EMPTY SPACESSometimes I wonder what's out there that we can't see. What sort of things pass us by that we fail to notice - or simply disregard as unimportant and forget without thinking. I wonder what it is we define ourselves by to prove that we exist.
But, sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm sure this will sound silly, but a few weeks ago, I had a bizarre experience with a Pokemon game, one I haven't been able to stop thinking about.
It began with me seeking to hack my Pokemon Y save. I know, I know - but I really wasn't doing anything harmful, I just wanted to give myself a few event Pokemon I'd have a hard time obtaining otherwise and perhaps boost the IVs of my existing team. I'd beaten the game a few times over, so maybe messing with my current save would add a bit more spice to this playthrough. Unfortunately, I hadn't thought to back up my original save before editing it...
I'd went to download PKHex, but the page I had got it from was... bizarre. I'd thought nothing of it then, as in the past I'd usually been fine just clicking the first link that cropped up in a cursory search, but now I realize it was a red flag. The page had been unusually simple - an all black background with white text, a big download link in the middle. "OFFICIAL PKHEX DOWN LOAD. OFFICIAL LINK HERE" was plastered all over the page. Incredibly unprofessional-looking, sure, but I'd seen near-equally amateurish official download pages for similar tools.
After scanning it for malware and finding none, I ran it, and used it as normal. There was only one abnormality that caught my eye - a single checkbox under the Trainer Info dialogue, already checked, labelled "Secret." It was greyed out and unclickable - whatever it was, I couldn't turn it off. But I disregarded it - maybe it was just some kind of oddly-labelled core game function? Though, admittedly, I wondered why it was in the editor at all...
I injected the edited save back into my game, and things began as normal... though, while it may have just been my imagination, it felt as though everything took far longer to load. But all my edits were in place, and the game seemed to work as normal otherwise, so I continued to play as I usually did, nearly forgetting completely about the PKHex oddities.
That was, until the unusual wild encounters began.
Walking through the flowers outside Snowbelle City, I encountered what looked like a Bulbasaur. That was strange enough, but it also was level 0, had an incorrect cry and its name was simply a number that I've forgotten by now. In my shock, I decided to at least catch it, to figure out what it was. Unfortunately, my attempt to weaken it made it faint instantly. I should have seen that coming, but either way I was left on the overworld confused and with no questions answered.
Afterwards, I did some research online to find out what that was. As it turned out, it seemed I had encountered one of the thousands of generation VI glitch Pokemon. Strange, usually 0-statted things that used the models of other - usually Bulbasaur - Pokemon, had numbers for names, and usually caused severe technical issues to keep in your party. So, perhaps, it was a good thing I didn't catch it, and I was lucky it hadn't crashed my game.
Though... I wasn't sure how or why I encountered it at all. I chalked it up to a side effect of the save editor - there was no other way to explain it, after all. Perhaps it was just a one-off glitch?
Of course, then, several normal encounters later in Victory Road, I ran into another glitch Pokemon... one that crashed my game on encounter.
I was understandably frustrated and kind of nervous. Something was wrong with my game. Anywhere, at any time, I could encounter one of the nearly sixty-five-thousand different glitch Pokemon, and many of them could crash my game - or possibly worse. After all, these things were incredibly poorly documented.
I decided to look online to see if there were any cases of people experiencing similar problems. But... there wasn't. No one made any reference to the glitched wild encounters. And, the site I'd downloaded the unusual PKHex from... it no longer seemed to exist. The "Secret." checkbox I had ignored didn't even seem to exist in normal PKHex downloads. Had I put some kind of unknown malware in my game?
But, making a backup of my presumably already-ruined save, I started to experiment. What else could I do?
I travelled all over Kalos, exploring the wild encounters. While not every encounter I had was with a glitch Pokemon, it seemed that there was no area where they couldn't appear in some form. Tall grass, water, caves, any and every kind of wild encounter... And, the more I encountered, the more frequently they began to appear in place of regular Pokemon. Worse still, this somehow seemed to carry over between save backups. I couldn't think of any kind of reasonable explanation, and I felt an equally-unexplainable growing dread.
Then, they started appearing on the overworld. Little models of sometimes Bulbasaurs, sometimes other Pokemon just sitting politely on the map, responding in Pokemon-typical gibberish when spoken to - well, aside from the handful that simply crashed the game when interacted with. They almost seemed like ordinary Pokemon NPCs, but they began to populate the map with increasing frequency. In some cases, there were so many gathered together that the entire game began to slow down.
