Urban legends are resilient stories at any time of the year, but their popularity spikes during the Halloween season. Something about fading leaves, pumpkins, and crisp air makes it easier to believe the most ludicrous of campfire tales. Even urban legends based on video games get an extended stay in the spotlight when October rolls around, including the questionable claim that Pokemon Red / Pokemon Blue have a disturbing sprite of a dead hand hidden in the games’ code. This legend is known as the “White Hand Sprite” or the “Dead Hand Sprite.”
Nintendo and Game Freak’s cheerful Pokemon series is already host to a few urban legends, a couple of which are unsettling even though they’re false (though that persisting sense of unease and thread of doubt is what makes said urban legends so compelling in the first place). The legend of Pokemon Lost Silver speaks of a game in which a Pokemon trainer dies a long, lonely death, and there are still plenty of generation one Pokemon fans who will insist the music for Pokemon Red / Blue’s Lavender Town can cause madness (see “Lavender Town Syndrome”).
Unsurprisingly, the White Hand Sprite legend is also based around Lavender Town – the “royal purple” village that doubles as a graveyard for deceased Pokemon. According to the story, the White Hand was supposed to show up in a random encounter on the third floor of Lavender Tower (the same location wherein a mother Marowak died while protecting her baby Cubone from capture by Team Rocket).
The White Hand sprite, which is supposedly buried in the Pokemon Red / Blue code as “WhitHand.gif,” features creepy detail. The skeletal appendage has its bony fingers curled into a half-fist, and rotting strips of flesh dangle from the bones. Dangling tendons indicate the hand was severed from another creature.
White Hand is said to have four animations: An “introduction” animation, an idle animation, and two attack animations that are labeled in the game code as “Fist” and “Brutal.” When executing “Fist,” White Hand balls into a fist and swings forward. The “Brutal” attack is more nebulous, however. The legend says most of the move’s animation frames are missing from the game’s code, and the hand merely opens before the picture cuts out. White Hand then re-appears a few seconds later, fist half-closed once more.
It’s suggested that White Hand was cut from Lavender Tower because its look and animations were deemed too creepy for children. Some storytellers like to kick things up a notch with the claim that watching White Hand’s animations can cause unspecified harm to the viewer.
White Hand is a myth. And unlike Lavender Town Syndrome and Pokemon Lost Silver, it’s not even a particularly well-written myth. The black-and-white sprite for White Hand is certainly unsettling, but nothing else about the story adds up. White Hand is supposed to be animated, but the first Pokemon games – the very same games that have you investigate Lavender Tower – lack animated enemies. 2001’s Pokemon Crystal for the Game Boy Color was the first Pokemon title to feature animation, but even those movements were simplistic. White Hand’s alleged animations feature a level of complexity that the series wouldn’t see for many years after its conception.
Another, simpler question about White Hand: Why? Pokemon is a game about fighting and collecting monsters. As a consequence, nearly one-hundred percent of the random enemies and bosses you encounter are Pokemon that can be caught and trained, unless they belong to another trainer. The story in Lavender Tower centers around the mother Marowak and the baby Cubone; it’s doubtful Game Freak ever had a reason to throw a random decayed hand into the mix of ghost-type Pokemon that haunt the spire, especially since the “hidden game code” makes no mention of being able to capture the Hand for yourself the way you can capture many of the boss Pokemon in Red / Blue.
It’s not hard to see why the White Hand sprite myth was invented, though. I’ve already gone into detail over why Pokemon Red / Blue’s Lavender Tower is a creepy place that’s jarring against the other sunny locales in the game (“sunny” in the metaphorical sense, since Red / Blue are black-and-white Game Boy games).
Moreover, Lavender Tower is also the home of the “GHOST” enemy, a ghost sprite that acts as a stand-in for the tower’s enemies until you’re able to identify them with the Silph Scope item. The GHOST sprite is pretty eerie-looking, even for something out of a kids’ game. It also can’t be fought or caught, making it an anomaly amongst Pokemon. Whomever crafted the White Hand myth obviously meant for the creature to carry the same menacing presence as GHOST. With a little more work, the legend might’ve been more convincing.