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Chris Ryan

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Killswitch: A Fakeloric Product in situ

Nothing is so firmly believed as that which we least know.
Montaigne, Essays.
Spooky stories require enough distance that they can't be easily
invalidated. Usually infinite distance.

The prevailing assumption about the creation of the video game is that it exists to be
played. What, then, is the value of a game (or the idea of a game) that explicitly defies that
expectation? Would such a thing stand as commentary on the concepts of games and playing, or
would it just be a bad game? The story of the game Killswitch brings to mind just such
questions, and the responses of the prolific posters on the Something Awful (SA) Forums
Games sub-forum to an introduction to this story (and this game) demonstrate the sorts of
discussionboth in the affirmative and the negative, in the situating-as-plausible and the
scornfully-debunkingtraditionally associated with a group addressing a legend introduced to,
and circulated within, that group. 2 A brief disclosure: I have been an active poster on the SA
Forums since 2007, but at no point posted in the thread I examined for this paper, nor did I
prompt any posters in that thread to volunteer their opinionsI am documenting their responses
to one another without any interaction on my part. For this paper, I will be examining the
presence of the story of the Killswitch game in the Video game hoaxes and urban legends
thread on the SA Forums,3 and how the posters in that thread responded to the story, analyzed
the story, and attempted to situate the story within a framework most plausible to themeither
as something that could possibly exist, or as forums poster Tewratomeh categorized the story, [a
spooky story] somebody in a college creative writing class made up off the top of their
head. 4 I will: (1) examine those responses to determine what it is about the game (or the idea of
the game) that appeals to people and makes it a popular story (given that within the context of

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the thread it is by far the most commonly-discussed specific story, with an average of at least one
post about the story itself across each of the threads 60+ pages); (2) outline, based on both
community response and real-world logic, why the game itself could not feasibly exist (thus
situating the story of its existence as a sort of supernatural or paranormal event); and (3) attempt
to demonstrate why, in the eyes of this community, it is irrelevant whether or not the story is
itself true or false, and how that particular response makes this story more than just a work of
fiction posted on a website and circulated through a forums communityit functions as a
fabulate5,and, as such, the discussion of this story serves ultimately as the sort of communal
discussion that creates and reinforces a legend.
But what is Killswitch? According to the source linked in the original post (OP) of the
Video game hoaxes and urban legends thread, Killswitch is purported to be a limited-release
platform-jumping game from a little-known publisher in Eastern Europe, produced in 1989. The
notable aspects of the games gameplay (and those which I will be presenting as reasons that,
taken in sum, make the games existence doubtful), as presented in the story, are as follows: that
character selection is locked upon first loading the game (between the options of: (1) Porto, a
female avatar whose physical dimensions warp and distort throughout gameplay, occasionally
rendering areas unbeatable; and (2) Ghast, an invisible demon whose invisibility extends to the
players view of the avatarthus making any precision jumping in the game all but unbeatable
by definition) and cannot be undone by any means, even character death; that completion of the
game erases the game from all storage media on which it was present (including the source
diskette); and that the game has never been beaten by people playing Ghast, and so the developer
intent of the game remains unclear to the player. Furthermore, the Killswitch story concludes

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with the cautionary tale of one Yamamoto Ryuichi, a collector who purchased a copy of the
game and is stricken with indecision over which character to play. 6
However, my summary here is by no means the only one available. An important aspect
of the study of legend is the study of retelling and transmission, and the OP of the Games thread
is no exception. First poster SpaceBees opens the discussion of Killswitch with the following:
This one is really bizarre and difficult to even explain. The gist of it is that it was
a Russian PC game with a very limited run, about 10,000 copies. Upon
completion, it would delete itself. It is (in)famous because there were puzzles and
levels that players never found ways to complete. The game took place in a
Russian factory that was inhabited by demons.
Like I said, its difficult to explain what this game is even about, but you can read
more [at the link to the website] 7
Responses to this post were immediate and emphatic in their interest:
This is pretty cool. I hope people have more stories like this instead of crap about
their friend telling them how to find mew [referring to a character in the Pokmon
franchise of video games].
Category Fun8
Hell with the other
RBA Starblade9








