Taboo Fortune

Friday, February 13, 2004

Editor's Note: The person mentioned in the below case chose to remain anonymous, therefore he will be referred to as the "Subject" from this point forth. This person and the situation are real. I would ask for all readers to remain open in mind and spirit before jumping to any early conclusions. It is also crucial to note from a moral standpoint that I am not looking to make any profit or gain from the unfortunate events that played out in the Subject's life. I made clear that he had my deepest sympathy from the very beginning.


This piece certainly proved to be one of the most intriguing to compile, and that stands for all my work here on NES Player. I have always held interest in the unknown, the paranormal, and human behavior since I could remember as a small child. The social human aspects fascinated my curiosity and still do to this day. Which explains the main decision to investigate further into this so-called "Taboo fortune" upon reading stories of people witnessing strange occurrences shortly after "playing" Taboo: The Sixth Sense for the NES.

As a little background information on Taboo: The Sixth Sense, the title was released stateside in April 1989 by licensee Trade West (the same folks who brought us Battletoads). The game's copyright states 1988, however, and was developed by the then-momentum-building UK based Rare Ltd. The cartridge retailed for the average price of shrink wrapped video games at the time despite the short lack of appeal and the flat-out lack of a game altogether.

To begin our investigation of Taboo: The Sixth Sense it is necessary to first point out the usage of words within the software’s name.

The beginning word 'taboo' itself is defined by as: "Excluded or forbidden from use, approach, or mention," as an adj. and "A ban or an inhibition resulting from social custom or emotional aversion" in noun form. Taboo = bad/unspoken of thing.

Secondly is the 'sixth sense' meaning, also provided by "A power of perception seemingly independent of the five senses; keen intuition." We usually refer to the motion picture The Sixth Sense, starring Bruce Willis, to coin the modern connotation; typically a way some people have to perceive or make contact with the dead. In spiritual/paranormal circles (such as the eight-year-old web portal run by co-authors/"ghost hunters" Dave R. Oester, Ph.D. and Sharon A. Gill, Ph.D.), this ability is considered a special and intimately developed physic gift that some possess. Furthermore these physic circles tend to believe children at an early age better have access to this undeveloped part of the brain before being formulated to exercise the portions of the brain for mathematics, language, and colors as taught in our educational systems.

Getting back to our initial judgment of Taboo, as we can see from the definitions, the game pak certainly does not hold back on the strong language, bearing an intentionally dark mood to the title. It appears that Rare understood the deep material involved. Yet still to build on the spiritually forceful terminology, Rare decided to also place questionable inappropriate sinister imagery as well; e.g. the title screen's blinking red-eyed skull. In fact, much of the sprites shown throughout Taboo are portrayed as doomful. These small subtleties serve to add to the overall stirring 'excitement' or 'atmosphere' begging that it is true Rare set out to produce more than just a run of the mill horoscope game with Taboo by including non-mainstream elements similar to that of cult ritualistic icons ("black magic").

Nintendo game testers at that time were notorious for censoring any religious symbols or questionable content from NES titles; this we know. So then why did the censors allow passage to the only licensed NES title dabbling in spirituality and complete with full frontal and backside nudity? Did they understand the roots or significance of such 'spiritual tools', even if Rare could have brushed off the accusation by labeling Taboo as a "semi-mockery" of those arts? With such strict guidelines Nintendo set out enforcing publishers, how did this "game" get released when it is barely a game to begin with? Why would Rare make such a poor title during the company's upward stride to gaming developer hall-of-fame?

I set out to attempt to answer these questions, and found much more information.

Taboo: The Sixth Sense

As I previously mentioned, Taboo is a completely lacking video game. It is shallow, flat, and can be "beaten" within ten minutes time - which is just the point to make: replayability. Once a question is answered, the player is escorted back to the main screen to start again. Repetition is the one key component of this "game." Rare expected the player to ask question after question and observe the same ominous screens over and over until boredom set in.

My proposed question is this: Does the constant dark enchantment of Taboo have an effect on the mind when someone is consciously drawing question upon question and viewing the same formula so many times over again? Before we can begin to answer that, let's take a quick run-down on the "gameplay" itself.

Once the person presses Start on the title screen, the player is introduced to an uninspiring "build-up" that might have been successful in fooling a younger child.

Which raises another question: Who is the main audience for this "game?" Is it geared towards the pre-teen, teenager, or adult crowd? I think it is pretty safe to rule out the 18 or older crowd, but is Taboo really the sort of experience a pre-teen or below should be experimenting with? Later on in the article I address the connection between this "game" and another popular 'communicator' called the Ouija board. Taboo, if successful in anything, is luring adolescents into subjects he or she may not be able to handle mentally or emotionally.

