most celebrated, beloved, and just plain good games of its time. Everyone was playing it. Every video game news outlet was talking about it. One of my first experiences online was joining a message board for an Ocarina of Time fansite. It’s a game tons of gamers know inside and out. And, if there’s one downside to knowing a game inside and out, it’s that there can be no more surprises.

As a matter of fact, there can always be surprises.

In a situation I imagine is familiar to most of you, I was 13 years old, alone in my living room playing Ocarina of Time. I’d beaten it. I’d caught the Skulltulas. I think I was missing a heart piece but eh, who has time to call up GameFAQs when there’s zombies to mow down on your horse? Just a peaceful night of skeleton smashing. And that’s when I saw…it.

“It” was something that wasn’t there before. No, something that was never there before. In the middle of the field, plain as day, an NPC I’d never seen in the game. Just standing there. Not moving. I was certainly surprised. Could it be? No, there’s no way. That doesn’t make sense. There’s never anyone out here.

Of course, Ocarina of Time was still new enough that there was still the off chance this was an in-game event. I did have the game nearly one-hundred-percented. Maybe I’d unlocked something no one else knew about. Or…no, maybe it’s just the postman. It can’t be, though. It’s not moving. It’s kinda…floating.

This was the point at which I should have shut off the game.

But, of course, I had to investigate. If this was some never-before-seen game event, I had to go check it out. My excitement was tempered as I drew closer to this…person. With every stride of my horse, it became increasingly clear something was wrong. The NPC was a girl, with red hair and a white dress, suspended slightly off the ground. She was completely motionless, not even her hair or clothes idly animating in the breeze. Her feet were together, standing on nothing, and her arms were stretched far out to her sides. Of course, this image immediately called crucifixion to my young mind, which was somewhat unsettling. This was not helped by the fact that, on closer inspection, the girl had no face.

She had a little polygon for a nose, but no face texture. In fact, her white dress looked more untextured than intentionally white. The more I looked at her, the more she looked just…unfinished. Polygons on the back of her legs were missing, allowing me to see right through them. Attempts to talk to or interact with her were fruitless. Link and all other objects just clipped through. At this point I had come to the conclusion that she was just some bit of beta information the game had loaded up. I was big into digging up cool beta stuff from games, so this all started making sense for me. The game had spawned an unfinished NPC, probably in place of the postman. No big deal.

This would have been another good point to shut off the game.

I kept playing. Exiting and re-entering Hyrule Field, the girl was no longer there. I was already writing in my head the post I was going to make about this on the Ocarina of Time fansite board. This was the age when it was kinda thrilling to see a game goof like that, rather than just an annoyance. As the sun rose and the zombies fell away, I rode off to find more adventure. Dinnertime was still hours away.

But, as I continued to play, the game started to…change on me. The first thing I noticed was the loading. N64 games traditionally had almost no loading, but suddenly the game was getting hung up on transitions between areas way more than normal. Not long by today’s standards, but a five second wait on the N64 felt like an eternity. Secondly, when an area would load, the music wouldn’t load with it. There would be a period of silence and then the music would kick in. It wasn’t always the right music, either. The Hyrule Overworld was the most frequent to start playing, no matter where I was. The Gerudo Fortress theme also came up a lot. Notably, whenever I went inside a house or shop, there would be no music.

At this point, it still just seemed like I was experiencing some kind of ROM glitch. That changed when I decided to check out what music would play at Kokiri Village.

The answer was none. No music played when I entered and no music started no matter how long I waited. No ambient sounds, either. That wasn’t it, though. Something else was wrong. There was no sound, but there was also no movement. All the Kokiri, on closer inspection, were stuck in the same arms-out pose as that mystery NPC. They didn’t move or turn to look at me or anything. They just stared straight ahead, arms out. I couldn’t even talk to them. (The “Speak” prompt appeared, but pressing it didn’t do anything.) Rather strangely, though they were all positioned roughly where they would be normally, the direction they faced was sometimes off. Some Kokiri were intently staring at a wall, or turned such that one of their arms clipped through the side of a cliff.

