A fanboy guide to Creepypasta

ben drowned

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.



Beware the Slender Man

One of the features of urban legends is that they are basically modern folklore. It is an oral tradition that spreads as a story to from the point of view of a friend of a friend. They are often cautionary tales and will have a hint of the supernatural. Some are even outright ghost stories such as the vanishing hitchhiker.
And now we have the internet.
And our folklore is now known as memes.
One of the best came about on June 10th, 2009. This is the date of the first sighting of the Slender Man.
Who is the Slender Man? That is a good question, not a smart one to ask, but a good one none the less.
Take a look.
Did you see the odd figure in the back ground? This is the first known picture of the Slender Man.
Many followed.
They say that the more you think about him, the more likely you are to encounter him. Those that do start to obsess, often getting ill. Several people who have gotten pictures of him have disappeared.
Spooked yet?
Well that’s the point. The truth is that the Slender Man is a case of an intentionally created urban legend.
In the forums of the web site Something Awful a thread was created dedicated to taking normal photos and altering them to make them appear paranormal. On June 10th, 2009 Victor Surge posted the first couple of what would become many pictures featuring his creation, the Slender Man, a creature composed of aspects that he found creepy.
Unnaturally tall? Check.
Featureless face? Check.
Elongated limbs? Check.
Men in Black Suit? Check.
Never in focus? Check.
 Not content to just make creepy pictures Surge included “facts” surrounding each picture to enhance the story.
 Eventually the thread became dominated by the Slender Man as other people jumped on the band wagon. Those that could not create pictures started creating the mythos that surrounded the Slender Man. Yet he was always left vague enough for people to add their own interpretations. Conflicting accounts were made. In other words the perfect Urban Legend. It has grown to the point where some people have heard of the story in urban legend fashion and have no idea that it was made up on a forum.
The image and myth are so intriguing that several people have written stories are made online videos based on it. Examples include Marble Hornets and Everyman HYBRID. Do you self a favor and do not check these out after dark, unless of course you like to be creeped out when you go to bed.
One of the best parts of the Slender Man myth is how it takes advantage of both the internet and basic human behavior. The myth states that thinking too much about the Slender Man attracts his attention and at some point he will visit you in your dreams. Guess what has a good chance of happening if you start looking up information on something with as iconic a look as the Slender Man?
At some point I’m convinced a feature movie will be made. I hope it is an indie film, but not found footage as that has been done to death. When it does get made I hope Victor Surge gets some kind credit.
Until then there are great sites you can check out for more.
I think that is a good place to end.
Everything is fine.
That noise you heard, ignore it.
Just don’t look out the window for a while.  

His gentle caress.

Role-Playing and Urban Legends Part 2

In the last post, I said that urban legends have been a hobby of mine since I was 12. This has had its ups and downs.

When I was in my early twenties I worked as a clerk at a 7-11. A woman came in wanting to put up a flier warning about lick-on tattoos laced with LSD. It was a classic example of the Blue Star Tattoo legend. I took a flier and explained the legend.

Let’s just say that both she and my manager were less then pleased.

But the real fun with urban legends started when I was working as a customer service representative at Wizards of the Coast.

I was hired by WotC in July of 1993, the same month they released Magic: the Gathering. So I was there for its early rush of success.

My day-to-day job was answering questions about our games. The majority of these questions were based on the rules to Magic: the Gathering; and later, after we bought TSR, Dungeons and Dragons. However, this was a job based on taking incoming phone calls, so anything could happen. At some point my manager decided that one of us should be focused on any calls based on rumors about our games, like the ones based on the sources I cited in the last post.  Specifically he wanted a point person to deal with any question about our games being evil, satanic, or harmful. Basically, to deal with people who believed the urban legends.

In his wisdom, he decided I should be that person.  I guess my love of urban legends made me the ideal candidate.

Part of the fun of this new responsibility was that I got to have special training.

WotC flew out a Michael Stackpole to give me this training. You may remember Michael; as I mentioned him in the last post. If the industry had an expert in this field it was Michael.

I would like to believe that by the time I left WotC, thanks to Michael’s training and my own experiences, I was the industry’s second leading expert.

The method used to direct calls to me was pretty simple. The person who got the call would put the customer on hold and then yell out loud, “Jeff! Satan call!”

I ended up developing a lot of responses to that.

“Tell him I’m not here”

“Tell him it can never work out between us.”

“Tell them we’re not in league with Satan. We’re in a bowling league with Satan. And do you know how hard it is for him to rent shoes?”

“Why don’t I ever get Shiva calls?”

You get the idea.

After that I would take the call and get to work.

Most of the calls and letters fit into two basic categories.

The first would go like this: “What is this game based on?” I would be asked. “Math, basic arithmetic and a little algebra.” I would answer.

“What?” as I had clearly not given the expected answer.

“Well the game was developed by a math professor. If you take out all the art and flavor text what you are left with is a game mechanic that is based on mathematic principles.”

The other type would go like this

“Is this game based on the occult?”

“I’ll be honest with you; I doubt any of the game designers know anything about it. All the setting and art are based on western fantasy literature and most of that was derived from the work of a pair of English theologians who were writing Christian allegory,” I would answer. Of course, I was referring to J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

Between these two sets of stock answers, I was able to field a good majority of those calls.