The next menu prompts the player to fill out his or her name, birthday, and gender. Notice the usage of a crucifix and "witch/anarchy" symbol. This is the one part of Taboo where the player feels connected to the "game." Whether or not that player is "serious" to it or not, the player knows that he or she consciously has given up personal information. I find it suspicious that the Rare chose to begin asking of this sort of intimacy.

Following the player's input, the person playing is told to compose a question for Taboo to answer. Remind you of something? This is yet another reference to the popular Ouija board, underlining that possibility beyond a strictly 'horoscope game' to a much broader outline of spiritual communicators.

Soon after the computer shuffles the deck of tarot cards.

A Quick History Lesson: The first example of the modern divination tool called tarot cards dates back 500 years ago to northern Italy. A traditional deck amounted to 78 and divided into two groups: 22 tarots are of major arcana and the remainder cards are minor. Each card holds a general meaning and is translated by not only its type but also the position in which it is drawn (right side up or upside down). There are many different decks widespread and available to the user; some proving to be better for answering specific circumstances/questions than others.

After the shuffling sequence is finished, the system then removes precisely 10 tarot cards from the deck. These chosen cards are either numbered (78 major arcana) or apart of a "club" set (22 minor arcana). Their values are combined to determine the overall final verdict or fortune at the end.

Below are just some of the examples of tarot cards used in Taboo.

The final screen, after finding out one's outcome, displays "lucky" fortune numbers as translated accordingly to the player's U.S. state and the amount of numbers they have chosen.


Right about this moment you might have already judged Taboo: The Sixth Sense as a rather low-grade attempt at "creativity" (or "new approach") and nothing more. From our deciphering the core elements that embody Taboo above, we can better understand its inner workings and relate back to help explain our Case File.

Introduction to Case File

Meet the Subject.

He agreed to share his personal story to the world if only his identity remained anonymous. I contacted this person throughout the duration of writing this article to better understand the amazing events that you are about to read about. Let me insist that these events did happen and they are real. What you are about to read is not a "made up" account but an actual encounter of subsequent events that followed after a personal experience with Taboo. I edited a few words (as seen in brackets) and nothing more, so all in all below is the unadulterated story.

The Personal Story

Posted anonymously:

When I was younger I rented this game because I had seen it and I was curious about it. As I was playing it I noticed that little devil or satyr faces with glowing red eyes would appear super imposed over the suns on the backs of the cards from time to time. Needless to say this creeped me out immensely. Almost every time I asked the game a question I would get a negative reading involving the Devil card and or death. I didn't take any of it very seriously though, after all I was young and just shrugged it all off as a silly video game. Within the next few following months my dog Tippy died, my parakeet died, and then the worst thing all happened my father died of lung cancer. My parents were split already and I lived with my father because my mother was deemed unfit due to her alcoholism. He was my best friend.

Anyway years passed and I never really blamed the game for any of those things because logically it is just silly to think that an 8 bit video game cartridge can cause someone to lose everything that they care about.

I got married and moved out of town. I finally got a computer and internet access and as a result I discovered emulation. (I did not have my NES anymore because I gave it to one of my best friends before I moved.)

So I [played] the Taboo [game] to give the game another try. My wife thought it sounded cool and we asked it a few questions. The devil/satyr faces with their creepy red glowing eyes appeared again and my wife saw them too.

Needless to say it creeped her out too. Again I got negative readings. Over the course of the next few days both me and my wife became terribly ill. She got over her illness quickly, but I had a fever of nearly 104 off and on for about 5 days straight. I was delirious with fever for a bit. I finally went to the doctor and I was told that I had an unidentifiable flue-like illness. He prescribed me some strong antibiotics (The same kind that they give people who have contracted Anthrax.) and he threatened to hospitalize me if my fever did not go down soon. I got better but the antibiotics cause me to have internal bleeding.

Needless to say I have never played the "game" since this happened.

I am not saying that I believe that Taboo was responsible for anything that happened in my life but I do feel like it is not worth the risk to find out.

Is anything really worth that?

A sample of a "bad" Taboo tarot reading.
Note: This was the first card dealt to me during my first & only Taboo reading. Five days prior I announced my return to NES Player, explaining of my sudden mid-semester transfer. Coincidence or not?

Rare LTD. Responds?

 Most of the Rare staff in late 1987; Taboo was developed one year later. (Picture courtesy of Raretopia)

Completely shocked by this person's traumatic account, I contacted him immediately and asked if I could contact Rare LTD. directly to see how they would respond to the likes of his story. I was fully well aware that the crew responsible for Taboo had most likely moved on to another company, profession, or even retirement by now. The true reason I wanted this question addressed to Rare was to see the sort of PR response that a video game company would give to explain the possibility of harmful software or unconventional, perhaps even immoral, means to earn a buck.

