5 Things Found In Games You’d Think Are Fake But Are Actually Real

Where NonFiction Pokes Its Head Above Fiction’s Murky Waters

Video games thrive on making the unreal displayed before our very eyes. Fantastical lands, creatures, and gadgets you could only dream of, fiction finds refuge in these digital realms. Yet, there’s a good amount of times where things that seem like another tall tale wind up actually having a grain of truth. Today, we’ll be taking a little glimpse into a little assortment of trinkets and stories from our favorite video games and finding those clever grains of truth hiding in them. Be warned: there are some spoilers ahead.

 

Atropa Belladonna and Cicuta Douglasii – Divinity: Original Sin

Fantasy games are some of the last places I’d expect to find real-life sinking in, but it does happen occasionally. Divinity: Original Sin referring to two of the most hazardous plants on Earth caught me off guard. The funny thing was that I accidentally frustrated the friend I was co-oping the game with thanks to botanical knowledge and wound up spoiling a villain reveal.

The story goes like this: Thelyron, the local healer of  Cyseal, once cured Countess Arata of a dire thirst by putting a bit of Atropa Belladonna in her tea, followed by promising that she’d never age again after a tincture made of Cicuta Douglasii.

The first one of those two signaled to me that this dude was up to no good because Atropa Belladonna is better known as Deadly Nightshade. 

Image credit here: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/plants/wild-flowers/deadly-nightshade/

The tiny blueberry-like bulbs can block off the abilities of the body’s nervous system and bodily functions, resulting in dilated pupils along with uncontrollable drooling, sweating, and a long list of other unpleasant symptoms. That said, it also has the power to treat things like Parkinson’s Disease, motion sickness, and as a painkiller, so it can be used medicinally in controlled situations (the U.S. Forest Service has a good article about this here). Assuming Thelyron had some very profound ability to measure dosage, then he’s off the chopping block, but in such unadvanced times, it was pretty unlikely.

So by now, Thelyron already looked pretty suspicious, but add in the second “cure” of his, and he was outright guilty of murder. Cicuta Douglasii is better known as Water Hemlock, the stuff used to kill Socrates.

Image link here: https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/common-water-hemlock

It causes major failures of the central nervous system and the respiratory systems, and too much will straight-up shut those systems off. Ingesting it means you have an extremely high chance of seizures and convulsions, so you’re more than likely going to wind up dead without an immediate trip to the local Poison Control Center. For those curious, the USDA Agriculture Research Service has a great article showing the finer details of Water Hemlock here.

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that both of these plants can be found in random pockets of nature. Word to the wise, it’s not going to hurt any to keep the pictures above memorized and keep the Poison Control Center on speed-dial. You never know when this stuff could just be growing in the woods outside your house.

 

Chicken Gun – Crysis Warhead

Image credit here: https://crysis.fandom.com/wiki/Chicken?file=Crysis_2011_06_28_17_04_01_874.png

Remember when creative new ways to do copyright protection were built into various games to keep hackers out? From Spyro’s fairy friend breaking the fourth wall to Ocarina of Time refusing to open barred doors in Ganon’s Castle, but one of the more wacky and humorous examples was Crysis Warhead, the standalone expansion to the hit Crysis series, and their weird chicken gun. It looks like any regular old gun, but when you pull the trigger, you’ll be pelting enemies with poultry. Sure, the gag got old after the third time or so of firing it, but at least it was a relatively funny way of spreading the word of the evils of digital piracy.

Hidden in that strange copy protection, though, was a grain of truth. The real joke here is that chicken guns are real! Okay, so maybe they aren’t exactly as shown in the game, but they still fit the description for a chicken gun. So why would such an outlandish thing even exist, let alone be used by trained professionals?

Simple: the gun actually flings thawed-out chickens at mock-up airplanes to make sure they can withstand the impact if they hit a bird mid-flight. It makes a lot more sense explained that way, and they use the chickens since they’re the closest they can get to simulating a bird impact. It turns out this idea’s pretty old, going as far back as the first use in 1942 (Flying magazine has an entire article on this, page 40 of the link here).

Image credit here: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=a73U-LVtMckC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

While it’d be easy to assume that this thing was just a one-off thing used to occasionally test the inevitable bird-through-the-windshield issue, this is a practice that’s still in use today. When trying this on the well-known Boeing 757, this chicken gun actually pierced through the cockpit’s sheet metal (Seattle Times had a lengthy article on the 757’s design process, including this mishap, documented well by the Wayback Machine here). That’s right, a chicken gun not only exists, but found a serious flaw in a commercial aircraft!

