Excuse me while I kiss the sky
Slightly more offensive than Strong Lyrics and Fantasy Violence, slightly less than Nudity and all the other kinds of Violence, the ESRB warning for Drug References tends to fall into a no man's land of rating neutrality. Not something you want attached to a Mario game, but when it's slapped on an M-rated title, it's probably not gonna be the thing that either puts you off or piques your interest. And yet, even if the Blood and Gore category has more visible examples, you can make a good case that instances of Drug References are vastly more memorable.
Whether it's to show that a character is going on a deep personal journey, chase a theme that benefits from absurdism, or toss in some insane bullshit for fun, games have been using drug trips to mess with your mind for decades. And sometimes? They get away without any warning at all. Intrigued? I've got eight examples here to show exactly what I mean, from in-your-face to sort-of-disguised, and everything in between. Go ahead and flip through, and don't worry - you probably won't get a contact high.
Jason drops more than he can handle in Far Cry 3
Like any good college vacation, Jason Brody's trip to the Rook Islands involves imbibing all sorts of strange substances and going on mind-altering head trips. Just, you know, maybe not for the reasons he thought it would. Over the course of Jason's journey to save his friends and finish off his sick magical warrior tat, brah, he's exposed to a worrying amount of hallucinogens and is repeatedly pulled into a freaky-ass dream world as a result. When he's not walking through shrinking greenhouses full of exploding mushroom puffs, he's fighting off demonic hallucinations of his girlfriend that keep trying to kill him. Err, trouble in paradise?
These crazy-ass trips are supposed to be a look into Jason's psyche, ravaged by the acts of violence he's committed while on the island. Well, that and drugs. So many drugs. If he lets that dream logic really take hold and carry over into the real world, he ends up killing all his friends and getting stabbed to death after, ahem, passing on his genetics. Weird liquid handed to you by total strangers: not even once.
Arno caves to peer pressure in Assassin's Creed Unity
Assassin's Creed has a long tradition of exposing its protagonists to brain-bending mindscrews, from Altair's mental battle against dead Templars to Edward swimming through an ocean full of corpses. Good times all around. But of them all, Arno's drug trip is the most blatantly surreal, and the only one required to get into the Assassin clubhouse.
After making the thoroughly intelligent decision to drink a cup of whatever that's given to him by cultists chilling in their underground lair, Arno goes on a spiritual journey to prove he has what it takes to join the Brotherhood. That apparently involves diving through a spinning cylinder of paintings depicting his life, and racing down an ever-expanding hallway as it crumbles and bursts into flames. I'm pretty sure Ezio just had to change his clothes to get his membership card, but all right. When Arno wakes up from a dream that presumably would have killed him if he screwed up, he officially becomes an Assassin, with only the occasional terrifying glitch to bring the memory back 'round.
Moonside is just an illusion in Earthbound
Don't do drugs kids! Or you might end up like little Ness, who took something unsavory from the wrong back counter and ended up in a crazy 'alternate reality'. After Ness and Jeff discover actual criminal Everdred lying in an alley outside a caf, he tells them there's something mysterious hidden behind the caf counter. That's a giant red flag already - he might as well have tried to sell them 'sugar' in duct taped bags - but innocent Ness does as instructed, checking out what ol' Jackie has hidden in the back.
An instant later he's dropped into a bizarre-o version of Fourside called Moonside. There, black is white, yes is no (seriously, it gets really confusing), and inanimate objects make a serious effort to kill him. After navigating streets full of nonsensical citizens, weird psychedelic music and fluorescent happy trees, with presumably no clue what they're supposed to be doing, Ness and Jeff stumble on the 'center' of Moonside: an evil statue that creates illusions and has overtaken their minds. Breaking it 'destroys the illusion' and transports them back to the 'real' world, now free of its evil powers. Wow. I feel like this is what Reefer Madness warned us about.
The drug trips are transcendent in GTA 5
Take a moment to scan the ESRB's breakdown of GTA 5 (take a few,even, it's a bit long) and somewhere near the bottom it mentions "Some sequences within the larger game allow players to use narcotics." While definitely 100% accurate, that clinical description doesn't begin to describe the intensity of the drug trips GTA 5 lays down. The original game's world of parachute-free skydiving and gun-toting circus performers is insane enough, but when you bring in the peyote animal adventures from the expanded edition? Then things really get wild.