I'd been tempted to call it quits, then. My save had become host to some kind of bizarre glitchy Bulbasaur infestation that refused to go away. I almost deleted the save entirely and started over, but that was when I encountered the first out of place trainer.
I'd nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw it. A human NPC that looked like a generic youngster, stuck in a mid-walking pose. They were amongst a crowd of the glitch Pokemon. I hesitantly interacted with them-
[One, two, three, four... Oh, hi! I'm counting the Pokemon here. Are you here to help?]
It was completely innocuous. If the glitch Pokemon and the youngster were all supposed to be here, I wouldn't have even paid it any mind, but...
On a hunch, I started travelling back to places that had already grown crowded with glitch Pokemon. And, as I suspected, new glitched trainers were present as well. In a myriad of different models, with a myriad of different visual errors, in cities, on routes, in caves and houses and walking on the water. It felt like the population of Kalos had nearly tripled, and places I'd already checked seemed to gain even more new NPCs when I wasn't looking. And, much like the wild encounters, it didn't seem to matter whether or not I saved my game before a crash - the progress in "populating the world" continued unchanged.
And, of course, all of them - or the ones I could get to, at least, as many were out of bounds - had things to say. Perfectly harmless, near-but-not-quite ordinary things.
An untextured Ace Trainer by the seaside- [The waves are beautiful... I'd like to cross the entire ocean someday. ...Wait, you can hear me?]
An NPC using Diantha's model, yet frozen and unposed in Lumiose City- [The streets are livelier than ever! It's been a long time since I've seen Lumiose like this!]
A Fisherman, model turned upside-down, standing at a Pokemon Center's counter- [Why are you looking at me like that? ...You shouldn't be looking at me.]
A Fairy Tale Girl with her head left unrendered leaving only floating eyes, pacing back and forth down Route 12- [There's so many Pokemon in the world! I have a hard time telling some of them apart, though!]
And more and more and more like that, the implication of something off but never any confirmation. It felt like I'd somehow accidentally intruded on some alternate version of Kalos.
There was one topic, however, that kept repeatedly cropping up in the dialogue that I didn't understand.
[The festival! The festival is soon! Aren't you excited?]
[Everyone's so busy getting ready for the big day! You'll be attending too, right?]
[I hope my mask will be ready in time for the parade... Huh? Aren't you making a mask?]
[I didn't know people like you could attend the festival. Well, I hope you have fun!]
While I was certainly still very much alarmed, my curiosity had been piqued. This was so far beyond normalcy that it felt almost dreamlike, and yet aside from the crashes and the model rendering errors, it seemed almost like some kind of genuine cut content from the game. Of course, if it really was some kind of unused easter egg on this scale, it would've long been documented by now, but there was something exhilarating about thinking of this as some long-lost secret buried in the code that only I had found.
So, despite my misgivings, I decided I would attend the in-game festival. Dialogue snippets here and there had pointed to it being a couple days from now, so I adjusted the internal clock on my 3DS.
No dice. Seems the glitch NPCs paid no heed to what time my 3DS said it was. So, I waited, occasionally checking in again to see if the dialogue changed. And, as suspected, they changed in regards to real life time. I had to wait for the day of the festival for real, it seemed.
So, reluctantly, I continued my life as normal. I marked the day of the festival on my calendar - it felt silly, marking an event in a video game alongside real events, but it really felt like something that if I missed, I feared I may never get the chance to see again.
However, throughout my daily life, it seemed my lingering anxiety about the game had some kind of bizarre effect on me. Shadows and shapes in the corners of my eye that weren't there, seeing suggestions of things in reflections that weren't there in real life, sounds I couldn't explain that no one else could hear... I began to wonder if I was having some kind of stress-induced hallucinations. It seemed ridiculous, getting like this over a hacked video game, but...
After about the third time I'd bumped into someone that didn't exist and mumbled "Excuse me," to an empty aisle, I decided to take time off work. I told myself I'd wait for the festival, attend, and then... hopefully things would be back to normal. Somehow.
So, the morning of the festival, the very first thing I'd done after fully waking up was start up Pokemon Y. The game hung for a long time when I tried to load the save file, and I felt my heart sink in my chest. But, patiently, I waited, and eventually the game loaded. I had last left off in the Lumiose Pokemon Center, and it appeared completely ordinary. Not a single glitch NPC, human or Pokemon, was in sight. And then, I walked outside.
