CW: Mentions of violence and self-harm.
It lurks in the internet’s dark places. It has a level no one can beat. And if you try thirteen times and fail, you will die in real life.
If you spend enough time on gaming forums, sooner or later you’ll hear some version of this story about a first-person shooter called the Glare. You may even have viewed images that people claim they received as text alerts from the game server—text alerts that have supposedly been linked to crimes, suicides, and self-harm. But did the Glare ever actually exist?
The story starts nearly a decade ago with an anonymous post on the horror-gaming forum Charybdis from the user “L13Survivor”:
I am the only person to get past level thirteen of the Dark Web game called the Glare. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you are lucky. If you haven’t started to play the game, don’t.
The game sends you text alerts whenever you stop playing. If you block them, they will start again from a different number. If you die thirteen times on level 13, the game won’t let you play anymore, but the text alerts will continue. First the game will tell you, “Ur pathetic.” Then you’ll get images of a skull.
If you keep seeing the skull, you will die in real life.
Maybe it’s the power of suggestion and conditioning—a devilish psychology experiment. Maybe it’s a curse. It doesn’t really matter.
This game killed its first tester. It will kill you.
Don’t look for this game. Don’t play this game. I am posting this as a public-service announcement.
Freaky stuff, right? But gamers are a skeptical bunch, eager to verify any creepy tale of a “forbidden” game, be it Polybius or Sad Satan. Users of the Charybdis forum immediately called out the post as a likely hoax, accusing L13Survivor of creating the Glare legend “for the lulz.”
By definition, the dark web is a part of the internet that search engines don’t index. So it was no surprise when people who searched for the “Glare game” found nothing but the Charybdis post. Anyone who wanted to play the most dangerous game, it seemed, was out of luck.
L13Survivor didn’t return to Charybdis to defend or prove their claims. But five months later, a guest user commented on the post:
YOU PEOPLE ARE SICK. Stop making fun of this. The Glare is real. And its dangerous.
My sister’s ex-boyfriend stabbed his new gf and himself on Jan. 3. They are both stabel in the hospital but ExBF is now afraid of phones, computers, all screens, even the hospital moniters. My sister asked him why and he pointed to his phone and said take it out in the hall and turn it on. She turned it on.
She saw a text with a picture of a skull. Sender = “restricted.”
He yelled, “Don’t bring it near me.”
ExBF is a big computer guy/gamer. Says he found a link to the Glare on a dark web forum after reading this post. When he got to level 13, the game just stopped and the texts started coming. “And They came too.”
My sis asked who “they” is, but he just turned to the wall and asked her to delete everything on his computer/phone, which she did. He said, “They came for me. I don’t want them to come for anyone else.”
Again forum users demanded proof of the story, but the guest never returned. One intrepid user, TheBuried, tracked down a newspaper article from Texas about a college student who stabbed himself and his girlfriend. Friends claimed he had recently developed a “phobia” of electronic devices and smashed a friend’s phone. The young man was institutionalized.
As years passed, more than a dozen “true accounts” of people allegedly damaged by the Glare surfaced on Charybdis and other gaming forums. TheBuried became a sort of historian of the legend, setting up a blog to compile the stories. Among the acts attributed to the Glare’s influence were homicides, suicides, self-harm, self-endangerment, “paranoid” barricading of oneself in one’s home, and destruction of phones and other devices.
TheBuried found links between four of these accounts and actual police reports and news stories. However, the blogger cautioned that these links were speculative and unconfirmed. Despite reaching out to those who had posted the accounts, TheBuried did not succeed in interviewing a single alleged survivor of the Glare. According to one witness, whose “boyfriend’s friend’s niece” was supposedly a victim, the young woman in question was terrified to be online or anywhere near a screen, “even a tiny TV.”
Some alleged witnesses posted images of the “skull alert,” or of a second text that appears to show a Norse rune affixed to a tree. TheBuried established that all these images derive from a single (now-deleted) post on a subreddit, which also featured a supposed screenshot of gameplay in the Glare. A reverse image search did not reveal any other origins.
TheBuried has speculated that these images were posted by L13Survivor, the originator (and creator?) of the legend. L13Survivor has also continued to post periodically under their own username, essentially repeating their original warning. Requests for proof and links go unanswered.
TheBuried removed the alleged Glare images from their blog after hearing from an anonymous reader that the images had “retriggered” them and left them “nearly comatose.” Shortly afterward, seven years after starting the blog, TheBuried deleted it entirely. According to Craig Wilcox of the gaming blog Spare No Corner, who claims to be an IRL friend of TheBuried, TheBuried has not been active online since the blog was taken down.
But stories of Glare “infection” continue to be posted. We counted six since TheBuried’s blog went dark. One even includes a pixilated image of a “skull alert.”
Is there really a game out there so traumatizing that the few who survive it become allergic to the internet for life? All we know is that the only witness who claims actually to have played the Glare (when you eliminate the obvious trolls) is L13Survivor.
Be it a “curse,” a psychology experiment, or just a nasty hoax aided and abetted by coincidence, we may never know if the gameplay is worth the terror. And so the legend lives on to tempt intrepid explorers of the internet’s dark places.
We have received repeated requests to post the alleged images from the Glare that we obtained from TheBuried and other sources. Two of these requests came from distraught parents who fear their children are playing the game. Hoping to lay those fears to rest, we have published the images below.
We think there is a good chance these images are hoaxes created by an artist or artists to feed the legend. Nonetheless, out of an abundance of caution, we warn you: If you have at any time played the Glare or received text alerts from the Glare, do NOT view these images. (But please do, if you feel comfortable, contact us and tell us your story!) If you are a minor, PLEASE exercise caution before scrolling down!
And below is the skull image, which is said to be particularly triggering for anyone who has played the game in the past.
Assuming they are not hoaxes, these images raise many questions, as TheBuried pointed out.
The tower or fortress in the gameplay image has some unusual characteristics. Is this a real place?
The setup appears to be that of a first-person shooter game—but what is the player shooting at? What is the meaning/purpose of the rune on the tree?
In the second image, the skull appears to be floating in the sky, seen from the bottom of a stone well or chimney. Is this the tower again?
What purpose does the skull serve in the game? Why would seeing it in text messages affect players so strongly?
We may never know.
Art by @DJBlack42550671