People love to reminisce, they love to get nostalgic about the things that made them who they are. Especially for those of us who have grown up in this new digital age it feels impossible to talk about childhood without talking about cartoon culture. But even more so than simply remembering which Ninja Turtle did what or how difficult it was to beat a certain level of Mario, it appears as though more and more people are interested in unearthing secret meanings from their favorite childhood programs. So, today I will take a look at one of the spookiest theories that is attached to one of the absolute biggest names in cartoon and video game history: Pokémon and the case of the Lavender Town Syndrome.
Right off the bat, I feel obligated to state that this myth has already been widely disregarded as a hoax; however, I feel as though it still represents something important and worth exploring, so here goes. According to the original story, more than 200 Japanese children between the ages of seven and twelve were driven to suicide shortly after the release of the Game Boy game Pokémon Red and Green in the Spring of 1996. While other children were cited as having suffered from severe migraine headaches and nosebleeds some were even documented as turning violent. But how does any of this even sound remotely plausible? Apparently the entire Lavender Town Syndrome was all the fault of a single, simple song.
The song in question is the theme music that plays when you enter the fictional village, Lavender Town, in the original 1996 Japanese version of Pokémon Red and Green. The town is one of the only locations in the game that does not have a Pokémon Gym, but rather it is home to the “Pokémon Tower” — a large Japanese-style graveyard filled with hundreds of tombstones for deceased Pokémon. So, what about this music makes people reportedly feel so uneasy? And, what can be attributed back to the themes of the game itself to help answer this quandary?
In the original Creepypasta posting, it was insinuated that the programmers for Pokémon Red and Green created the song with code that would drive children to kill themselves – that the song itself contained harmful frequencies that only children could hear. Although this is untrue, it does point us in a not wholly false direction. It has since been established that the original song was created using binaural beats, special frequencies that can supposedly affect one’s mood and psyche. Mix these apparent digital drugs with the fact that children have been scientifically-proven to be able to experience a wider range of sound frequencies, and suddenly these claims of dangerous tones appear to make sense! However, what seems the likeliest is a simple blending of stories. In late 1997, a particularly excitable episode of the Pokémon cartoon TV program titled “Cyber Soldier Porygon” was responsible for inducing hundreds of epileptic seizures amongst its young audience. The Lavender Town Syndrome is likely the result of a not only seemingly plausible set of facts, but also the potentially crazed reputation that Pokémon would have had due to its prior publicity.
This leads us to the last factor that I believe could have been partially responsible for the wide dissemination of the Lavender Town Syndrome mythos. Lavender Town itself represents something of an anomaly within the Pokémon universe. Rarely if ever, aside from in Lavender Town, is the concept of death introduced into the cannon of Pokémon. Players’ pocket monsters can do battle and perform incredible feats without ever suffering from anything more than passing unconscious; however, suddenly the player is confronted with this image of death and dying as soon as they set foot in Lavender Town: “The plot involves a restless Pokémon spirit that angrily haunts a tower. That same tower is full of trainers mourning their dead Pokémon.” Perhaps, the restless spirit actually haunts the 1996 Red and Green game cartridges and not simply the Pokémon Tower in Lavender Town. Maybe it wasn’t a begrudged programmer who coded a dangerous song, but actually a lost soul that is trying to reach out to players through the game’s music. Clearly this isn’t the reality, the entire story and subsequent mythos surrounding it represent a really interesting attack on childhood innocence and the memories that we carry with this. But sometimes it just feels right to sit back and admire how so many distinct elements can line up in just the right way for such a compelling story to emerge and survive for over twenty years.