If you play video games, you get used to accepting some strange premises. For example, just take a look at the story behind Super Mario Bros. But some games still have the ability to surprise when it comes to weird ideas. Some succeed at creating worthwhile experiences, while others fail horribly. With some help from Reddit, we’ve compiled a list of 10 of the strangest video games ever that you probably never heard about.
1. Polybius (1981)
This arcade game spawned several “remakes,” even though the original never actually existed. According to an urban legend, the game was used by the government to conduct a psychological experiment on the public.
The story goes like this… In 1981, the game appeared in several arcades in Portland, Oregon. Players became addicted and experienced side effects such as hallucinations and amnesia. “Men in Black” then visited the machines to collect data. The game was removed from the arcades one month after the experiment began.
One explanation for the legend’s origin is that it is based on two unrelated events. First, in 1981, two gamers at Portland arcades fell ill on the same day. One collapsed with a migraine headache after playing Tempest, and another had stomach pain after playing Asteroids for 28 hours straight. Second, FBI agents raided several arcades in the area 10 days later as the owners were under investigation for involvement with illegal gambling.
2. I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (1995)
This point-and-click adventure game is based on a short story of the same name. The story seems especially difficult to adapt to a game.
It’s about an evil computer that has wiped out humanity except for five people. The computer has trapped these people and keeps them alive for the sole purpose of torturing them. The story begins more than 100 years after the people were taken captive, and by that point, they’re losing their minds and they know there is no escape. The game is played from the perspective of the humans. In the marketing leading up to the game’s release, the author of the story said there is no way to win. Somehow, they succeeded in turning it into a game. It received positive reviews.
It’s rare that a video game is based solely off of a work of literature. Even rarer is how the author, Harlan Ellison, was deeply involved in the game’s development. Not only did he help write the characters’ backstories for the game, but also did the voice-acting for the evil computer.(source)
3. Cho Chabudai Gaeshi (2009)
This Japanese arcade game is known as Super Table Flip in English. The game has a miniature plastic table as the controller. Players step into the role of an angry person having a temper tantrum.
The levels include a father sitting with his family, a bride at a wedding, and a businessman at work. To rack up points, players can slam their hands down on the table in response to irritating things happening in the game. The final objective is to cause as much damage as possible by flipping the table over. The game spawned a sequel that added a few new levels including a funeral with an angry priest who flips the coffin over.(source)
4. Princess Maker (1991)
In this game, players take the role of a warrior who’s tired of death and destruction and decides to adopt a 10-year-old orphan girl.
The object of the game is to raise her to become a princess. Players have to manage every minute of the child’s time. The challenge is to balance her attributes including stress, elegance, intelligence, faith, morality, and reputation. If the player fails to properly raise the girl, she can end up in a variety of less desirable occupations, including prostitution.
The game was a success and spawned a series of four Princess Maker sequels and re-releases of the original two games. As if the idea of a parenting simulator wasn’t strange enough, the Princess Maker games also fall into the category of Japanese bishōjo games where interactions with attractive girls are the main attraction. For instance, the girl may start wearing sexually provocative clothing as she gets older. Also, several of the possible endings involve the girl marrying her adoptive father.(1,2,3,4)
5. Cow Clicker (2010)
This Facebook game was developed by a video game researcher as a satire. However, it didn’t have the desired effect.
Ian Bogost was critical of social games like Farmville for offering no artistic value and instead focusing on getting players to pay money to progress. After seeing Farmville win the award for “Best New Social/Online Game” at the Game Developers’ Conference, Bogost decided to make a game that showed how shallow social games had become. With Cow Clicker, he boiled down the game mechanics of Farmville to their simplest form, “you click on a cow, and that’s all you do.”
