The phenomenon of the Lavender Town Tone is a legend that involves a bizarre spate of medical cases and deaths from around the country that have been connected to the Pocket Monsters (Pokémon) series of games (in particular, the first two games of the series: Red and Green).
Though the event is largely unheard of due to disclosure laws for companies based in the Kyoto Prefecture, there is a large amount of information that has been brought into the open by a number of dedicated individuals, including Seki Uchitada, Ise Mitsumoto, and Satou Harue (to whom this page is dedicated). Thanks also goes out to Andou Kagetada for providing images and animated gifs of the visual phenomena.
This analysis will discuss the other phenomena that is often confused with the Lavender Town Tone, known as the White Hand Sprite, Ghost Animation, and Buried Alive Model, as well as the semi-related developer tag that was inserted into the game and how to safely perform these "Easter Eggs" in post-first wave cartridges.
History of the Game
The first cases of the Lavender Town Tone and associated events were reported a few months after the release of Pocket Monsters Red and Green for the handheld Game Boy video console. These video games were wildly popular with children between the ages of seven and twelve (the core demographic), which was no doubt one of the reasons why the Lavender Town Tone had the level of severity that it did.
In the game, the player takes on the role of a Trainer, whose task it is to capture, tame, and train wile creatures called Pocket Monsters for battle. These games and the two newest additions to the series, Pocket Monsters Gold and Silver, an anime, manga, figurine set, collectible card game, and home console games have resulted in Pocket Monsters becoming a multi-billion dollar franchise.
In one part of the game, the Trainer comes to a small, out-of-the-way place called Lavender Town. This town is one of the smallest hamlets in the game, aside from the Trainer's own hometown, and possesses very few of the services available to the Trainer in every other city of the game.
Indeed, the location would be unremarkable were it not for the Pokémon Tower located there - a colossal building that holds the graves of hundreds of deceased Pokémon.
It is theorized that because of this location in the game, at least two hundred children lost their lives and many more developed sudden illnesses and afflictions. In fact, this doesn't even consider the vast waves of unreported illnesses or deaths whose cause went unnoticed.
History of the Pathology
It was not until Spring/Summer of 1996 that cases that would eventually become linked to the Lavender Town Tone began to surface. The earliest record of acknowledgement of the effects of the Lavender Town Tone that the author could find came from an internal report made in June 1996 by the company Game Freak Inc., which was then leaked by one of its former employees, Ms. Satou harue.
In it, the employees give a list of names, dates, and symptoms - records of children between the ages of seven and twelve who had suffered various medical problems as a result of playing Pocket Monsters Red and Green. Some records are listed below, with the full listing in Appendix A.
(It should be noted that entries in the Appendix also include symptoms borne not from the Lavender Town Tone but from the so called White Hand Sprite, Ghost Animation, and Buried Alive Model, all of which were visual phenomena that provoked similar but distinct symptoms. More details on part two.)
- 京极 勝女; April 12 1996 (11). Obstructive sleep apnea, severe migraines, otorrhagia, tinnitus.
- 千葉 広幸: May 23 1996 (12). General irritability, insomnia, addiction to videogame, nosebleeds. Developed into violent streaks against others and eventually himself. [自殺]
- 桃井 久江: April 27 1996 (11). Cluster headaches, irritability. Eventually took mixed painkillers. [自殺]
- 吉長 為真: March 4 1996 (7). Migraines, sluggish and slow behaviour, unresponsiveness. Developed into deafness, and went missing. Body discovered beside road April 20 1996. [死出]
The document that was circulated internally was the first time these incidents had been connected with the Pocket Monsters video games; until then, the cause had not been discovered or diagnosed by medical professionals. Indeed, it is uncertain how the company themselves managed to find the cases related to the event without seeking advice from health services.
Pathology Detail — Lavender Town Tone
The predominant symptoms related to what would become known as the Lavender Town Tone included headaches and migraines, bleeding from eyes and ears, mood swings and irritability, addiction to the games, unprovoked violence, withdrawl and unresponsiveness, and (in approximately 67% of cases) suicidal tendencies.
However, these symptoms only manifested in children between the ages of seven and twelve years old who had reached the area in the game known as Lavender Town. Most of them were revealed to have been wearing headphones or earphones while playing the game at the time (see Appendix A).
As it turns out, the developers of the Lavender Town area had sought to make an area that would "leave an impression on the player," according to Seki Uchitada, a member of the development team. Seki claimed that at the time of the development, a number of the team were interesting in making Lavender Town a little different from the rest of the game.
"The Pokémon Tower is a visible result of that," Seki told Game Dimensions Magazine in an interview earlier this year. "That and the fact that Lavender Town is so different from all other cities in the game. It is smaller, has fewer people occupying it, no gym, and...of course, the music was very, very eerie.
In fact, in the first version of the game, we were told to slightly change the song played in the background of Lavender Town...because our manager told us it would make children upset. The music used in subsequent versions is different."
Either Seki was unaware of the full impact of the Lavender Town Tone or was vastly under-exaggerating how "upset" children would get. No more is said of the music in the article, but there are mentions of Lavender Town's other macabre features (see below).