Lumiose City existed in a broken, half-loaded state, the streets an untextured blackness and the "normal" NPCs usually inhabiting it popping in and out of existence. Garlands and all other manner of decoration stretched across the buildings, in a myriad of different colors. Glitched NPCs filled the streets, some travelling down the sidewalks leisurely, some wearing ornate Pokemon masks and travelling in a group headed down the street with purpose, some sitting at what looked to be little festively-decorated stalls. An unusual song I'd never heard before played, a haphazard mixture of sounds and song snippets throughout the game rearranged into something new and jubilant. While the game seemed to hang and jitter, barely-functional, it still felt as though I had somehow truly walked into some kind of celebration I'd never heard of.
The normal NPCs, when I could manage to talk to them, didn't say anything outside their usual canned dialogue. To them, the festival simply didn't exist. But the glitched NPCs were chattier than ever, with no shortage of things to say. Slowly, I began to write down and piece together what they said, though unsure to what end.
[Hm? Your kind doesn't usually get invited... You must be a party crasher! ...Haha, don't give me that frightened look, I'm joking! You don't need an invitation as long as you know how to attend.]
[There's somewhere over seven hundred real Pokemon in this world, outnumbered nearly a hundred times by our own. I wonder why?]
[This is a celebration of life and death, and our place in-between. A parade dedicated entirely to nothing! Ah, it sounds sad when I put it like that...]
[I wish we could do this more often. Don't you agree? ...Huh?! This is your first time?!]
[Hm? There's someone on the other side of your eyes. Hello, stranger!] At that, this NPC I was talking to turned directly towards the camera and waved, before continuing on their way.
I shuddered. It was a friendly gesture, but it still felt wrong being directly acknowledged by the game like that. I had named my player character after myself, but placing a divide between me and it made me feel more like I, personally was attending the festival as well, simply the companion of the model representing me. And this still wasn't supposed to be happening.
To shake off that anxiety, I decided to explore the festival further.
The stalls were little shops - some sold real items one could find in-game, though of a rather wide variety ranging from Mail to Master Balls, some sold nameless glitch items of unknown purpose, and some still refused to sell me anything entirely, claiming what they sold would be dangerous to "my kind." I didn't bother buying much, though. If I was going to delete this save after the festival anyway, I figured it didn't matter all that much.
Beyond Lumiose City, the routes and other cities were dressed up in decorations as well. While the bulk of the glitched NPCs seemed to be primarily hanging around Lumiose, there were still a great few milling about elsewhere. And, the marching procession of masked people and their accompanying Pokemon (the parade?) travelled through all of Kalos, growing in number as time passed. There was the occasional game crash when I talked to an NPC I shouldn't have, but when I reloaded the save everything was just as it was before the crash, cheerful festivalgoers and all.
Eventually, I grew tired of exploring and listening to the NPCs chatter, very little of which served to help me understand much more of what was happening. Though, I noticed with discomfort that several others acknowledged me, the player, as separate from the character I controlled.
I returned to Lumiose City as it seemed to be the hub of the festival. Hours had passed, and the parade had grown thick in number, a variety of increasingly strange and corrupted NPCs using the models of any random human in the game marching down the street. Occasionally, there even seemed to be parade floats of some kind, heavily decorated yet clearly constructed from things that already existed in the game. By the door to the Pokemon Center, there was an NPC that resembled an untextured and t-posing version of my own player character but in the default outfit - though certainly not the first one I'd seen of that type - standing there. I curiously talked to him.
[Oh! So you're the one who's been causing such a stir today! Rumors were going around that there was someone like you who could see us and even talk to us, and decided to attend the festivities. So... are you having fun?]
I was given a Yes/No dialogue box. I hesitantly chose Yes. I mean, I suppose it wasn't a lie - as freaked out as I was, there was something whimsical about it all.
[Glad to hear it! Though... I wonder which of you two said that.]
The model rotated to face the camera for a moment, before returning to face my character.
[Anyway, I saw you watching the parade for a while. I just stepped out of it myself, actually. Would you be interested in joining in? We use the same kind of body, so my mask should probably fit you. I'm not sure your friend could join in, though...]
Another Yes/No box popped up. That last part worried me somewhat, so I had gone for "No," but the game had stopped reacting to my input. The cursor flipped up and down between Yes and No a few times, before finally saying Yes on its own. ...Was the question not for me?
[Great! Here's my mask. Have fun, okay? Just make sure to return it when you're done.]
