At this year’s Norwescon I managed to find myself an unexpected panelist. The subject of the panel was the creepypasta phenomena, with a focus on the Slender Man. Only one panelist was on time and she admitted that her knowledge of the subject was limited. As I had written on article on the Slender Man before, and did a lot of research, I offered up the history of the character. I remained on the panel even after one of the other panelists showed up 20 minutes later.
It dawned on me as we sat there that even though I had covered the subject of the Slender Man fairly well in this blog, I had not really touched on the other members of the creepypasta universe. So let’s take this time to do an overview of the wonderful and unnerving world of the creepypasta.
First what is a creepypasta? The term is derived from another bit of internet slang called copypasta, which refers to any text that is copied and pasted over and over again, such as kids with cancer collecting postcards, which is how many memes get started. A creepypasta in contrast is a story created on the internet that is meant to be disturbing, shocking, or outright scary. Go back and read my articles on urban legends, as these stories have similar properties and sometimes end up crossing the line by being presented as one. At the panel we agreed that basically a creepypasta is any ghost or horror story that originates on the internet and uses the internet itself as part of the storytelling medium, usually by becoming memes.
There doesn’t seem to be any hard rules about what makes a creepypasta. So let’s look at the more popular ones to get a feel for them. These are just going to be brief overviews.
Of course the granddaddy of them all is the Slender Man. I wrote about him before so I will refer you to that article for details. What I will add is that this character has gotten so popular and immersed in our culture that he is losing some of his bite. I regularly see people cosplaying as him at conventions. There are parodies now, including Splenderman. Add to that a number of movies either ripping off the story or using him outright, and I think the mystique of the characters is getting diminished.
Going beyond Slender Man, you have certain themes that a creepypasta can fall into. The first are characters that seem to be using the same basic motif of the Slender Man, that of the boogeyman, the character that comes at you when you are most vulnerable, when you sleep.
The creepypasta most like the Slender Man is the Rake. The Rake, just like the Slender Man, can be traced back to a specific thread on 4chan. Like most creepypasta creatures, the stories about the Rake and his behavior vary from telling to telling. In most versions the Rake it is a pale, bald, humanoid creature that has feral characteristics. Usually it will crawl into a person’s bedroom at night and sit on the foot of the bed. It will than whisper to the person, often telling terrible prophesies or in some cases threats. These victims almost always meet a grim fate.
Another popular creepypasta boogeyman is Jeff the Killer. It’s a little harder to track down where Jeff came from, but odds are good he is another 4chan creation. Jeff is more in the vein of a slasher killer from the 80s. He is a pale, noseless man, with his mouth slashed into a permanent smile and his eyelids removed. He will creep into your room at night with a knife. If you wake up while he is there he will say “Go to Sleep” and if you scream he will attack. An entire origin for Jeff has been written which can be found here.
Moving on from the boogeyman, we next have the creepypasta where either something online or on a computer is itself dangerous. Again, Slender Man has aspects of this. Another one that does this is known as smile.jpeg, or smile dog. It is a picture of a dog with a sinister human-like smile. If you see the picture you will supposedly have epileptic fits in your sleep and dream of the dog telling you to “spread the word.” The only way to be free is to share the picture. This creepypasta has more than one image attributed to it, with one popular image sharing characteristics with Jeff the Killer.
Another is Lavender Town Syndrome. It tells of the original version of the game Pokémon Red and Green which introduced a supposed Pokémon graveyard called Lavender Town. In the creepypasta version, the original music for that area drove over 100 children to kill themselves and so the game had to be patched.
But the most well-known of this type of creepypasta is known as Ben Drowned, or the Majora’s Mask Creepypasta. This one tells of a YouTube user relaying his experiences playing The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s mask where he comes to believe the cartridge is haunted by a ghost named Ben. The story gets very involved, and I would prefer to not give too many spoilers. I would suggest going here to check out the YouTube videos. I would suggest not doing this at any time you would like to avoid being creeped out, as they are particularly well done.
This barely scratches the surface of the whole creepypasta phenomena. If you are interested in pursuing more I would suggest checking out a few sites. One of the best resources is the site Television Tropes and Idioms. Its creepypasta section has a good listing of the most well-known, and can give you a good list to start. There is also creepypasta.com, a site dedicated to collecting creepypasta stories. Finally I would suggest the site Know your Meme if you are just looking for a good summation of the various creepypastas, though it is best used if you already know the name of the creepypasta you want to look up.
The final conclusion we came to at the panel was that mankind has had ghost stories as long as we have been able to tell stories, and anytime a new medium is developed, people will find a way to use it to tell new ones. The creepypasta is the ghost story of the message board and the YouTube account. And as long as people like to be scared and creeped out, there will be people ready to provide these tales for them.