Yeah, Killswitch seems very interesting. Is it really impossible to stop it from

deleting itself or to copy it?
Alberto Basalm10
Man I want to hear more about this one. It sounds amazing. Does that mean once
it's installed, that's it? You can't reinstall it? Once it's beaten, it's done for good?
How would it even be possible to play as an invisible character?
Buckwheat Sings11
Killswitch is not a real game, but it's a pretty good work of fiction.
Man I wish that Killswitch game was real, just reading that whole story behind it
gave me the chills.
RCarr 13

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It is these last two responses that demonstrate what I consider one of the more interesting trends
in this thread: users acknowledging (or presuming, at any rate) that the Killswitch story is
fictional, yet expressing interest in, and appreciation of, the storya trend that hews closely to
Honkos explanation of the fabulate.14 While I will soon address those who appreciate the story
as a story (and those who interpret, analyze, and discuss the story as a piece of fiction/legend), in
keeping with an analysis of the communitys interactions in the thread, it is important to now
turn to the next emergent trend in the discussion of Killswitch: the detractors of the story (both as
presented and as an idea). While it is beyond the scope of this paper to attempt to psychoanalyze
the reasons behind posters articulations of disbeliefand sometimes, derisiontowards both
the Killswitch story and those posters advocating in favor of it, a few consistent trends emerge:
those who find the story itself to be poorly written, and those who think the facts of the story are
so implausible as to render the story itself unbelievable.
As to the first point, the importance of the performance in presenting a legend in an
effective manner (regardless of the intent of the storyteller) has been stated numerous times in
existing scholarshipin particular, Kapchans Performance articulates this concept numerous
times.15 In dissecting the Killswitch story, a number of forums posters found that the story (that
is, the literary performance) itself was what led them to consider the story implausible:
The Killswitch story sounds neat until you start to think for a few seconds. How
do you make a file that can't be copied, and how do you make something that will
delete itself to an 'unrecoverable' state? Maybe with magical fairy computers you
can do this, but with real world computers if you have data on a disk, you can
copy that data to another type of media.
BobTheJanitor 16
I think that whole site [] is fake bullshit, actually
Alberto Basalm17

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The only thing that bugs me is that the hoaxer tends to go one step too far and
break any suspension of disbelief for me. Like, Killswitch and the dude who tried
to lp [Lets Play: A fan work wherein someone plays a game and records
themselves doing so, with commentary either aside it in posts or overlaid with text
or audio within the videos themselves] it only recording himself weeping. That
being said, whats too much for one dude is too pedestrian for another so who
What makes the story falls apart is the ending. The price is too high to go
believably unnoticed. And who would upload a video of themselves crying over a
game. It would have been better to end that he has never provided updates, or that
the only update was he began the game and nothings been posted about his
Marenghi 19
In these responses, and the quote from forums poster Tewratomeh that I utilized earlier in this
paper, it is clear that these users disbelieve the story for the quality and tone of the writing more
than anything else; the literary performance is lacking and, as such, the presumed intent
(presenting the story of the game as plausible) is not achieved.
However, it is important to acknowledge those for whom the story was implausible due
to its supernatural or paranormal elements, as well (of which the idea of an irreproducible, selfdeleting game was the most common element cited). For those posters, the suspension of
disbelief was not achieved due to their inability to situate the games existence itself within the
realm of plausibility:
What I don't get about this Killswitch thing is what's supposedly stopping people
from making a copy of the CD or floppy or .exe or whatever the fuck to just
reinstall it after it deletes itself.
Bloodcider 20
Also, it states that some people started as Ghast then went back to Porto showing
you can start over with the other character. So we have to believe that a) the game
is impossible to complete without doing some weird illogical action b) the game
only deletes itself when you complete it and c) EVERYONE who ever owned it,
beat it. In reality, even with regular games an absolute ton of players never get to
the end.