While Franklin keeps pretty chill and doesn't move far from his couch or his joint, look to Michael and Trevor for much more colorful trips, and some of the best damn dialogue in the whole game. Trevor's personal revelations while gunning down clowns in a haze of flowers and glitter are a personal favorite. But if you're looking for something more transformative, chomping some peyote gives you the chance to inhabit the body of an animal and cause all kinds of epic carnage. But, err, still don't do drugs. That's not a thing that actually happens I'm pretty sure.
You can't unsee the vigor transformations in BioShock Infinite
HOLY S*** D*** F*** **** *** OF B******S AAAAAAH. If that wasn't your exact reaction to watching a vigor burn your fingers to the bone in BioShock Infinite, you're a stronger creature than I. Shown every time you pick up a new bottle of Magic Juice That Should Definitely Not Be Available To The Public, the cutscenes that display your liquid might in all its heinous glory are the definition of a bad trip.
Though the physical effects of BioShock's plasmids are bad enough - seeing bees crawl out of your skin is a good sign you need to head for the med tent - it isn't until BioShock Infinite that they're rendered in excruciating detail while you're forced to watch. Devil's Kiss may be the most shriek-inducing, as you witness your flesh getting barbecued away, but the rest aren't much better. Bucking Bronco rips huge chunks of meat off your hands, Undertow fills you with nasty barnacle holes, and Return to Sender straight-up turns you into Wolverine for a second. Of course it's all an illusion, and the effects are gone an instant later, but Troy Baker's bellows of horror as your digits are disintegrated into bloody stumps? Those stick around a little longer.
Child of Eden has SO MANY COLORS
If you were, say, making a sandwich or looking at an interesting bug on the wall during the first minute and a half of Child of Eden, you basically missed the entire plot. But that's okay. It doesn't really matter, because look at the pretty colors! A rhythmic on-rails shooter that assaults you with more hues and sounds than your brain has room for, Child of Eden is the kind of game where you fight flying squid eels with the power of song and bosses are giant spheres made of blocks. It only makes sense if you are seriously trippin' balls.
That's not to say this game isn't fun for the sober set - anybody with even a little rhythm and an appreciation of majestic exploding phoenixes can find something to like here. But there's a reason why the word 'trippy' shows up in almost every discussion of this game, and why the whole thing looks like a rave would if people were blocks. . . . Like if they were magic, shimmering space-cubes or something. Whoa man. That just blew my mind.
LSD Dream Emulator isn't even trying that hard
Bless this game, it doesn't even put up a pretense! A bizarre and headache-inducing exploration game for the PS1, LSD Dream Emulator is all about wandering around a 'dream world' based on the sleep diary of one of its developers. A dream world where bright colors are constantly assaulting your brain, touching a lion transports you to a land of miniature wonders of the world, and whre you will at no point have any idea what's going on. Oh, and your introduction to all of that is a triptastic montage of flashes and psychedelic sounds. Yes, this was based on a diary of dreams. Just dreams. WINK.
The point of the game, if it really has one at all, is to look around the world and walk into stuff to make it transport you somewhere else. Where you end up seems to depend on what you touch. Buildings will send you to pretty normal looking locations, like a logically constructed village, while touching an animal or an object lands you in the audience at a sumo match where the only exit is through a tunnel made of viscera. Quite the interesting dream indeed.
Killer7 keeps it together
One of the weirdest games ever produced by mad genius Suda51 (and certainly the most insanely Suda-y), Killer7 does its best to be simultaneously badass and utterly nonsensical. It accomplishes that with a mix of random creepy laughing, erratically flashing visuals, bad guys who explode into clouds of pink particles, and a ghost decked out in bondage gear with a computerized voice and his eyes sewn shut. And that's just the first ten minutes.
Killer7 is bizarrely hard to classify, since it has a recognizable storyline and some of the time it nearly seems coherent. But don't be fooled: that's how it gets you. Start to think that things are making sense, and you're bound to find a severed-yet-still-talking head in the next clothes dryer you stumble across. Perhaps the weirdest thing of all is that, even when you do find a character who doesn't look like something out of an overly creative creepypasta, they don't seem to think anything strange is going on around them. Man, this . . . this is one seriously bad trip.
I can totally taste colors
Those are some of the most insane - and insanely memorable - drug trips you're likely to find in video games. Seriously, like, in all of them, man. Soooo crazy. Which of these is baked into your brain forever? Which did you totally miss until right now? Are there any others I glazed over? Circle up and say so in the comments below!