Shockingly, it became a hit. Bogost was reportedly disturbed by its success. He then announced the game would end with a “Cowpocalypse” exactly one year after the game’s release, and that the players could delay the event by paying money. Apparently not caring about the satirical nature of the request, players spent $700 in total to extend the countdown to Cowpocalypse. After the Cowpocalypse eventually took place, all the cows were replaced with blank spaces. But according to the Cow Clicker website, the game is still playable. “Not to worry, though. You can still click on the spot where a cow used to be.”(1,2,3)
6. RapeLay (2006)
This computer game put players in the shoes of a man who stalks and rapes a mother and her two daughters. The main goal of the game is to “break” the women by repeatedly raping them until they become complacent sex slaves.
The game has a story mode that involves groping the women on a subway train, taking them captive, and turning them into sex slaves. It features a detailed sexual simulator where players can select different sexual positions. At the end of the story mode, once the women have been taken captive and repeatedly raped, they break down, and the player gains access to additional sex positions and game modes. One of the ways a player can lose the game is by impregnating one of the women and choosing not to have the pregnancy aborted. Controversy about the game arose when it gained attention three years after its release. The company said it didn’t understand the controversy since the game complied with Japanese law and was not sold outside of the country. However, they did stop distributing it. The company has since released several games that feature similar sexual simulators but without the focus on rape.(source)
7. Boong-Ga Boong-Ga (2001)
This arcade game has a model of a human butt built into the front, and a plastic finger that players can use to poke at it. Players can either spank the butt or poke the anus to punish an on-screen character.
There are eight characters players can choose to punish including a mother-in-law, a con-artist, and a child molester. Based on the strength of the spanks and pokes, the game dispenses a card that describes the player’s “sexual behavior.”(1,2)
8. JFK Reloaded (2004)
This computer game simulates the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It is played from the perspective of Lee Harvey Oswald. Players are scored on how accurately they can recreate the three shots as described by the Warren Commission.
JFK Reloaded sparked outrage for turning the event into a game, and the developer received numerous death threats. The developer said they tried to make a historical simulation that would give players a better understanding of the event, and it would help shed light on whether the magic bullet theory is plausible.
Some commentators criticized the claim that it was merely a historical simulation because it included a “Chaos Mode” where the motorcade vehicles would drive erratically, running over pedestrians and spilling passengers onto the road.
9. Catherine (2011)
The plot of this game follows Vincent, a man who is afraid of commitment. When his girlfriend starts pressuring him into getting married, he begins having nightmares. He then has an affair with a girl named Catherine, who turns out to be a succubus.
The gameplay is a mix of dating simulator and horror-style puzzle-platformer. During the daytime, players manage Vincent’s relationships by talking with Katherine and Catherine. During the night, players have to get through Vincent’s nightmares by climbing giant staircases as they collapse. The nightmares seem to symbolize Vincent’s fear of commitment as he encounters sheep-men who have been trapped, and he’s chased by a giant baby who calls Vincent “daddy.”
The game received positive reviews. However, one critic suggested it may be the most sexist platformer game of all time. They cited the game’s portrayal of women and committed relationships as frightening things that men should escape.(1,2)
10. Screaming Mad George’s Paranoiascape (1998)
This pinball-style game makes a number of unique twists on the genre. The point-of-view is directly behind the paddles, there are enemies to destroy by hitting them with the pinball, and players have to advance by moving along a winding playfield. But besides the unusual gameplay, the setting is quite strange too.
The game has an unusual and creepy setting due to “Screaming Mad George”’s involvement. Screaming Mad George is the nickname of Joji Tani, a special effects artist who’s known for creating surreal and gory effects. He worked on films including Predator, Nightmare on Elm Street 3, and Big Trouble in Little China. His unique style shines through in Paranoiascape‘s unusual environments such as a level where the floor is covered in human mouths and the ceiling is made of eyeballs.
Also, the terms “paddles” and “pinball” were used loosely when describing this game. The paddles are actually two flying skeletons that swing large bones like baseball bats, and the pinball is a flying brain that’s on fire. (1,2,3)