It’s sort of romantic to think that, long after our bodies wither and die, we’ll still live on in the memories of all the people we made meaningful connections with. That same thought extends to all forms of media; authors can influence readers across generations with their work, and actors will be eternally preserved in their films. Or, if you’re lucky enough to win a contest, you might be able to live forever as part of the video game continuum.
Thanks to fun contests held by game developers, a willingness to take a chance, and a whole lotta luck, these average folks are now everlasting bits of some of your favorite virtual worlds. They thought the grand prize was a simple cameo in a game, but no – their reward is nothing short of digital immortality.
Juan Gaspar, the new face of health regeneration
Turok 2: Seeds of Evil was made during a magical time, when games were chock-full of cheat codes, from the practical (invincibility) to the purely amusing (Big Head mode). And Turok 2 really appreciated the value of the latter category, letting the player play in a wireframe world, shrink all enemies, or reduce all the textures to solid colors simply for their own enjoyment. Then there was Juan’s Cheat, which reskinned all the health pick-ups in the game to a young boy’s face against a garish yellow background. That boy – who, at this point, is very probably a man – is Juan Gaspar, a winner of a Turok contest held in Nintendo Power (rest in peace, you magnificent magazine). But the strangest part of all this, besides winning the chance to see your actual face on an in-game item, is that Turok 2 uses separate code inputs between versions (opens in new tab): Juan’s Cheat is ‘HEEERESJUAN’ and ‘YOQUIEROJUAN’ on N64 and PC, respectively.
Kurt Zisa, the bestower of unfitting names
This six-armed, sickle-wielding, serpent-like Heartless is an absolute monster. As one of the hidden bosses in the original Kingdom Hearts, few players will have the resolve to track him down in the English versions of the game, let alone defeat him. He lies in wait beneath the sands of Agrabah’s desert, ready to decimate anyone foolish enough to face him underleveled or unprepared. And his name is… (cue John Cena’s theme (opens in new tab))… KURT ZISA!!! The real-world Kurt Zisa from Medford, New York won a contest to name a boss in Kingdom Hearts – and rather than carefully assess the attributes of the character that would bear his chosen moniker, he simply slapped his own name onto the creature and called it a day. And if you were unaware that this contest even happened at all, encountering the in-game Kurt Zisa will leave you scratching your head as to how he got such an unfitting, out-of-place name. But hey – Kurt’s contest, Kurt’s choice.
Daniel Vallee and Michael Leader, two would-be Doctors Wily
Capcom’s had a longstanding tradition – in both the original Mega Man games and the later Battle Network series – of using Japanese fan submissions as Robot Master designs, effectively giving players the power to create a boss. But it wasn’t until Mega Man 6 that North Americans could get in on the action. That changed with another Nintendo Power contest, where thousands of crayon and colored pencil drawings were sifted through until only two designs remained: Daniel Vallee’s Knight Man, and Michael Leader’s Wind Man. Decades after the fact, Vallee was interviewed by the fine folks at The Mega Man Network (opens in new tab), revealing two shocking details: First, Vallee’s name is misspelled in the credits due to his sloppy handwriting, and second, Vallee never actually played MM6 or fought the mace-swinging Robot Master of his own creation. Wait… WHAT?! You best get on that lickety-split, Daniel. There are just some things you have to do in life, and this is one of them.
Paul Keeler, intergalactic card pro
This fresh-faced fellow is Nikko, an avid pazaak player who spends his time lounging around a nondescript cantina in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2. Pazaak is to the Old Republic universe as Tetra Master and Triple Triad are to Final Fantasy; if you’ve never played this classic card minigame yourself, it’s a bit like blackjack with addition and subtraction cards you can play from your hand. Anyhow, Nikko is the spitting image of Paul Keeler, a lucky winner who got to visit Lucasarts and get his face (which admittedly looks strange atop an adult NPC’s body) scanned for a small part in KOTOR2. ‘Small’ being a somewhat relative term, as Nikko is actually a key witness in a murder investigation – and if you ask me, that’s enough to justify an IMDB page (opens in new tab).
Charlie Malone, victim of a horrific ferris wheel accident
Way back at E3 2009, Atlus held a contest that would put the winner in Trauma Team, the fifth game in the Trauma Center series (which, frankly, deserves another sequel by now). One lucky person (who had the credentials to attend E3) would get to be an in-game patient, rushed in for some hasty surgery lest they trigger a Game Over upon their death. And winner Charlie Malone (opens in new tab) gets to enter the emergency room in the ‘History of Fear’ mission under some pretty wild circumstances: he’s got an entire steel beam puncturing through his abdomen after a ferris wheel collapsed nearby. To spice things up further, Malone immediately goes into cardiac arrest the moment your scalpel starts making cuts. Perhaps the best part of the entire operation (opens in new tab), though, is the moment when you finally free the colossal girder from the poor man’s midsection… using nothing more than your regular forceps.