Of course, there were some real winners.

My personal favorite was a woman who called and as soon as I answered she went off, “I am going to burn these cards my son bought.”

“No ma’am, you don’t want to burn them.”

“No, I am going to burn them.”

“No, please, shred them instead.”


“The cards are coated in plastic like poker cards; if you burn them the smoke will be toxic. Shredding them will be much safer.”

“Aren’t you upset that I am going to destroy them?”

“Why would that upset me? We already have your money. The rest is an issue between you and your son.”

My manager wanted to give me a stern talking to for that one, but he was laughing too hard.

Another one that always puzzled me was a bit of mail we received. It wasn’t a letter; it was a copy of the rule book found in Magic decks. Someone had written in Bible quotes on random pages. Well, not the quote – it would be Book, Chapter and Verse; it was up to me to look up the quotes. They were mostly from the Old Testament.  I could never really figure out what theme they were going for, since no two passages covered the same subject.

They did write one original thing on the back of the rulebook.

“I Pled the Blood of Christ on your company”

I still look at that and think that the word just seems off.

Then again it’s not like they took the time to write an actually letter.

The last one was a doozy that was still going on when I left WotC in 1997.

I got a call from the superintendent of a school district in upstate New York.

His story went like this. One of the schools in his district had allowed students to start up a Magic: The Gathering club. Everything was going fine until some parents had seen the cards and complained to the district. It was a fairly standard “These cards are Satanic” complaint. What was different was that one of the parents was a lawyer and she was preparing a t First Amendment law suit against the school.

I’m pretty sure you looked at that previous sentence and thought, “A First Amendment law suit? Why?”

This was her logic (so to speak): Since the game was so clearly Satanic in nature, allowing it to be played at school was promoting a religion, and thus violated the separation of church and state.

Honestly, if this was a work of fiction, I would have violated suspension of disbelief.

I spent time helping the superintendent understand the game, and even gave him examples of cards so that he could have the game looked at by a child psychologist. They found nothing wrong with the game, but the lawsuit went on. And from what I heard, it was going on as late as 2004.


Role-Playing and Urban Legends Part 1

With Halloween around the corner, it is time for ghost stories to make the rounds again. And in my opinion the best ghost stories are the ones that grow into urban legends. I love urban legends.
When I was about 12 years old, my mother heard that a woman at our local Kmart had been killed by a snake that had gotten into a shipment of clothes from overseas.  She became very concerned that this could happen at other stores, and wanted me to be careful when we were out shopping.
Two days later, our local newspaper ran a story on about this incident. More to the point: they ran a piece debunking it as an urban legend. It was a well-written piece that covered what an urban legend was, how they spread, and some of the most common ones.  It also cited a book by Jan Harold Brunvand called The Vanishing Hitchhiker: Urban Legends & their Meanings.
The next day I checked out this book from the school library.
I was hooked. I found other books, and from there, following urban legends became a small hobby of mine.
I suppose I should make sure you know what I am talking about before I go on. Of course the best way to educate yourself on this would be to check out Professor Brunvand’s books on the subject.
Basically, an urban legend is modern folklore. It takes the form of a story relayed as being true, usually happening to “a friend of a friend,” and that usually holds some kind of cautionary tale or supernatural element.
But why I am I bringing this up on a site devoted to geek culture?
It’s due to some doozy urban legends that have grown around role-playing games.
Since almost the time of their inception, fantasy role-playing games have attracted their own set of urban legends.
These grew out of three sources.
The first was simply that fact that some people would look at the fantasy elements in Dungeons and Dragons and assume it meant the game was Satanic. The idea that any role playing game will lead to devil worship come from this basic misunderstanding. I’ve always found this one funny since many of those fantasy elements were lifted from the writings J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, both of whom had Christian allegory in their stories.
The second source was an attempted suicide in the utility tunnels of Michigan State University that was erroneously linked to Dungeons and Dragons. A student at MSU went to the steam tunnels to commit suicide by overdose. He left a map on graph paper (left over from a D&D game) of his location so his body could be found. Instead of dying he wandered off. A detective hired by his family to find him idly speculated that he had gone to the tunnel to play a live action version of the game, and the press latched onto that as fact. This led to the myth of someone getting killed playing a live action Role playing game. This myth got leveraged in an incredibly bad book called Mazes and Monsters, which in turn got turned into a lousy TV movie starring Tom Hanks.
The third source was the suicide of a high school student in Richmond Virginia that is mother attributed to his involvement with a Dungeons and Dragons game he played at school. She tried to sue TSR, the publisher of Dungeons and Dragons at that time. All her lawsuits were dismissed. In response, she formed Bothered about Dungeons and Dragons (BADD) to combat the “evils” of roleplaying. It got to the point that game designer and future Star Wars author Michael A Stackpole wrote the article “Game Hysteria and the Truth” to debunk BADD’s claims. 
These stories have a life of their own now. Even though role-playing gamers now have an image of the loner geek in his mom’s basement, many of these stories still persist. Even now, there is probably a preacher somewhere firm in the belief that role-playing leads directly to Satan.
And in the next post I will discuss how all of this intersected directly with my life.
Here is a hint: I used to work for Wizards of the Coast