So, chicken guns, while a fantastic little gag for an old PC favorite, hold a bit of history in aeronautics and helped save possibly thousands of people from poorly designed aircrafts meeting a very ducked up fate. 

 

Cave Johnson’s Moon Dust Death – Portal 2

Link to image here: https://half-life.fandom.com/wiki/Cave_Johnson?file=Portal2_2011-04-25_22-57-59-92.jpg

One of the most prominent themes you tend to see in puzzle games is science. And, oftentimes, science-fiction weasels its way in there (it’s okay, a learning experience is still a learning experience). But, for easy-to-digest science puzzles, few are better than the Portal franchise, using a fascinating little gun that folds reality like tissue paper, making holes in the world where there probably would never be in the first place.

The whole game focuses on Aperture, the company conducting these little science experiments to see how well you play with reality fabrics. The thing is, that company hadn’t had much revealed about it until the second game. It turns out that they had a quirky leader by the name of Cave Johnson, a man with a mission to throw science at the wall and only slightly care where it sticks while he flings his test subjects into some strange goos, odd devices, and test chambers made of the nightmares of OSHA employees. Seriously, none of this crap would fly in modern society, but hey, that’s the fun of science fiction, right? Good ol’ Cave seemed to think so!

Until he died, of course. It’s all fun and games until your quest for moon nuggets accidentally sets a really short timer on your life expectancy. Those walls the portals cling to? Made of moon dust, every one of them. Cave Johnson learned that one the hard way, because those moon rocks claimed his life pretty fast. Normally you could just file this under the game being silly, but there’s no joke in that. Don’t screw with moon dust.

See, put simply, dust on the moon hasn’t had any way to smooth over its rougher edges.

Image link here: https://www.nist.gov/image/moon-dust-montage-1024x321jpg

Know how when you get a good dose of dust moving around those boxes up in the attic, you can usually sneeze it right out? Wind and atmosphere typically chip away at dust, so it smooths over, and you can just sneeze or cough that crap right back out. Not moon dust, that stuff is rough and pointy thanks to being made of a silicon compound, and it loves getting stuck in your lungs, throat, and nose. Then, if your white blood cells try to pull the dust out, they just kill themselves in the process because of how pointy and jagged it is. If this sounds familiar, it should. We’ve been horrified by asbestos for years for a very similar reason. This irritation can quickly move to inflammation and even some forms of cancer (there’s a great little article NASA did covering the topic of extraterrestrial dust here). The symptoms are often short-lived but very hazardous even to be exposed to. So if anyone tries passing you genuine moon dust, it’s best to avoid that stuff entirely.

 

Nuclear Powered Cars – Fallout

Link for image here: https://fallout.fandom.com/wiki/Corvega?so=search&file=CorvegaCA2.jpg

The hit nuclear apocalypse game Fallout has had us wondering what a chrome-casted future would look like if we doused the whole world with cancer juice and lived lives of sorting through scraps. Of course, it takes nuclear power to the extreme, with everything using it, including cars and trucks. Under most logic, though, strapping live nuclear activity to something as mobile as a car just shouldn’t work. Except it sure as hell was a neat proof of concept because it turns out automobile manufacturers really sunk their teeth into this idea in the ’50s since nuclear energy just seemed so easy to make use of.

The main one that took on this idea was the Ford Nucleon, and it’s clear to see where Fallout drew its inspiration for its cars from.

Image link here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Nucleon#/media/File:Ford_Nucleon-en.jpg

This thing would’ve had a nuclear engine sitting in the back in a fashion not unlike a submarine, getting a whopping 5,000 miles to the tank. The thing was, with a full-blown nuclear engine in the back, it required a ridiculous amount of lead shielding to keep their drivers and passengers from a cancerous conniption. After you add in all that, it costs just a bit too much and makes it way too bulky to be feasible. The Drive did some excellent coverage of this sci-fi reject in great detail that you can read up on here.

Later, Ford tried to bring the concept back again at the Seattle World Fair with the 1962 Ford Seattle-ite XXI, packing all the latest features of the ’50s like automatic mapping systems, full navigation systems, and a modular design that made the front end able to split off and become a little capsule car for city travel.

Image link here: https://newatlas.com/ford-seattle-ite-one-of-historys-most-significant-concept-cars/2798/

If you happen to live in Michigan, you can catch sight of the original concept model at the Henry Ford Museum.