A copy of the sent message.

Rare has chosen not to respond to the E-mail.

Possible Explanations to the Unexplained

Psychology can help us in trying to unfold the Taboo mystery. Using psychophysics to fit undetected sensory of stimuli that is below the level of absolute threshold - the absolute minimum amount of energy a person can detect - into subliminal perception, we can begin to make assumptions if there is any possible individual explanation to this situation.

The cognitive approach best suits this case file at first, which theorizes that one controls the mental subconsciousness of one's behavior through subliminal memories or false perceptions of such things like a video game title. Could our Subject's case translate into nothing more than a "mind game" trick, or an object to blame unfortunate events that played out in his life? Is there even such a thing as simple coincidence?

If it were a psychological phenomenon it would have to be primarily subconscious for my part because I never took the game seriously.

Through a physiological experiment on the effectiveness of subliminal perception, Carol Fowler provided evidence that human beings can process information much beneath their conscious awareness. Participants groups were shown words on a screen so rapidly that they were unable to perceive what they were seeing. Later in the experiment, the participants were shown two words and asked which was most like the subliminally presented word. The majority of participants answered most questions correctly, proving that stimuli that we deem atrocious or that we are confident to faintly ignore may leave a lasting effect on us [whether we like to or not].

The signal detection theory says that detection of stimuli depends on more than the intensity of which it is computed but rather on the individual's contextual variations (e.g. boredom, fear, fatigue). The person sets a criterion for himself to determine whether or not a stimulus is in effect; however other emotional or physical factors could override that criterion.

Another term of psychology that fits the Taboo situation is a person's selective attention: focusing on a specific portion of the game experience while ignoring others. Assuming you have Macromedia Flash to download the music playing in the page background, you are using selective attention to directly focus your brain power to read these written words amongst a backdrop of the music. That's not to say you can't hear the eerie tune looping, it's just that your immediate mental abilities have shoved it out of the spotlight. Is it then the case that Taboo: The Sixth Sense could play the same role as this very document? A player experiences the video game by reading the tarot cards therein an environment of scary aspects of both visual and audible nature. This argument underlines the subliminal effect of the game.

While discussing the matter over an E-mail with our Subject, he told me of his past experimentation and trust in these so-called possible "communicators." (I do not and never will trust the Ouija board, or any other form of instrument for that matter to consciously attempt to contact the unseen, unknown, or one's personal future. The best way, which you also practice, is personal reflection and mediation. Doing good, acting good, speaking out for good. Call it karma; call it whatever you would care to. One can feel it inward, and that's more beneficial [in my mind] than any tarot card, game, or external tool.) This is what he had to say:

I am not a religious person. I am not a Christian.

I do consider myself a spiritual person though as I practice different forms of meditation and I consider myself to be an extremely aware individual. I am also vegan. And as such I have an intense compassion for all living things.

I have used tarot cards in the past with no ill effect and I practice rune reading.

After my father passed away I began to have precognitive dreams and my abilities have continued to develop from that point on into the present. I feel that things like Ouija boards, tarot cards, and runes are merely tools that help us tap into the broader normally inaccessible part of the subconscious mind where we are more aware of our environment than we could ever possibly imagine.

It is of importance to note that all of our everyday workings of the mind strictly reflect the necessary means to survive. Our more than less mentally lagging abilities gets us to work and back home. A real ability to sense or feel a sense for outside forces just is not there the majority of our lives.

For example: We perceive the primary colors in all objects because it reflects that of our environment, which then reflects off of the basic natural needs (water, grass, trees) to live. Psychologists insist there are many more colors that cannot be accurately seen. The same can be said in terms of sound.

Which brings up the point, if experts in the field exclaim that we do not see nor hear truly much of what exists beyond the basics of survival -- and that we use only part of our developed brain -- there must exist more powerful and undeveloped areas which hearing and seeing and able contacting is more possible than we're willing to allow in our busy lives [also that fall below the absolute threshold of our five human senses]. I generally tend to believe that thesis. (I also believe children who are not yet "developed" in the sense of only exercising the portions of the brain for mathematics, language, and colors can more willingly feel or understand this part of the mind.) I can speak from personal experience when I've witnessed "paranormal" behavior from a relative whom passed. I also feel it when I am shaken, scared, or alert about something particular, out of the everyday scope. It feels as if the 'survival mode' has been taken up a notch, so to speak.