Chris Ryan
POPC 660

Plus, a $733,000 game would have been all over the news. Shouldn't have gotten
greedy, $7,300 is more believable to have slipped under peoples radars, and more
feasible for a game that had a small fanbase.
You know what really makes Killswitch fall apart under examination? If it had
been real, what would have stopped people from just reinstalling it and playing
again? After all, it "deleted all traces", so there shouldn't have been anything that
told the floppy never to install it again.
Minus the deletion, add my voice to the cry that this would have actually been a
nifty game to play. You have to wonder if some developer out there is reading
that and deciding to actually make something similar.
No shit Killswitch is fiction, you all seem to be overlooking the fact that if a
company made a game that intentionally deleted itself they would be sued into
oblivion unless it was freeware.
Industrial 23
Seriously knock it off about Killswitch. It's fiction, it didn't happen, and couldn't
happen without some way to circumvent the deletion of the game data, no matter
how clever you think your idea is to make it copy-proof.
RagnarokAngel 24
What bugs me about Killswitch is the horrible design choices presented. A
character you can't see at all? A character whose size randomly changes? How
would these get through testing?
Speaking of which, how would a game that permanently deletes itself go through
testing anyway? Would it delete itself every time?
Codfish Cartographer 25
The themes of technical impossibility surface over and over in these posts; while a number of
reasons for this may exist (a few attributions could be a desire for the poster to demonstrate his
or her technical knowledge over others, or to display that his or her critical thinking skills are
superior to the more nave posters in the threadthe RagnarokAngel post above perhaps serving
as the best example of thisor to simply dismiss the idea because it doesnt sound fun), as I
stated previously, it is beyond the scope of this paper to delve into the psychology of expressions
of disbelief in great detail. However, it is worth recognizing that such disbelief was present in
discussions of this legend, if for no other reason than that they then served as a springboard for

Chris Ryan
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another interesting facet of the discussion: those forums posters who attempted to situate the
Killswitch story firmly within the realm of plausibility.
In the case of the posters attempting to explain how the Killswitch story could be true (or
at least, how such a game could exist as depicted in the story), I noted an interesting parallel to
one of the reasons I stated as a possible motivator for the dismissals noted previously: the display
of a posters technical knowledge to others. In situating the Killswitch game and story as
plausible, these posters demonstrate both knowledge of games and gaming history at large:
Killswitch may not exist, but the original version of Command and Conquer's [a
real-time strategy game] uninstaller had a slight problem where instead of
deleting the game's folder, COMMAND, it deleted COMMAND.COM.[the
default command line execution program / system shell / code interpreter on
certain versions of Windows]
EVE Online [a massively-multiplayer game] one uped that when one of their
updates deleted boot.ini. [the file that allows your Windows OS to boot up your
Continuing the chain, Myth2 deleted whatever directory it was in, so god help you
if you decided to install it anywhere but the default one. Apparently they caught it
in time and that never actually got out to the consumers though
In the previous examples, these users situate the Killswitch story as plausible by offering realworld examples of games that could delete programs considered critical by the Windows
operating system (which are thus protected from deletion by most programs by default). The
following posters presented Killswitchs plausibility not from a historical standpoint, but from a
technical one, while at the same time demonstrating their own working knowledge of data
processing and storage:
Yeah. It's entirely possible for a game on floppy to run a separate format process
on completion- it's entirely unbelievable for that same game to somehow prevent

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itself from being backed up or copied or otherwise duplicated.