It took a little time for me to register that the reason for this was that they were all facing a single location. That mystery NPC was back. She was hovering a little off the ground in front of Link’s house. Every Kokiri was staring at her.

This time she was different. She looked the same, but now the moment I got near her Navi started hovering around her, indicating she was a “real” NPC. Trying to just walk up and talk to her didn’t work. The moment Link would get near her, he took damage and flew backwards. However, this being Ocarina of Time, I decided to try Z-targeting her and talking to her from a few feet away.

Immediately, my framerate dropped to single digits and the sound effects went choppy. In addition to the “opening a dialogue box” sound, a bunch of other weird sound effects seemed to be playing. High-pitched buzzing and what I think were some voice sounds from Princess Zelda. I was very certain the game was just going to freeze…but it didn’t. Instead, a dialogue box opened, and the girl said the following…

“He's not moving anymore....”

“Eh, what? Are you sad? Happy? I really can't tell...”

“Looks like you're coming around...”

“That's an unpleasant mask...Good-bye.”

And the dialogue box closed. I heard a strange, high-pitched sound effect as the girl’s model began to shake in place. I ran. I left Kokiri forest. This would have been a very, very good time to turn off the game.

From this point on, the game became less and less stable. Doors and transitions between areas no longer went to the proper place. I believe, upon leaving Kokiri forest, I immediately appeared in the Graveyard. That kid was there, in the same arms-out position. Talking to him made him say the same thing he always says, but only once. After that, he ceased to be targetable.

I won’t summarize the entire next half hour, partly because I don’t remember it all, and partly because it was a lot of the same stuff. Nearly every NPC I encountered was in that arms-out position. Those that weren’t were still usually frozen in place, facing the wrong way or doing something else out of the ordinary. Enemies were either non-existent (failing to spawn, I guess) or similarly frozen. I encountered some tektites frozen in midair on Death Mountain which damaged me if I touched them, but couldn’t be hurt themselves. As time went on the game just started falling apart. Whole textures or polygons would just be missing. Sound effects would play a few seconds after they were supposed to. Pre-rendered backgrounds failed to appear entirely. And, finally, I was left in a black void.

Well, not really. I was in a black void, but the location text said “Marketplace.” Apparently all the textures and pre-rendered backgrounds had failed to load. No music. No sounds other than my footsteps. The Marketplace NPCs were there, strangely not with their arms out as I’d come to expect. They were animated normally, and could be spoken to. However, they all said the same thing, after which they would stop moving.

“Please look out for the Princess!“

After talking to this last NPC, the redead scream sound started playing. The model of the girl with red hair appeared…somewhere out in the void. Without animating, all the townspeople in unison turned to look at her. I think I lost control of Link at this point. The last thing I remember was him turning towards her with the other townsfolk. He may have started to walk towards her, too. He let out a scream like he was being hurt.

This was a very, very good time to turn off the game. And I did.

And that was that. I didn’t play Ocarina of Time for a month. When I switched it back on, there was no hint of oddness.

Were this a simple ghost story, this is where it would end. My one brush with the paranormal. Sadly, that was far from the end. This was only my first experience with an entity we know as “The Princess.” As for who “we” are, I’ll get to that next time.

Oh, and needless to say, there’s no scrapped model of a girl with red hair and a white dress anywhere in the code of Ocarina of Time.

Part 0: The Opening

What I’m about to tell you could put you in great danger. It could also save your life. There’s a truth to the idea that what you don’t know can’t hurt you. In this case, one might say that what you don’t know is less likely to be able to hurt you. It’s a chance I have to take. If you’re the type of person who could be warned sharks exist without immediately diving into the ocean to try and find one, please keep reading.

This is a story. I apologize for its length. I’ll divide it up into segments to make it an easier read. The story is necessary to give context to a warning. You might want me to skip directly to the warning. I can’t. It wouldn’t make sense. You wouldn’t understand the reasoning. Worst of all, the warning alone would leave you with too many questions, and you might start prying further. As they say, curiosity killed the cat.

Specifically, curiosity has killed at least four people thus far, but I’m getting way ahead of myself. We must first begin with my personal story…