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Have you ever heard of an old game called “The Theater”? Yeah, didn’t think so. Probably because many say it doesn’t even exist.

You see, The Theater was released around the same time as Doom. Today, if you ever find it, it’s only available on crappy bootleg CD-ROMs, which, more often than not, don’t even actually contain the game.

The actual legitimate copies that were apparently released back in the day feature a blank cover, with nothing but the sprite of what has since been named 'the Ticket-Taker’. He is a poorly drawn, pixelated, bald Caucasian man with large red lips, wearing a red vest over a white shirt and black pants.

He is completely expressionless, though some say that if you smash the disc, his face will be angry the next time you look at the cover. This is only an urban legend, of course. What is peculiar about The Theater, however, is that there is no developer named on the jewel case, nor any game description on the back. It's just the Ticket-Taker on a white background on both sides.

The game was initially known for its inability to install correctly. The installation process would immediately lock up the computer when the user reached the licensing agreement. Also strange about the licensing agreement was that whenever the name of the development studio was supposed to show up, the text would simply be a blank line.

Anyways, most people who have claimed to own one of the original CDs say that they figured out how to install the game by rebooting their computer on the licensing agreement page with the disc still inside. Following that, they are prompted to press ‘I AGREE’ on startup, before continuing with the installation.

Supposedly, if a player manages to find what they believe to be a working copy, the installer window will freeze and stop responding before they can click their first next. Some also find that their PCs do not lock up, and it is only the installer that freezes. It is unknown if these effects come from actual copies or fakes, but it is widely thought that so-called 'working copies' are illegitimate and made to draw internet attention, with no proof of the installation effects.

Upon proper installation, the game will start up without any introduction, other than a main menu that is merely the sprite of a movie theater’s exterior on an empty city street. The title fades in prior to the 3 menu buttons: ‘NEW GAME, LOAD, OPTIONS’. Selecting OPTIONS immediately crashes the game to desktop. LOAD is said not to function at all. Even if you do have a saved game, nothing will happen when you press it. Thus, NEW GAME is the only working menu option.

Once it is selected, you will find yourself in a first-person viewpoint, standing in a movie theater lobby. The room is empty, with the exception of the Ticket-Taker in front of a dark hallway, which one can only assume leads to the theaters themselves. There’s nothing to do here but look at the poorly-drawn, mostly illegible movie posters or approach the Ticket-Taker. Upon doing so, a very low-quality sound clip will play, saying, “THANK YOU, PLEASE ENJOY THE MOVIE” along with a speech box that reads the same thing. After walking into the hallway, the screen will fade to black, and you’ll find yourself back in the empty lobby. The rest of the game consists of you doing the exact thing again and again and again.

While this may sound like a tedious experience, a number of peculiar things will occur as you continue to play the game. The number of times you have to enter the hall after giving your ticket to the Ticket-Taker before the strange events begin is unknown. Most players state that it’s completely random, and could take anywhere from the first playthrough to the four hundredth. The ensuing events, though, have deeply disturbed the players that experienced them.

The first occurrence takes place immediately once the player fades back in after walking into the hallway. This time, they will notice the Ticket-Taker is absent. The player, then, without any other options, can only walk into the dark hallway again. The sound clip and text box mentioned previously still play in the absence of the Ticket-Taker, but this time, when the player walks into the hallway, their screen does not fade out. It will turn completely dark as they make their way deeper and deeper down the corridor, but the player’s footsteps will be audible the whole time.

Those claiming to have played the original game report to have felt extremely uncomfortable at this point, anticipating something horrible happening. Eventually, the player is unable to continue forward. Nothing will happen for a few moments, before a strange sprite that can only be described as ‘the Ticket-Taker but with a swirl for a face’ appears and stands before the player.

The original players of the game say that, upon seeing this sprite (which has been appropriately named the ‘Swirly Head Man’), their bodies immediately froze up, and their stomachs churned. At first, nothing will occur as the Swirly Head Man stands before them. Then, without warning, a piercing screech will play as the game begins to glitch out. This lasts for a few minutes, the screeching never ceasing. In time, the player is abruptly returned to the lobby, with all the sounds and graphics restored to how they should be.

The game continues normally for the next couple of hallway ‘cycles’, though a couple of the original players claimed that the Swirly Head Man would briefly appear and disappear in the corner of their screens, accompanied by a brief ‘yelp’ sound effect. At some point after meeting the Swirly Head Man, the player will see the Ticket-Taker pacing back and forth (though there is no walking animation - the sprite’s limbs are completely static, so he will just hop up and down slightly as a substitute), with his eyes wide and mouth open to simulate a worried facial expression.

Some players noted that the movie posters had been replaced with images of the Swirly Head Man, which caused them to immediately turn their character’s head away and approach the Ticket-Taker instead. After doing so, another different, low-quality sound clip will play, but the speech box will contain nothing but corrupted characters that cause whatever text would have been in the box to become completely illegible.

Due to the extremely low quality of the sound, it is debated by players what exactly the Ticket-Taker says at this point, though it is widely agreed upon that he warns to ‘NEVER REACH THE OTHER LEVELS’. Subsequently, the screen will fade out once again and return the player back to their starting point in the lobby. Again, the Ticket-Taker will be absent, and this time, the hallway will be blocked by a large brick wall sprite. Touching the brick wall will immediately crash the game.

No one knows what these ‘other levels’ contain or how to access to them, nor is it known why the Swirly Head Man causes such acute fear in those who have witnessed him. Sadly, we may never know, as all the original copies of The Theater have either been lost or destroyed. But the creepiest part of all is the fact that every one of the original players of the game claim to occasionally see a brief glimpse of the Swirly Head Man out of the corner of their eyes...

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Original author unknown

Originally uploaded on October 10th, 2010