Let's say it is a external custom harddrive which has a vacuum inside. You install
the game as driver for the device, it allows read/write only through game
interface, and erases itself along the way. When player dies/finishes, it drops the
read/write head to the disk, it has special hardware switch for that, effectively
destroying it. If one tries to open the case, it does the same, as vacuum works as a
"failsafe" (failsure?). Only way to access the data would be to use the driver, the
game, but for that you need to know stuff about the system, or it has some weirdo
I/O-system, or it stores stuff crypted, hardware number and license keys being
only way to decrypt the disk. wrong hardware serialnumber, it wont start, or
internal serial dongle etc. to deter even successful data exports from the system.
I'd say it's not completely impossible to design a device which could be read only
once, but obviously this would be super expensive, and is a concept I just pulled
out of my ass. Besides, the story does say that it comes on disks, not custom
soviet hijinks hardware.
Der Kyhe30
How about this: Write the game code so that it checks the seek/read speed of its
source medium. If it's too fast (i.e. it's been copied to a HD), game won't run.
Similarly, when the game starts it performs a simple check to make sure it has
write access to the medium - if the disk has been made read-only, game won't run.
This leaves two main problems - the game can still be copied to another floppy,
and a virtual floppy drive could be set up and set to emulate the read speeds of a
real drive. For the first problem, you could probably manufacture a limited run of
oversized floppies so that a regular 1.44Mb disk wouldn't fit the game. The
second problem I don't know how to solve, but it wouldn't have been an issue
when games were still being distributed on floppies so I'm going to ignore it
Okay, I hate to drag the Killswitch thing up AGAIN, but it is actually possible for
a game to delete itself. However, for this we need to start thinking about
computers in the distant past of 1989.
Now, as I recall, the CD-ROM standard for storing binary data didn't come into
play until the mid-eighties. CD-ROM games were actually pretty excessively rare
for the first while, so Killswitch probably would have come on some floppies.
Maybe only one, who knows? Regardless, let's continue.
Now we have to start thinking to things that are a bit more obscure. Something
like a little virus called Elk Cloner.
Really, all the game would have to do would be make sure that the virus prevents
the game from being successfully copied, has to run off the disk (no terribly
uncommon) and wipe either the disk or the relevant file from the disk containing a

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random encryption key to actually decode the files on the disk.

Not saying the story is true, but that this is all theoretically possible and fairly
likely that a game with such a limited run would ever have been successfully
cracked. Especially with how finicky it was with uninstalling itself.
Unexpected EOF 32
In situating one of the Killswitch storys more unusual elements (the irreproducible, self-deleting
nature of the game upon installation or completion) firmly within the realm of plausibility, these
posters position the story itself as holding grains of truth, which are, as much as anything else,
necessary in creating and transmitting a legend that a community will both appreciate and
retransmit.33 A story too fantastical or too implausible feels far too fictive for the audience to
desire to retransmit. Poster Rollersnake echoed this sentiment:
But in a sense, I guess that's what makes it appropriate as a "creepy urban legend"
type of scareit's rare enough to have a mythical quality to it. 34
As the previous statement may indicate, the posters in this thread were, for lack of a better
phrase, quite genre savvy when it came to urban legends and hoaxes. For this reason, I feel that
letting the posters speak for themselves on the subject of the popularity of this story (and this
type of story) may be more valuable than simply offering my own opinions. To wit:
Yeah, I like the Killswitch one because it's really just about weird games (which
we all know are possible) combined with human weakness. I mean the guy at the
end isn't crying because the game has possessed his mind or something, he's
crying because he doesn't have the strength to play the last copy the way he's
supposed to and the way that everyone is expecting him to. I think that's why I
liked the Pokmon: Black game [a story about a variation on the Pokmon game
series in which the players sole controllable character is implied to be devouring
the souls of the enemies he defeats in battle, and that those souls exist in a
paratextual space, such that the player is subjected to their cries whenever the
game is on] also. It's just vaguely kind of creepy, it doesn't expect you to believe
in dead spirits or children being driven insane or anything.
That Rough Beast 35
Spooky stories require enough distance that they can't be easily invalidated.
Usually infinite distance.

