Video games, like other forms of media such as music, movies, podcasts, and books – regardless of which genre they fall under – share one prime commonality: they are meant to be forms of entertainment.
What sets video games apart from other forms of entertainment, however, is their interactiveness; their ability to engage players and draw them fully into the gaming experience through their stories, characters, or setting. Yet perhaps the most important component that sets video games aside from other media is their nigh-universal reward systems, and egging players on to achieve their reward through accomplishing specific objectives within the game itself. The only issue here is that each game – and the developers who create them – all have a different idea of what that reward should be, as well as how it should be delivered to players.
So, what happens when a game decides to not reward players when an in-game objective is met and instead twists the reward into a seemingly harmless “gotcha!” scenario solely for the sake of messing with their heads? Well, it isn’t always pretty, but it is almost always hilarious. Except, of course, when it happens to you when you least expect it.
In this article, I’m going to cover my top 5 picks for moments in video games that, instead of simply handing players a well-deserved reward, opted to completely trick them instead.
5. Dark Souls – The “Pendant” Starting Gift
In a game like Dark Souls famous for its brutally hard difficulty and unrelenting enemy hordes that can easily overwhelm even the most seasoned of hardcore gamers, one might expect there to be a greater number of rewards available to them. Aside from the feeling of accomplishment when you finally clear the next boss fight, anyway.
But in a game franchise like the Soulsborne series, where the simplest and often-overlooked detail can have an impact on anything from setting to lore, you could easily expect die-hard fans of the game to spend hours upon hours analyzing every line of dialogue and description for the items they can obtain, including the item they choose for their character to begin their in-game journey with. So, when fans of Dark Souls spent years pondering the philosophical implications of the “Pendant” starting item, only to find that it had no discernable use or effects, almost all of them were left scratching their heads as to what the item’s use or hidden meaning might be.
After the game’s initial release, Hideo Miyazaki – the lead creative director and writer for the Dark Souls series of games – said in an interview that if he started a new in-game character in Dark Souls, he would either choose no starting item or the pendant. This led to a wildfire of conspiracy theories as to the item’s true hidden purpose. However, in another interview roughly a year later in 2012, Miyazaki admitted that the item had no hidden power or special use and was included solely to mess with players, saying, “When it comes to the pendant, I actually had a little bit of an intention to play a prank.”
4. Batman: Arkham Asylum – The Final Scarecrow Encounter
Following the 2005 and 2008 releases of award-winning movie director Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” films, 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum video game was met to rave reviews from gamers across the board for its captivating plot, setting, and mechanics that helped further cement the Caped Crusader’s role as a fan-favorite superhero in DC’s dark and gritty metaverse.
As players progressed through the game’s story, they were met with challenges to face and overcome some of Batman’s most iconic villains like Poison Ivy, Bane, Killer Croc, and The Joker. But one of Arkham Asylum’s most memorable moments came not from the Killer Clown’s lethal gags or even its nightmare-inducing sewer chase scene, but from the game’s third and final encounter with Dr. Jonathan Crane (a.k.a. “Scarecrow”).
After falling prey to Scarecrow’s fear-inducing toxin twice, more perceptive players may notice a hint towards a coming encounter with the Master of Fear from a subtle cough let out by Batman as he enters or leaves a certain area. No hint is given for the last one, however. Instead, the game’s entire screen freezes before seemingly glitching into a pixelated patchwork and forcing players to witness the game’s intro cutscene, albeit with roles reversed.
Instead of Batman accompanying armed guards into Arkham Asylum with a restrained Joker in tow, players are left with no choice but to watch the same cutscene with Batman now being rolled into the Asylum in a standing stretcher as Joker and other villains – Scarecrow included – watch on in twisted amusement. Though the cutscene eventually ends and gives players the opportunity to lay out Professor Panic flat on the floor, this trickery on the part of the game’s development and writing team is one that lives on in the minds of gamers to this day.
3. Metal Gear Solid – Psycho Mantis Reads Players “Minds”
The Metal Gear franchise spearheaded by Hideo Kojima and published by Konami has routinely been recognized as a trailblazer of its industry. Aside from being credited with sparking the “stealth-action” video game genre, Kojima’s quirky and non-traditional style of writing and plot development has been one that game developers have since tried time and again to mimic, not the least of which is the willingness to shatter the fourth wall.
The best example of this comes in the form of the boss fight against crazed mentalist Psycho Mantis in the series’s first installment, Metal Gear Solid. During the fight, players are initially unable to fight back as Mantis floats around the room seemingly off sheer telekinetic willpower and tells them he is going to read their “minds”. While technically impossible, Mantis accomplishes this on a smaller scale by reading the player’s memory files of other games on their system, and even has unique comments for certain game files found.
At one point during the fight, Mantis even tells players to place their controllers down and has them watch as he uses his “mind” to “move” it via the controller’s ingrained vibration tool. Even though the means by which these two major fourth wall breaks occurred were quickly and easily figured out by many players at the time of the game’s initial release (and subsequent re-release), it was a moment that left many younger and less tech-savvy players in slack-jawed bewilderment.
2. The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild – Collect 900 Korok Seeds
In Nintendo’s latest canonical installment in their legendary The Legend of Zelda franchise, players find themselves controlling Link, the series’s leading protagonist, as he awakens from a century of stasis to battle against evil forces which have left his homeworld of Hyrule in ruin. Players find themselves in a massive open-world map with free reign to travel anywhere they please, with hundreds of quests, side-quests, and collectibles to uncover along the way.
One of the game’s most common collectible items is its Korok Seeds. These items are gifted to Link whenever he solves certain unique in-game puzzles or discovers one of the many hundreds of Koroks scattered throughout Hyrule, which they can then give to the in-game NPC Hetsu to gain more inventory space.
If you, like many gamers, assumed that Link would be in for one heck of a reward after managing to collect all 900 of these seeds, the unfortunate truth is you couldn’t be more wrong. Well…sort of, anyway. Though Hetsu does technically reward players with a “gift” upon collecting all 900 Korok Seeds, the gift itself is a rather “crappy” one. When you turn in your final bunch of seeds to Hetsu, the maraca-shaking bipedal tree hands players a poo-shaped item with the description, “A gift of friendship given to you by Hetsu! It smells pretty bad.”
You read that right. All those hours of turning over every single rock, solving every puzzle, and scouring every nook and cranny hidden across the land of Hyrule to gather 900 Korok Seeds, only to reward players with a literal pile of Korok #2. Yikes.
1. Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins – A Fake Ending
In the golden age of arcade-style platformers, a time before video games came with options to select their difficulty, players were simply forced to persevere through more challenging games on the basis of trial-and-error. Died because you didn’t jump high enough or at the right angle? Start back at the respawn point and try again. Killed seconds into a boss fight that you didn’t know the mechanics of? Start back over and try again.
This was a process repeated ad nauseam by more dedicated gamers, those who sought to overcome any and every challenge a game decided to throw at them, and Capcom’s 1985 arcade hit Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins was no different. This 80s platformer became a cult sensation virtually overnight due to the (until that time) unprecedented level of difficulty the game possessed and forced players to push through.
As such, you can likely imagine the white-hot rage felt by many of those more dedicated gamers after they spent days, weeks, or even months pushing towards the game’s final boss fight and ending only to find out that the entire game they had dedicated dozens or more of hours to was simply an illusion cast upon the game’s protagonist character.
What made it even worse, however, was that if players wanted to experience the “true” ending of Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins, they had to play through the entire game all over again. And the icing on top of this game’s nightmarish cake? That second playthrough was reportedly even harder than the first. Talk about a ghoulish turn of events.