Upon my player character, an ornate gold-trimmed mask of a shiny Mew appeared, and then without any input from me, my character walked out into the parade and joined the march. Any attempt to move out of the parade simply moved the camera. I had completely lost control of my character.
Taking the opportunity to at least pan around the area, I searched for the front of the parade. At the very front of the sea of glitchy humans and out of place Bulbasaurs, there walked two human NPCs in full festival garb obscuring what models they used, wearing masks of Yveltal and Xerneas. As I looked at them, the camera focused on the one in the Yveltal mask as a dialogue box popped up.
[We are that which is neither alive nor dead. We are the empty spaces left behind. We have no names, no shapes, no identities of our own, so we take on those of others. We are the ones who do not exist and will not be remembered. In a way, we are comparable to garbage, by-products left behind by something greater.]
It panned over to the one in the Xerneas mask.
[But we are still here. We may be defined by what we are not, but we are defined. If we cannot be seen by those in the light, then we will simply have to rejoice in the darkness. Reality may have rejected us, but we are not alone as long as we have each other. As long as we nonexist, we will celebrate until even the idea of us disappears.]
The camera zoomed out, panning over the procession.
[We are the unknown! We are the unfinished! We are the undefined! We are the Festival of Unbeing!]
The crowd cheered, and I regained camera control. Try as I might, there was no way I could find to either trigger any other dialogue or regain control of my character. All the game would let me do was watch.
After a while, I simply left the 3DS unattended and tried to do other things around the house while I waited for the parade to end. My head was spinning, swimming with confused thoughts. What exactly had I done to my game...? Could I even still call it that?
When the parade had finally finished, the sun had began to set in real life. I had returned to my 3DS to see my player character stepping out of the dwindling parade, it taking its mask off as it returned to the NPC who had loaned it.
[Welcome back! Looks like you had a good time out there. Thanks for returning my mask.]
The game hung for a moment as the NPC took his mask back.
[You seem kind of down. Is something wrong? ...Oh, don't worry, we'll hold the festival again sometime next year! Maybe next time you could even bring your own mask, too.]
My character nodded.
[Y'know, you don't seem all that different from us. Your identity's just filled by someone else instead of not existing at all, right? Some of the other folks here thought it was weird to let you join the parade, but really I think we have a lot in common!]
The game was beginning to run more smoothly as most of the other glitched NPCs had left. A Bulbasaur's cry played from offscreen.
[Oh, that's my cue to go. See you next year! You and your friend take care, okay?]
With no animation, the untextured NPC hurried offscreen. The screen slowly faded to black. Suddenly-
[Saving your game... Please wait...]
Not that it meant much when the game had ignored save file changes before, but it made it feel a lot more final. The screen faded back in, and...
...everything was normal. The music was back to normal, the decorations were gone, even the glitched NPCs were gone. It was like none of it had ever happened. The only in-game proof I had was the few items I'd bought at the stalls, and even they could be justified by a simple cheating device.
I wasn't sure how to feel. I wasn't certain what I'd just experienced. But, despite my apprehension and curiosity, I could no longer bring myself to delete my save file. Not after that. What good would it have done, anyway?
I wasn't sure what to do anymore with it, though. I hadn't beaten the Elite Four on this save yet, so I figured perhaps I could do that...? I doubted that would feel all that satisfying after this, however...
When I tried to move my character, at first there was a long delay - I almost wondered if I had lost the ability to play entirely. But after a few long moments, he moved, and I had control again. I made my way back to Victory Road - with not a single glitch Pokemon encounter in sight - but didn't even make it the whole way through before I decided to stop playing and go to sleep.
My sleep was restless and dreamless, affected by the thoughts weighing on my mind, and when I awoke the first thing I did on the morning was check my 3DS. When I loaded the game up, my player character was in the Snowbelle Pokemon Center. Had he moved on his own while I wasn't playing? The thought didn't seem that strange, now.
When I attempted to move him, a textbox popped up instead.
[Who are you, anyway? ...Who and what am I? My identity... it's yours, not mine, right...? I don't think I actually have one...]
After that, I just stopped playing.
I still check in on the game sometimes. Every time I load, my character's somewhere else. He visits Lumiose quite a lot. I guess, as crazy as it sounds, the Festival gave him an identity crisis.
I can't say I've been doing too much better myself. The hallucinations - if they are that - never went away. I've returned to my daily life, but I'm haunted by the nagging sensation of things that aren't there, things that don't exist.
I suppose all I can do about it is wait for the next Festival, whenever that will be.