Chris Ryan
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This whole business about Killswitch is very much like Infinite Jest; a book about
a video tape that is so entertaining that people keep watching it until they starve. I
find the concept of this game, urban legend or not, insanely captivating. It's the
kind of story that can only exist on the internet and is made greater by it's lack of
synertia 37
Having now examined the ways in which the posters in the given thread situated the
Killswitch story as either plausible or implausible, I turn now to their interpretations of actual
content of the story (as opposed to their various analyses of its believability within a historical or
technological context). A common theme in this portion of the thread (as these posts tended to
cluster near one another, as many were responses to one another) was, as poster That Rough
Beast stated, it's really just about weird games (which we all know are possible) combined with
human weakness. 38 Those whose weakness that was, was up for debate; the implication at times
was that games collectors and enthusiastic (daresay, obsessive) video game fans are to blame for
their own misfortunes (as elaborated upon in the fate of Ryuichi in the Killswitch story). To
again allow the posters to speak for themselves:
My interpretation was that that he realized he paid $800,000 for a hoax.
Nothing about it suggested "hoax" to me (well, other than the whole story). See,
he's gotta play as Ghast, because no one ever has, and everyone is watching. But
he can't do it. It's too hard. No one can do it. But he spent $800,000. But it's too
hard. But everyone is watching. But it's too hard. But this is the last copy. But it's
too hard...
That Rough Beast 40
I interpreted it as him uncovering the last bit of the story, which upset him
somehow. The game sounded like it had some very depressing themes to it.
I don't really understand why, in the story, the guy who bought Killswitch is
It's not like the game deletes itself once you die, or once you pick a character
you're locked to that character for good, as the story mentioned it being a common
occurrence for people to start with Ghast, find out he was too hard, and switch
over to the woman.


Chris Ryan
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So what is he so upset about? He can play Ghast as many times as he wants or

needs to, to figure him out and win the game with him. The game only deletes
itself once he WINS.
I always assumed it was because when he does beat the game that was it. There
were no more copies.
Kortel 43
That's the part of the story where the writer got too greedy. He should have just
left it at "Oh yeah this dude supposedly bought it and says he'll do a stream of him
playing it, but he hasn't done it yet." Instead, the creepy but otherwise somewhat
believable fictional game is supposed to have driven the guy crazy because of...
ghosts? Who knows.
Danger Mahoney44
Or, then again, maybe it's because playing as G[h]ast is impossible, but it's what
everyone wants to see.
21st Century45
But why cry over that? It'd be understandable if dying as Ghast meant the game
erased itself, but it doesn't. There is no drawback to dying a million times as
Ghast, and it's not like he can't play some as the woman if he really wants, and
just stop right before beating the game and play as Ghast more, if he REALLY
wanted to experience playing as the woman even though the community should
have let him know what happens for the woman's playthrough.
Danger Mahoney46
The guy probably isn't the most stable person around. How much did he spend for
that game again?
21st Century47
This quote is notable in that it, like the first of this sequence (by TOOT BOOT), highlights the
excessive cost paid by Ryuichi in the Killswitch story in order to obtain an unplayed
(unplayable?) copy of the game. One aspect of the gaming hobby that is frequently mentioned in
passing in discussions on the SA Games forum, but rarely addressed at length, is the cost: video
games themselves are not cheap, being priced typically between $40 and $60 for a new game,
and from $150 to $300 for a new gaming consoleto say nothing of the hardware/software costs
inherent in regular PC gaming. In this way, the thread audience touches on an aspect of the
legend that may serve as a cautionary tale: Dont spend too much money on your games, because


Chris Ryan
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ultimately, youre left with nothing after theyre done. The ephemeral nature of achievement in
video games is highlighted by both this and numerous poster comments to that effect:
The idea behind the ending was that the draw of playing as the woman is so
strong, and playing as Ghast is so insanely hard, he cant help himself but play as
the woman. The story mentions a handful of times that players felt strangely
drawn to it, to the point where, despite everyone owning it finishing it, they all did
it as the woman. Even after it was established to the community that the game
deletes itself they all still went back to the other game, rather than play as Ghast.
Then it falls to the last guy, playing the last copy, which he paid nearly a million
dollars to play and show to the world. This is his sole "destiny". I got the idea he
was a pretty nutty guy who is doing it just for attention and in a weird misguided
life goal. And he just can't do it.
Nemesis of Moles48
Yeah this is exactly it. It's why the story mentions Ghast at first as impossibly
hard, then talks about how the woman is the default choice only to come back to it
at the end. The guy at the end paid almost a million dollars to have this moment
where he does what no one has been able to do, except he can't do it, so he's
fucked himself out of this amazing game. He either has to play as the woman or
nothing, because the game is too hard as Ghast, but the expectations of an entire
community of spergs are resting on his socially maladjusted shoulders and he has
probably the last copy of something that can never be experienced again. He can't
take the pressure.
It's not supposed to be any more complicated than that. There's no hauntings or
disturbing revelations or anything, the story structures itself to give you exactly
this ending - really all the weird shit about Porto is just a smokescreen to set up
this poor sap trying to do the impossible.
That Rough Beast 49
Well, I mean, if you look at the website for killswitch it's fairly obvious that it's a
work of fiction, and was never intended to be an urban legend in same way that,
say, Polybius [a legendary arcade game that affects the cognitive processes of its
players and is supposed to have been a CIA experiment] is. Still, the idea for the
game is really creepy, and I think it would be neat if someone actually went the
extra mile and coded the game. The story does kind of fall apart though. Why the
hell would the guy cry? Maybe because he was japanese and didn't understand
english. Maybe because he finally figured out what it meant that ghast was porto's
'beloved.' Either way, it's a moot point because it's clearly a work of nonfiction
and trying to find a copy to play would be like trying to go to Miskatonic U and
trying to find their copy of the necronomicon. After reading this thread, I can't
believe people were actually saying the things they were about the story, because
it's pretty blatantly a story when you consider the source (it being on a website


