What's Pokémon's Lavender Town Syndrome?

The urban legend explained

If you’re a Pokémon fan and a frequent internet user, you may have heard the term “Lavender Town Syndrome.” The cheerful-sounding affliction is actually an urban legend about a creepy tune in Pokémon Red and Green for the Nintendo Game Boy. The pair of games first released in Japan in 1996 and were later released in North America as Pokémon Red and Blue. The Lavender Town song allegedly made children sick when they heard it—and, in extreme cases, it reportedly drove them to commit suicide.

Lavender Town Syndrome is also known as Lavender Town Tone, Lavender Town Conspiracy, and Lavender Town Suicides.

Why Is Lavender Town So Spooky?

Pokémon Red/Green eventually drive players to visit Lavender Town, a small village that serves as a Pokémon graveyard. It's an unsettling place for multiple reasons.

Pokemon Ghost
 Youtube​

For starters, Pokémon are typically cute and fuzzy critters, so we don’t think about their mortality when we’re not forced to (when Pokémon fight, they merely make each other “faint”). Lavender Town is also the home of Pokémon Tower, an eerie structure that’s haunted by the ghost of a Marowak killed while it was defending its baby from Team Rocket. Finally, Lavender Town’s theme music is kind of spooky, and it’s around this tune that Lavender Town Syndrome is based.

Sorting Through The Myths

According to the legend, Lavender Town Syndrome was born when about 100 Japanese children, from 10–15 years of age, jumped to their deaths, hanged themselves, or mutilated themselves a couple of days following the release of Pokémon Red/Green. Other children supposedly complained about nausea and severe headaches.

“Officials” eventually discovered that children hurt themselves or felt ill after listening to Lavender Town’s background music. The urban legend states the original Lavender Town theme contains a high-pitched tone that compels kids to lose their minds. Since our ability to hear high-pitched tones diminishes as we age, young children are especially susceptible to the Lavender Town "curse."

Some versions of the urban legend say the games’ director, Satoshi Tajiri, explicitly wanted the tone in the Red version of the game to “annoy” children who picked it over Green (the urban legend also offers up a long explanation for Satoshi’s supposed aversion to the color red thanks to violent encounters with school bullies). Almost every version of the urban legend accuses Nintendo of covering up the suicides to protect the Pokémon franchise’s innocence and popularity.

The legend concludes that Nintendo altered the Lavender Town music for the English-language release of Pokemon Red/Blue, which is true. North America’s Lavender Town theme definitely sounds a bit less “harsh” and shrill than Japan’s, though it’s not at all unusual for a game's music compositions to change when it's localized for markets outside of Japan.

The Truth About Lavender Town Syndrome

Needless to say, Lavender Town Syndrome isn’t real. The original Lavender Town music won’t cause you to go mad, nor will any other version of the tune.

Most grim tales contain a speck of truth, however, and it seems even Pokémon has its dark side. In 1997, an anime based on the franchise made headlines worldwide when flashing images from the episode “Dennō Senshi Porygon” (“Computer Soldier Porygon”) induced seizures in over 600 Japanese children. Although most of the kids were fine, two had to be hospitalized for an extended period of time, and the Pokémon anime was pulled off the air for a few months.

The so-called “Pokémon Shock” provides a solid bedrock for the Lavender Town myth. After all, what’s more sinister than instances of a popular TV show or a game broadcasting images or music capable of hurting children without even touching them?

Plus, given Lavender Town’s unusually creepy atmosphere—the dead Pokémon, the haunted tower, the mother Marowak that died defending her child, and the music that admittedly does sound like a clock ticking its way down to an inevitable end—the rest of the legend practically writes itself.