Dan Emmerson, eviscerated before he could escape to an elevator
You’ve got to hand it to Visceral Games for being so upfront about their contest name: “Get Dismembered in Dead Space 2”. To win the once-in-a-lifetime experience of being torn apart by a Necromorph, entrants had to design a spiffy animation for Isaac performing a counterattack on an incoming enemy. Dan Emmerson won the grand prize with his particularly imaginative method for killing Leapers, dubbed the “Meat Cello”, which has Isaac stomping their heads into the ground and stringing their spines up like an upright bass. Emmerson was rewarded with an NPC bearing his likeness, who meets his end by getting a cleaver through the sternum before he can join Isaac on an elevator ride to safety. And Emmerson, being the stand-up guy that he is, had the wherewithal to document his contest entry and results in one handy compilation (opens in new tab).
Luke Oliver, hidden Arkham inmate
If you went for all the Riddler trophies in Batman: Arkham Asylum, then you’ve no doubt seen Luke Oliver – but you may not remember him, given the fact that his peculiar presence is never explained in-game. Oliver won a contest to occupy one of the cells in Arkham Asylum, but instead of residing in general population, he gets a tiny little cell in the Penitentiary’s control room, opposite the shape-shifting Clayface. With one arm tied up in his straightjacket and the other outstretched at Batman in a manner most creepy, Oliver can give you a legitimate scare if you’re not expecting him. That’s only made worse by the fact that Oliver’s blank, face-scanned expression (opens in new tab) feels completely detached from the frenetic body movements, which share the same animations as the Lunatic enemy type. On top of this freaky cameo, Oliver’s even name-dropped at the bottom of the Joker’s Party List, right alongside criminally deranged villains like the Mad Hatter, Two-Face, and Killer Croc. Whatever Oliver did to earn his spot on that invitation list, it must’ve been bad.
Chris Houlihan, the absentee guardian of a spatially impossible room
Of all the fortunate contest winners selected to be part of a video game, Chris Houlihan is undoubtedly the most famous. It certainly helps when you feature in one of the best games ever (opens in new tab) – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, to be specific – but there’s also an air of mystery surrounding Houlihan’s name. His namesake room, won through a 1990 issue of Nintendo Power, is fairly simple: a wide-open cave containing 45 Blue Rupees (worth 225 Rupees total) and a message that reads “My name is Chris Houlihan. This is my top secret room. Keep it between us, OK?” But the catch is that Houlihan’s room is actually a stopgap for glitches; you’ll only be warped there when you transition screens in such a way that the game doesn’t recognize where you are. All that is to say: most people probably stumbled across this room purely by accident, and when they exited, they were whisked away to Link’s house like nothing had happened. That kind of surreal experience is tailor-made to go from a playground rumor to one of gaming’s most timeless legends.
This bunch, all victims of a Scientology parody
The entire Grand Theft Auto series has always had fun with easter eggs, conspiratory rabbit holes, and secrets buried so deep they’re practically at the Earth’s core. And of all the wild GTA rumors that turned out to be completely true (opens in new tab), the Epsilon Program saga in Grand Theft Auto 5 may very well be the wildest. Epsilon is a Los Santos-based cult that’s a clear satire on the enlightenment(?)-granting Church of Scientology, and there’s an absurdly long string of missions you can undertake to help Michael gain entry into the Epsilon Program’s delusional ranks. Rockstar also has a history of making mock, real-world websites to match their in-game mythos, and stealthily held a contest on the ‘real’ Epsilon Program website (opens in new tab) to induct five actual people into the cult. The winners – Ameer, Haylee, and Jesse from the US, Tiana from Australia, and Josche from Germany – were then GTA-ified and posted on the anti-Epsilon Cultstoppers site (opens in new tab) as missing citizens thought to be abducted by the Program. Clearly, Rockstar isn’t content to hold simple sweepstakes – it goes all-out ARG with its contests.
Bryan Henderson, denied of his rightful godhood (but with a consolation prize)
This has to be the most dramatic video game contest in history, given what was at stake, the controversy it ignited, and the semi-happy ending that awaited its winner. It all started with Curiosity – What’s Inside the Cube?, a social experiment turned iOS app that had millions of people tapping away at a giant cube, deconstructing it pixel-by-pixel just to see what awaited inside. Only one person would have the privilege of winning the prize inside: a video (opens in new tab) of the ‘Prince of Questionable Promises’ himself, Peter Molyneux, explaining how this lucky person would share in the revenue generated by Molyneux’s upcoming crowd-funded game Godus, and serve as the game’s one true God with unimaginably powerful in-game privileges. Curiosity’s winner, Bryan Henderson, never got the “life-changing” reward Molyneux had hyped up, a story that became a scathing expose (opens in new tab) two years after the fact and triggered a massive backlash for public opinion on Molyneux. But there’s a silver lining: publisher Devolver Digital and developer Roll7 took pity on Henderson’s misfortune, and decided to include him in Not A Hero as the almighty God (opens in new tab), impervious to bullets and able to clear the screen of enemies in an instant. Not too shabby, all things considered.