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with short stories about a bunch of other fictitious games with creepy natures).
It sounds like a really easy game to make though. Another thing that would be
tough would be coming up with what the horrible secret of ghast is, as the story
mentions nothing about his quest as it was virtually unplayable (which is bullshit,
nerds have done way more impossible things).
Full Battle Rattle50
Regardless, its a really interesting story and I thought I would share it with
This final quote is perhaps the most important to understanding the communal zeitgeist at work
in the SA threads discussion of the Killswitch story: they see it as an interesting story worthy of
sharing. Given that numerous definitions of folklore require face-to-face transmission of
information, or at the very least, information passed down through generations and by explicit
word of mouth, the value of the story leading to its worth in being shared highlights how, yet
again, this legend and the discussions of it are certainly folkloric.
While these interpretations cover a number of possible meanings behind the story itself, it
is also important to not forget that there are two sides to a story: the storyteller and the audience.
It is not just that the audience interprets and analyzes a story, however; what do they feel about
it? Once again, the forums posters have no shortage of things to say about this:
I keep remembering Killswitch before I go to bed. Just trying to imagine what the
game looks like creeps me out for some reason.
Wandering Knitter 52
Yeah, out of all the stuff in the thread, Killswitch is easily the coolest. It's just a
made-up story about a game, but it's still neat
I think I am one of these stupid creepypasta stories. [short horror stories circulated
on the Internet]
Ever since this topic was made I've had Killswitch bouncing around in my head.
No matter what I do as soon as I turn off the lights to go to bed my brain starts
thinking about it again.
What would it look like? Sure the graphics back then would be simple, but what
about if it came out today? What would the impossible puzzles be like? I'm not


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even into this sort of thing but I keep trying to design the game itself. I picture it
like that vaporware Sadness game, but maybe more like an older game. And the
dialog! Could I even create anything that depressing?
If I had any skills I would work on something just to make my brain stop, but last
time I checked you can't knit a video game.
Wandering Knitter 54
Of all the "haunted/spooky" game stories, that one's the best / only one that's
actually cool. Its plausibility helps a bit, but it also just plain sounds like a cool
The Killswitch story can evoke an emotional response from its readers; its plausibility and
foundation in reality are fundamentally irrelevant. To paraphrase SpaceBees from his previous
quote, it is an interesting story that should be shared.
And that, ultimately, is where I shall conclude with this project. That Killswitch as a
game may or may not exist is not important; what is important is that the story about Killswitch
exists. It is a story that circulates between users of a particular forums community; a story
capable of resurrecting itself months after the fact [witness how it is referenced in September
2010 and then the next time in January 2011, four months and 32 pages (of 40 posts each) later]
and resonating with different people each time. Some readers of the story find joy in dismissing
it as poorly-written fiction at worst, technically implausible at best. Others may derive some
measure of pleasure from illustrating ways in which it is technically possible, going so far as to
outline how they themselves would accomplish the feat of reproducing the games legendarily
unique data management features. Still others yet see it as a tale of failure, a caution against
obsession in general or by gamers in particular. I find myself agreeing with forums poster RCarr:
Killswitch has been the most interesting thing to come out of this thread so please
don't stop talking about it. 56