Another attempt by a different manufacturer was the Studebaker-Packard Astra boasting one singular wheel and meant to keep itself aloft using another ’50s fad called the gyroscope. It was actually the only one with a to-scale concept model built up, seats and all. Too bad it was way too far-fetched for anyone to take seriously and now rests in the Peterson Auto Museum.

 

Hacking Into Traffic Lights – Watch_Dogs

 

When you think of hacking, there’s a good chance what you picture is either really fantastical or quite mundane. From old-school Phreakers using clever dial-tone tricks for wire-tapping, to a group of hackers turning MIT’s Green Building into a giant playable game of Tetris, hacking has many forms and many applications, both good and bad. So when the hacking-focused free-roam action shooter, Watch_Dogs, came out, everyone tuned in to unleash their “uber 1337 hacker skillz”. That said, a good chunk of people were calling foul play, criticizing the hacking as over-the-top and definitely not possible. They’re right to some degree, as there are definitely some more notorious embellishments and hacking tropes taken too far. One in particular, though, as impractical as it sounds, is absolutely doable, and that’s hacking into street lights to control traffic.

Frighteningly abusable stuff is ahead here, and I do not invite people to actually try this stuff, so here’s your warning to enjoy reading and not replicating what’s in store. To get a good idea of how this works, we’ll do a quick rundown on just how traffic lights work, and why they almost seem like they’re entirely random in picking and choosing who stays or goes. There’s almost always either a camera, radar, or something called an inductive loop sensor that’s embedded in the road. So if you go to any traffic light and you pull into the turning lane, if the turning lane on the other side also has a car, no matter what stage that traffic light is in, its next phase will allow you and the car in the other turning lane to go. Put simply, the sensors tell the computer managing that set of lights, “Hey, people need to turn, let them and only them turn next, or we’re gonna have people crashing into each other.”

Now onto the part where the hackers come in. These sensors convey info to something called a traffic controller box that contains the computer managing all of this. Chances are you’ve probably seen these things attached to traffic lights several times before and probably never thought twice about them.

Some are installed in the ground, and some are affixed to a nearby traffic light’s pole.

The sensors that pick up info on if cars are present or not are usually communicating to the traffic controller box using a network operating on the 900 MHz or 5.8 GHz radio frequencies. Anyone with a laptop and an appropriate radio system would have no issue connecting to this network, and thanks to the cheapness of this system, as of writing this, these systems are not encrypted at all. Hell, a good chunk of administrator passwords on those systems use the defaults!

Moving on, once, inside the network, the next step is how you’d tell that controller to do things you want it to do. Thanks to that lack of encryption and authentication, hackers can find out from some sniffed packets that the VxWorks system the controller uses leaves a debug port open that’s normally used for testing. So now you’re connected to the network it uses and now have a way in through a debug port. The possibilities from here can range from DoS (Denial of Service) attacks to finding the commands it uses and sending it to the controller directly. For those interested in the more technical aspects, Infosec did a huge article detailing this whole process that you can read here.

There’s also a second way to mess with signals, but it’s a bit jankier and doesn’t always work. Some traffic lights check for emergency vehicles using a sensor that’ll read strobing light patterns. It is possible to make a device that strobes the same pattern by using a Mobile Infrared Transmitter. That said, if memory serves right from watching police and ambulances in my area, it’d likely just turn the lights all red so no traffic is in motion to make way for the emergency vehicle, and there aren’t very many lights that even have this sensor anyways. All of this is scarily easy to get together for a tech-savvy user, making its use in Watch Dogs not seem all that impractical. Doing it from a smartphone, especially one from the modern era, doesn’t seem far-fetched at all. That said, games should always be advocates for you, not to imitate them. Please don’t wind up in jail thinking your phone’s flashlight could magically change traffic lights, because even if it did, you probably just blinded several drivers in the process and made a mess in a totally different way.

 

For all the fiction you see in games, always remember that there’s always a chance that what you’re seeing might actually have had some real-life inspiration behind it. Truth is, after all, often stranger than fiction! Know of any fun little things you found in games that turned out to be real? Put them in the comments below!

Cory Clark
With a passion for all things musical, a taste for anti-gravity racing, and a love for all things gacha, Cory is a joyful and friendly gamer soaking up any little gem to come to his little Midwestern cornfield. An avid collector of limited editions with an arsenal of imported gaming trinkets he's absorbed into his wardrobe, he's usually always near his trusty gaming rig if he's not on his PS4 or Xbox One. And when he's not gaming, he's watching anime off his big screen with his lap lion Stella purring away.

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