The Dark Origins of Creepypasta

22 Sep

Creepypastas are horror-related legends or images that have been copied and pasted around the Internet. These Internet entries are often brief, user-generated, paranormal stories intended to scare readers. They include gruesome tales of murder, suicide, and otherworldly occurrences. The age-old tradition of telling ghost stories around a campfire has gotten a digital upgrade with creepypastas — scary stories or pictures that spread across message boards, becoming internet lore that are discussed both on and offline. People around the word share their bizarre and terrifying creepypastas, hoping that the tales will gain popularity and become classics, often quoted or cited by horror fans and frightened netizens. Like with the ghost stories of old, not all creepypastas are particularly scary or good, even if they are frequently passed around. Reading a long story with an interesting title or image is no guarantee of a frightening payoff, and the writers often forget that just having someone meeting a quick and unfortunate fate does not an interesting story make. When a real gem of a creepypasta is found, it makes all the searching and scavenging worth it (at least until it’s time to fall asleep). So grab a friend, turn off the lights, and prepare to be scared to scroll any further. Scary stories aren’t the stuff of campfires and sleepovers anymore. For adults who still enjoy a good spook, the internet is the place to turn for tales of horror and the supernatural.

The exact origins of creepypasta are unknown. Early creepypastas were usually written anonymously and routinely re-posted, making the history of the genre difficult to study. Jessica Roy, writing for Time, argued that creepypastas emerged in the 1990s when the text of chain emails was reposted on Internet forums and Usenet groups. Aja Romano, writing for the Daily Dot, stated that Ted the Caver was arguably the earliest example of creepypasta. The story, posted on Angelfire in 2001, was written in the first person from the perspective of Ted as he and several friends explored an increasingly frightening cave system. Many early creepypastas consisted of rituals, personal anecdotes and urban legends such as Polybius and Bunny Man. Darcie Nadel, writing for TurboNews, argued that these early creepypastas had to be somewhat believable and realistic to be re-posted. Many of the earliest creepypastas were created on the /x/ board of 4chan, which focused on the paranormal. Major dedicated creepypasta websites started to emerge in the late 2000s to early 2010s: Creepypasta.com was created in 2008, while the Creepypasta Wiki and r/NoSleep (a Reddit forum, or subreddit) were both created in 2010. The websites created a permanent archive of creepypasta, which profoundly impacted the genre. Many authors started using creepypasta characters in their own stories, which resulted in the development of continuities encompassing numerous works. The definition of creepypasta has expanded over time to include most horror stories written on the Internet. Over time, authorship has become increasingly important: many creepypastas are written by named authors rather than by anonymous individuals. Many of these authors attempt to achieve notice through their creepypasta. The copying and pasting of creepypastas has become less common over time; doing so is seen as intellectual theft by many members of the creepypasta community.

In order to examine the genre of creepypasta itself, its roots, its place as the new campfire story and how it’s grown so popular so quickly let’s start with the name of the genre. Creepypasta sounds like something you’d get at a questionable buffet in a bad part of town, but its roots are simpler than that. Way back in the days before social media, when email and bulletin boards were the only sources of online communication, people would send each other short pieces – news items, jokes, stories, all of them copied and pasted into a new message. The shorthand for sharing these stories was the phrase copypasta, and when online forums and discussion groups started specialising in horror stories, the term creepypasta was coined and has stuck ever since. In the mainstream media, creepypastas relating to the fictitious Slender Man character came to public attention after the 2014 “Slender Man stabbing”, in which a 12-year-old girl from Waukesha, Wisconsin, was stabbed by two of her friends; the perpetrators claimed they “wanted to prove the Slender Man skeptics” wrong. Slender Man is a thin, tall humanoid with no distinguishable facial features, who wears a trademark black suit. The character originated in a 2009 SomethingAwful Photoshop competition, before later being featured as a main antagonist in the Marble Hornets alternate reality game. According to most stories, he targets children. After the murder attempt, and a rash of suicide attempts on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation by young people aged 12-24 who had all been deeply interested in Slender Man stories, some creepypasta website administrators made statements reminding readers of the “line between fiction and reality”. Levels of moral panic surrounding violent pop culture images were nothing new, but for the first time, there seemed to be a direct link between a piece of artistic fiction and numerous unrelated acts of violence.

In the past, only two things were required for urban legends to thrive and survive – an unexplainable object or event and someone to share the story. Through fault of memory, legends could spread, evolve, and mutate. This is where creepypasta gains its strength. Incidents and events can be linked disparately through unrelated articles. Unexplained murders and deaths can be connected tenuously to elements of creepypasta stories. If there’s enough evidence to suggest something happened, but not enough of a trail to investigate it, the reader is left to fill in the blanks in their imagination. Once a story takes root in their brain, its work is done. Trees in the park take on sinister life, glitches in a program signal impending doom, and a familiar childhood doll fallen to the floor becomes the work of demonic possession. Horror writers can increase their arsenal of tricks by studying creepypasta and urban lore to find ways to capture an audience’s attention immediately, terrify them instantaneously, and haunt them for days after they’ve finished the story.

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