What Seki failed to disclose to Game Dimensions Magazine was that the music used in the first-wave release of Pocket Monsters Red and Green was formulated out of an experiment in "binaural beats."
Using slightly different frequencies of sound, each frequency played in one ear through earphones or hedphones and various psychological effects can be induced upon the listener. In most versions of the first-wave releases, this resulted in the player feeling easy, apprehensive, and mildly disturbed.
However, for upwards of 200 children, it provoked a variety of disturbances in the brain that went undetected purely because it was undetectable by fully-developed human ears. Instead, only children fell victim to the tones, resulting in psychological and physiological problems that, in some cases, led to death (many of which were suicides).
Pathology Detail - Visual Overview
These visual effects are known among programming circles as the White Hand Sprite, the Ghost Animation, and the Buried Alive Model. Each has been found to cause headaches, nausea, and (in severe cases) hemorrhaging of the brain and lungs.
While around 70% of Lavender Town Syndrome (LTS) is due to the Lavender Town Tone, the remaining percentage is split among the visual phenomena. This is partly due to the visual stimuli occuring after the player is introduced to the Lavender Town Tone.
It has been theorized that those unaffected by the aural stimulation, such as the deaf or hard of hearing, make up the remaining 30%. While viewing these models can cause these effects, there are certain methods that allow a viewer to safely examine them in detail.
The White Hand Sprite
Known in the code as WhitHand.gif, this was scripted to appear as a Pokémon on the third floor of the Lavender Tower. It is divided into four separate animations: an introduction (the "cry" a Pokémon unleashes before a battle), an idle, and two attacks. These attacks are unknown, as they are listed simply as "Fist" and "Brutal."
While viewing the animation has been proven to be hazardous, viewing the individual frames of the model has been proven to have no adverse effects. The White Hand is depicted as a shriveled, slightly decayed hand with sprising attention to the detail: flesh is peeling back from the bone and several tendons dangle realistically out of the wrist.
The first attack is the hand balling into a fist and swinging forward. However, the "brutal" animation is missing several frames. The hand seems to open up, then cuts out. After a few seconds, it reappears, closed again. No record has been found of these missing frames.
The Ghost Animation, known in the code as Haunting.swf, was intended to be placed in several areas throughout the tower, including the center of a path on the second floor. However, players cannot interact with it, leaving many to believe that it was intended as a "background feature."
The Ghost Animation, like the White Hand Sprite, must be viewed as individual frames. It is comprised of 59 frames total. However, after extraction, around half of these frames have been revealed to be the standard ghost model used in all versions of the Pocket Monsters games that allow travel to Lavender Town.
Around a quarter of the remaining frames are comprised of static that produces a "fading" effect. However, interspersed with these bursts of static are several frames of screaming faces and images of a skeletal man in a cloak (hypothesized to be the Grim Reaper) and several killed corpses. The meaning behind these are unknown.
While under oath before the Video Games Commision Board, lead programmer Hisashi Sogabe testified as to having "no knowledge as to where these images surfaced."
Out of all the phenomena associated with LTS, this animation is the most speculated on. In his thesis "Video Games and the Manipulation of the Human Mind," [viewable in Appendix C] Dr. Jackson Turner argued that the images were intentionally placed in.
Due to their brief time appearing on the screen and the graphic nature of these images, Turner theorizes that these were meant to subliminally influence players into becoming more frightened by the disturbing surroundings.
The Buried Alive Model
Often referred to as its code name, the Buryman Script, the Buried Alive Model was to be found on the final story of the Pokémon Tower in the spot of what has been replaced with the Marowak ghost. According to the scripts assigned to it, the Buried Alive Model was intended to be the "boss" of the tower. Upon reaching the top floor, the following conversation would have taken place.
Buried Alive: You're...here.
Buried Alive: I'm trapped...
Buried Alive: ...and I'm lonely...
Buried Alive: ...so every lonely...
Buried Alive: Won't you join me?
After this, the battle would have been initiated. One in "battle view," the Buried Alive Model appears to be a decaying human corpse attempting to crawl out of the ground. It has been programmed to have two White Hands, a Gengar, and a Muk. Strangely enough, a protocol for Buried Alive's actions after defeat wasn't written.
In the case of the player defeating him, the game would freeze. However, an unknown programmer is said to have wrote a speciic ending that was supposed to play once Buried Alive was defeated.
In this ending, Buried Alive was to have stated, "Finally, fresh meat!" followed by several lines of Gibberish. He was to have then dragged the player into the ground surrounding him. The scene would finish with a typical "Game Over" screen. However, in the background an image of Buried Alive devouring the player was to have been shown.
Especially strange are the protocols for after this scene. The cartridge was to download this image to the small internal memory contained in the Game Boy, overwriting the title screen that normally accompanied a Game Boy turning on.
Afterward, whenever the Game Boy was started, the player would view this same image of Buried Alive devouring the player character from the Pokémon games as a sound file known as staticmesh.wav was played. The intended purpose for this effect, unlike many of the other factors leading toward LTS, is unknown.