Ellis, Why Verbatim Transcripts of Legends? p. 37


Chris Ryan
POPC 660


Honko, Memorates and the Study of Folk Beliefs p. 13 ; full text of story reproduced in Appendix A


Honko, Memorates and the Study of Folk Beliefs p. 13

Kapchan, Performance

Sherman, Tales of the Supernatural r=18#post381781573


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Appendix A: Killswitch Story Text

In the spring 1989 the Karvina Corporation released a curious game, whose dissemination among
American students that fall was swift and furious, though its popularity was ultimately short-lived.
The game was Killswitch.
On the surface it was a variant on the mystery or horror survival game, a precursor to the Myst and
Silent Hill franchises. The narrative showed the complexity for which Karvina was known, though
the graphics were monochrome, vague grey and white shapes against a black background. Slow
MIDI versions of Czech folksongs play throughout. Players could choose between two avatars: an
invisible demon named Ghast or a visible human woman, Porto. Play as Ghast was considerably
more difficult due to his total invisibility, and players were highly liable to restart the game as
Porto after the first level, in which it was impossible to gauge jumps or aim. However, Ghast was
clearly the more powerful characterhe had fire-breath and a coal-steam attack, but as it was above
the skill level of most players to keep track of where a fire-breathing, poison-dispensing invisible
imp was on their screens once the fire and steam had run out, Porto became more or less the
Portos singular ability was seemingly random growthshe expanded and contracted in size
throughout the game. A Kansas engineering grad claimed to have figured out the pattern involved,
but for reasons which will become obvious, his work was lost.
Porto awakens in the dark with wounds in her elbows, confused. Seeking a way out, she ascends
through the levels of a coal mine in which it is slowly revealed she was once an employee,
investigating its collapse and beset on all sides by demons similar to Ghast, as well as dead
foremen, coal-golems, and demonic inspectors from the Sovatik corporation, whose boxy bodies
were clothed in red, the only color in the game. The environment, though primitive, becomes
genuinely uncanny as play progresses. There are no bosses in any real sensePorto must simply
move physically through tunnels to reach subsequent levels while her size varies wildly through
inter-level spaces.
The story that emerges through Portos discovery of magnetic tapes, files, mutilated factory
workers who were once her friends, and deciphering an impressively complex code inscribed on a
series of iron axes players must collect (This portion of the game was almost laughably complex,
and defeated many players until Porto881 posted the cipher to a Columbia BBS. Attempts to
contact this player have been unsuccessful, and the username is no longer in use on any known
service.) is that the foremen, under pressure to increase coal production, began to falsify reports of
malfunctions and worker malfeasance in order to excuse low output, which incited a Sovatik
inspection. Officials were dispatched, one for each miner, and an extraordinary story of torture
unfolds, with fuzzy and indistinct graphics of red-coated men standing over workers, inserting
small knives into their joints whenever production slowed. (Admittedly, this is not a very subtle
critique of Soviet-era industrial tactics, and as the town of Karvina itself was devastated by the
departure of the coal industry, more than one thesis has interpreted Killswitch as a political
After solving the axe-code, Porto finds and assembles a tape recorder, on which a male voice tells
her that the fires of the earth had risen up in their defense and flowed into the hearts of the
decrepit, pre-revolution equipment they used and wakened them to avenge the workers. It is
generally assumed that the fires of the earth are demons like Ghast, coal-fumes and gassy bodies
inhabiting the old machines. The machines themselves are so big that the graphics elect to only
show two or three gear-teeth or a conveyor belt rather than the entire apparatus. The machines
drove the inspectors mad, and they disappeared into caverns with their knives (only to emerge to
plague Porto, of course). The workers were often crushed and mangled in the onslaught of
machines, who were neither graceful nor discriminating. Porto herself was knocked into a deep
chasm by a grief-stricken engine, and her fluctuating size, if it is real and not imagined, is implied
to be the result of poisonous fumes inhaled there.


