In a curious twist, Ghost Black has struck a chord with a dedicated community of gamers, who have begun working towards giving it a lasting presence. Now, you can view YouTube videos that mock up sections of the game, and even play a retold homebrew version. There are even more ambitious projects that have followed in kind, such as a recent alternate reality game about a cryptic and malevolent copy of Majora's Mask. What started as a figment, plucked from nowhere, has begun to materialize throughout the internet - and so the story of Ghost Black itself has become ghostly in its own way: Bit by bit, this game that doesn't exist has become half-real. In the same way that urban legends gain a presence and authority through their tellings and re-tellings - always something you heard about from a friend of a friend - these revisitations inch us ever closer to the day when an honest-to-goodness copy of Ghost Black really will turn up in some second-hand shop, quietly waiting for the chance to ruin some poor kid's childhood. Inevitably, stories change in their tellings, but in all these half-versions of the game, there is one constant: Nowhere is it suggested that there is anything actually supernatural at work, and no dark presence other than the devious crafter of the hacked cartridge. Instead, Ghost Black is about the perfectly mundane things that catch the corners of our eyes - and the way that even a familiar place can become surreal and strange when you turn out the lights. Even in a world without ghosts, there is more than one way to be haunted.
While the story of Ghost Black is undeniably twisted, it's also eerily long-sighted. Its gaze is fixed not at a moment of youthful triumph, but many decades after the fact, framing the events of the game as a dim and distant memory. Part of this is a matter of scope and perspective - whether a story is a breezy adventure or an existential meditation depends greatly on when you choose to say "The end." But part, too, is the way that the inevitability of death can creep into the most unexpected places - the way that, if you draw them out long enough, all stories tend to end the same way. Even Pokémon, with its remakes and generation-hopping isn't exempt from this, and time is one element from which no pokémon is immune. Your cartridge full of shinies and legendaries, what is its fate - not tomorrow, but in ten years, twenty years, a hundred? Will it wind up in a second hand bin, to be erased at a moment's notice by an impatient 12 year old? Or will it be found in a corroded mess at the bottom of a dusty box by your grandchildren, for whom tooling around with Pikachu is about as appealing as a rousing game of croquet? Or maybe, one day it'll just sort of ... stop.
In the final paragraphs of the story, the writer wonders why a game like Ghost Black would even exist. Is it some sort of sick joke, to get little kids running to their parents, screaming "Mommy, make it alive again"? Or is it something else? Pokémon, after all, is one game where the collection never needs to stop: You collect, and collect. You collect 'em all, and then they make more, and you collect them all over again. You collect hundreds, thousands. You collect them, and they collect dust. How perverse, then, to imagine the point at which all this ends - with one of your own stalwarts come back to you from beyond.
But it is not there to fight, or to train. It has come to collect.
Brendan Main hails from the frosty reaches of Canada, where all the pokémon are ice-type. He ain't afraid of no ghost.