Have you ever heard of a Ham fest? Its an event the have every so often. It's basically a flea market where amateur radio operators reserve spots on the property or in a public building and sell radio equipment such as antennae, wires, old PC monitors, manuals, etc. There's always a dealer or two selling other things like their old novels and, rarely, video games. My dad always brought me to these when they had them, and I always scanned the booths for anything video game related. But there was this one dealer who I only met twice. He had long black hair under a baseball cap and wore jeans with a jacket. He looked to be in his thirties. He sold his collection of movies and video games from almost all systems off of a large rack with shelves out of the back of an 80's or 90's station wagon. I had bought from him Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask the first time I saw him, and the second time, an NES with a box of games. When I got home, I hooked up the system and rummaged through the box.
There were 10 games in it: Metal Gear, Sweet Home, Duck Hunt, Super Mario Bros., Doki Doki Panic, Gyromite, Castlevania 2, Contra, Puyo Puyo, and one I had never heard of called Hangman. The sticker showed a white silhouette of a man operating a gallows. Naturally, I wondered whether this was the classic puzzle game you play with your friends on a piece of paper or some adventure game. I put it into the system and the title screen came up. It was black with "Hangman" written in red letters with the bottom of the "g" being a noose. The game had two modes: Practice mode and Rescue mode, which was locked. I clicked practice mode and I was disappointed to find that it was indeed a word puzzle, but I played anyway. The screen showed the silhouette of the man from the cover, this time kneeling on the ground, hunched over and his arms held weakly above the ground. Next to him was a tall, bent post sticking out of the ground with a beam protruding from the top and a noose, obviously intended to be the gallows. A sprite that appeared to be a boy walked onto the screen and stopped. A text box appeared at the bottom of the screen. It read, "Hello, little boy. I am lonely. Will you play with me?" followed by a yes or no option. I chose "No," and I was brought back to the title. I went back and chose "Yes," then the white man spoke. "I am happy that I have someone to play with after so long. Let us begin..."
The text box changed to a short line of dashes above the alphabet, and I began to select some letters. If I found a letter, it would turn grey and appear on the line. If I got one wrong, a part of a wooden dummy would be attached to the noose. The phrases were completely random, and had no relation to each other. After completing a word, the man would congratulate me and ask if I would like to move on or not, and guessing six wrong letters and completing the dummy would result in the man saying something like "Bummer" or "That's too bad" and asking whether I wanted to retry or not.
I played for a while, and after I had completed 25 puzzles in a row, the man said, "Yes... I think you're ready..." I was then sent back to the title screen. Rescue mode was unlocked, so I chose it. This time the words were much longer and seemed to have more different letters. This time, a wooden body part would not appear on the noose. I completed the puzzle and moved on, with the message, "Well done. You have freed her." I was confused as to what this meant, but I kept playing. Each level gave me one of these strange messages, and I eventually realized that "Rescue Mode" meant that I was saving people that the white man apparently held captive.
Wondering what would happen if I failed, but thinking I knew the answer, I tried my best to find letters that would probably not be in the phrase, like "Q" or "X." I failed, and the screen faded to black, flashed white, then the original scene appeared again. The boy was crying into his hands as another boy hung from the noose, his mouth hanging open. Even worse, the white man had revealed himself to be a grotesque zombie, his skin tight over his bones and some intestines and skin hanging out. His eyes were small and white and he had four long, thin fangs sticking out of red gums. His hands were red and clawed. The text box read, "You failed my puzzle. Now your brother gets to die. You failed on purpose. His life was of no value to you, was it? Are you happy?"