Chris Ryan
POPC 660
What follows is the most cryptic and intuitive part of the game. There is no logical reason to
proceed in the correct way, and again it was Porto881 who came to the rescue of the fledgling
Killswitch community. In the chamber behind the tape recorder is a great furnace where coal was
once rendered into coke. There are no clues as to what she is intended to do in this room. Players
attempted nearly everything, from immolating herself to continuing to process coal as if the
machines had never risen up. Porto881 hit upon the solution, and posted it to the Columbia boards.
If Porto ingests the raw coke, she will find her body under control,and can go on to fight her way
out of the final levels of the mine, which are impassable in her giant state, clutching the tape
containing this extraordinary story. However, as she crawls through the final tunnel to emerge
aboveground, the screen goes suddenly white.
Killswitch, by design, deletes itself upon player completion of the game. It is not recoverable by
any means, all trace of it is removed from the users computer. The game cannot be copied. For all
intents and purposes it exists only for those playing it, and then ceases to be entirely. One cannot
replay it, unlocking further secrets or narrative pathways, one cannot allow another to play it, and
perhaps most importantly, it is impossible to experience the game all the way to the end as both
Porto and Ghast.
Predictably, player outcry was enormous. Several routes to solve the problem were pursued, with
no real efficacy. The first and most common was to simply buy more copies of the game, but
Karvina Corp. released only 5,000 copies and refused to press further editions. The following is an
excerpt from their May 1990 press release:
Killswitch was designed to be a unique playing experience: like reality, it is unrepeatable,
unretrievable,and illogical. One might even say ineffable. Death is final; death is complete. The
fates of Porto and her beloved Ghast are as unknowable as our own. It is the desire of the Karvina
Corporation that this be so, and we ask our customers to respect that desire. Rest assured Karvina
will continue to provide the highest quality of games to the West, and that Killswitch is merely
one among our many wonders.
This did not have the intended effect. The word beloved piqued the interest of committed, even
obsessive players, as Ghast is not present in any portion of Portos narrative. A rush to find the
remaining copies of the game ensued, with the intent of playing as Ghast and discovering the
meaning of Karvinas cryptic word. The most popular theory was that Ghast would at some point
become the fumes inhaled by Porto, changing her size and beginning her adventure. Some thought
this was wishful thinking, that if only Ghasts early levels were passable one would somehow be
able to play as both simultaneously. However, by this time no further copies appeared to be
available in retail outlets. Players who had not yet completed the game attempted Ghasts levels
frequently, but the difficulty of actually playing this enigmatic avatar persisted, and no player has
ever claimed to have finished the game as Ghast. One by one, the lure of Portos lost, unearthly
world drew them back to her, and one by one, they were compelled towards the finality of the vast
white screen.
To find any copy usable today is an almost unfathomably rare occurance; a still shrink-wrapped
copy was sold at auction in 2005 for $733,000 to Yamamoto Ryuichi of Tokyo. It is entirely
possible that Yamamotos is the last remaining copy of the game. Knowing this, Yakamoto had
intended to open his play to all enthusiasts, filming and uploading his progress. However, to date,
the only film which has surfaced is a one minute and forty five second clip of a haggard
Yamamoto at his computer, the avatar-choice screen visible over his right shoulder.
Yamamoto is crying.


Chris Ryan
POPC 660

Works Cited
Ellis, Bill. Why Are Verbatim Transcripts of Legends Necessary? in Bennett, Smith and
Widdowson, Perspectives on Contemporary Legend II (1987) : 31-60. Print.
Honko, Lauri. "Memorates and the Study of Folk Belief." Journal of the Folklore Institute 1.1/2
(1964): 5-19. Print.
Kapchan, Deborah. Performance. Journal of American Folklore 108.430
(1995): 479-508 Print.
Killswitch." Invisible Games. 5 Oct. 2007. Web. 4 May 2011. <>.
Tales of the Supernatural. Dir. Sharon Sherman. Perf. Sharon Sherman and Herbert DiGioia.
Ethnographic Film Program, UCLA, 1970. Folkstreams. Web. 11 Apr. 2011.
Video game urban legends and hoaxes. Something Awful Forums. Web. 4 May 2011.