Let's put a proverbial check mark on some form of actual inner contact with unknown forces as one possibility. The other: our own subconscious mind doing the dirty work. The way I figure this theory is when I tell myself to "shake off" something, whether it is a failure or an upset in life, and I do manage to forget--until I go to bed at night and vividly see this situation played again or modified in a way. Simply put: if you believe something is going to happen in the back of your mind, there's a much better chance it will in fact happen. And many times, even if you don't honestly think an issue is of importance, your subconscious thinks differently.

I have had a great deal of unexplained experiences throughout my life and this is just one of those instances that seems to be more than mere coincidence.

The human mind is an amazing thing. The brain is full of electrical impulses that create patterns that exist and indeed quite possibly originate at the quantum level. At the quantum level linear time begins to melt away into a more non-linear cyclical reality. Future influencing past and so on. So why can't we be aware of the future or at least our future perceptions of it.

A Ghost Theory: Ghost hunters today are groups hired by people, or egged on by their own initiative, to explore hauntings and capture proof of spirits. Such electronic tools to capture the existence of ghosts are EMF and thermal scanners that measure energy/temperature levels because is it believed that when a person dies he/she releases a non-physical stimuli of them (energy, such as heat, or what have you) into the surrounding environments. This means when an unusual reading is shown on the tools, is it believed another presence is existent in the immediate area. ESP is another tool often used by placing a tape recorder down on record to capture faint sounds in the noise of the background. Clear voices and words of men, women, and children have been heard through this technique. One more device often used is night-vision camcorders/flash photography. Ectoplasms (ghostly fog), orbs (small circular transparent-white movements), and full bodily visions can be recorded by this equipment.

The final point of argument basically throws out the scientific platform or mumbo-jumbo theories and replaces with a fundamental spiritual basis. Many recorded cases involve the abuse of physic tools similar to Taboo. The use of the Ouija is the biggest/most mainstream phenomenon of the spirit world communicators. The common belief that most people hold is that because the popular game board company Milton Bradley puts it out that the Ouija must be harmless fun. Untrue.

The idea of Ouija actually originated as far back as ancient Egypt. For our purposes, though, 1853 in Europe was the first form of the "planchette" developed and then imported to America. E.C. Reiche from Maryland altered this method to communicate with the unknown and his revisions became the board we all know today. Down the marketing line, a man named William Fudd in Baltimore sold the concept of the "talking board." After Fudd's death, the heirs continued selling the Ouija until 1966 when Parker Brothers obtained the company.

Just as we played around with the idea of the subconsciousness altering a person's mind while playing Taboo: The Sixth Sense, Ouija offers a more thoroughly mental awareness. When someone places a hand on the Ouija pointer, is our own mental/nervous system addressing repressed information (i.e. "ideomotor effect") or is the awareness of the brain heightened to make contact with outside forces? These are the two main sides of debate about the Ouija; I happen to respect both positions.

Although no actual scientific theories can explain when questions we know little of are somehow accurately answered, most casual players of the Ouija [in almost the same way people see Taboo: The Sixth Sense] view the board as nothing more than a "harmless game" to fool around with over a sleep over. Unfortunately for a chunk of players this beginning, sporadic usage can slowly turn into a very unhealthy obsession, which then psychological/mental illnesses can progress inside of the user. The simple warning most physics heed is aimed specifically to these amateurs (the persons should not take part in this potentially dangerous divination practice alone); that the average user should know the consequences that could change the path of life for the worse beforehand.

For more information about the Ouija board, consult Museum of Talking Boards Online or "Ouija" by author Stroker Hunt.


Japan saw its own Tarot reading software in "Tarot Uranai" released for the Famicom Disk System by Scorpion Soft and someone who calls himself"Prof. Axzeki." The two titles are very similar in that you pick tarots and get a reading, except in this one you get to also shuffle. You can also specify whether you wish for a romantic reading, business reading, or study reading.

A Conclusion?

The main projected task I set out from the gecko was to contact Rare and inquire about the game itself. Unfortunately they never replied back answering if the company should have dabbled in the unknown art to make a profit from a shabby NES cartridge. I can, however, ask you the same question.

From our analysis do you now perceive Taboo: The Sixth Sense as a force, like the Ouija or other spiritual instruments, as a force to be reckoned with that beckons an undeveloped segment of the brain to unconsciously predate/control the destiny of our lives? Or has it always simply been a poorly developed Nintendo game farce all along and the life events of the subject were circumstantial? Is there such a thing as superstition?

Our subject made it clear that he did not want to risk it either way. I don't blame him. His final strict warning to those reading: Respect the Taboo that is what I say.