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The Dan Cave

Everything You Need to Know About Creepypasta

What is Creepypasta? Is it rigatoni haunted by the spectre of a murdered chef? A bowl of spaghetti put out at Halloween so that you reach in and think it’s worms? A bastardization of the term copy-paste to reference a gigantic internet subculture of viral horror stories that inspired the hit anthology series Channel Zero, now streaming on Shudder? Relax. I can explain. Join me on today’s episode of The Dan Cave as we go through a brief history of creepypasta.

Editor’s note: Today’s episode of The Dan Cave is sponsored by Shudder.

Like any great horror story, the true origins of creepypasta are unknown to mere mortals, kept hidden by an ancient order of necromancers who use this eldritch knowledge for sinister, secret purposes. Creepypasta are basically urban legends for the Internet age. The term is a reference to the phrase “copypasta” which is a colloquialization of “copy + paste,” which refers to the way these stories were copied and pasted and shared around the Internet ad nauseam on sites like reddit and 4chan like the chain letters of yesteryear. Except unlike those e-mails that asked you to forward them on or your crush will have 7 years of bad luck, creepypasta had a tendency to feel…real. They’re bite-sized scary stories that will keep you up into the wee hours of the morning. It’s about gathering around the digital campfire and trying to make one another scream.

According to Know Your Meme, the earliest appearance of the term “creepypasta” on 4chan dates back to July 6, 2007, but it’s entirely possible it appeared earlier in some dark corner of the Internet. Who knows? Maybe there’s a haunted Geocities page out there where sparkles aren’t the only thing that follow your mouse. While they weren’t designated as such, creepypasta has been around nearly as long as the Internet itself. At their core, creepypasta are user-generated stories designed to scare the reader silly. They’re primarily text-based although many of them also include unsettling audio, terrifying imagery, and deeply uncomfortable video too. Some of them lean into existing legends, others create new myths that then take on terrifying lives of their own in global popular culture.

Image: HBO Films

Creepypasta reached a mainstream audience after appearing in a 2010 New York Times article, and immediately made it sound goofy as all hell by calling them “Web Scares,” which is what I have when I everytime I walk face first into a spider web at my apartment complex. Like Polybius, the hallucination-inducing arcade game that was supposedly a CIA psy-op, or the Bunny Man stalking the streets of Fairfax County, Virginia, the best creepypasta are the ones that seem believable.

They take the forms of lost episodes of beloved children’s cartoons like Squidward’s Suicide, a never-aired episode episode of Spongebob Squarepants in which Squidward kills himself; or they appear in tales of haunted software like Lavender Town Syndrome, which alleges that frequencies in the Lavender Town music caused 500 kids to commit suicide. Others are just simple, shareable, spooky images like Smile Dog.

In the olden days of creepypasta, the stories felt like cursed objects that brave Internet explorers would stumble upon. As such, many of the early creepypastas were hosted on simple, crudely designed sites on places like Angelfire so that the author could obscure their tracks. One of the best examples of this is 2001’s Ted the Caver, the story of a spelunker named Ted who along with his pals Brad and Joe discover a place called Mystery Cave that quickly takes a turn for the terrifying as they discover weird hieroglyphs, screaming, and other supernatural oddities within. Accompanied by washed out disposable camera photos and written in excruciating detail, this story just felt real to people who read it.

Image: Syfy

Nowadays the creators of creepypasta have reams of data about what actually frightens us thanks to the proliferation of anxieties and fears spilling across social media and message boards across the land. As Will Wiles wrote in his 2013 essay for Aeon, “Creepypasta is a way of learning what frightens us in the network age.” This feeling is amplified by the ease with with information–real or otherwise–can be spread in a digital era.

Take, for example, the Mandela Effect, the term given to the psychological phenomenon of experiencing false memories on a collective scale. If enough of us are so sure that Sinbad made a genie movie called Shazam or that two spellings of the Berenstein Bears are proof positive of a parallel universe, then we could easily be fooled by increasingly creepy and disturbing recollections about an obscure children’s TV show called Candle Cove. It’s a Twilight Zone episode disguised as an innocent conversation between people online.

Another classic is Suicidemouse.avi, a purportedly “lost” Mickey Mouse cartoon featuring a distorted Mickey walking down a poorly animated street as the sound and image continue to warp before cutting to black and the sounds of screaming. The best part about this one, from what I’ve read, is that famed film critic and Maltin on Movies podcast co-host Leonard Maltin allegedly is the one who discovered this cursed cartoon, according to the pasta lore.

The tale that embodies the most transcendent qualities and the power of creepypasta though is Slenderman. More than any other creepypasta creature, Slenderman has wormed its way into global popular culture in a way that few other online creations have. Created as part of a paranormal Photoshop contest in 2009 by Something Awful user Eric Knudsen, the Slender Man immediately took on a life of its own as this preternaturally tall, rail-thin man with otherworldly appendages and a blank white face who stalked children began seizing hold of the imaginations of all who encountered it. Within days, others had created their own lore about this horrifying entity. It spread to web series, multiple video games, and even major feature films. It was a crowdsourced nightmare that took on a life of its own.

Sadly, one cannot mention Slenderman without mentioning how in 2014 two 12-year-old girls lured their friend into the woods and attempted to stab her to death, claiming that it was to impress the fictional character. The girls were found not guilty by reason of insanity, but the damage had been done. This terrible tragedy sparked a national outrage and brought creepypasta into the limelight for all the wrong reasons. However, much like how violent video games don’t cause violent acts and horror movies don’t lead to upticks in real murders, creepypasta does not cause those who read it to become real-life monsters. Rather, creepypasta is a literary tradition for the modern age that has reignited a passion for folklore, open-source monster-crafting, and a collective, memetic means of scaring one another. And if nothing else, it’s a great way to practice your writing.

And that is a brief history of creepypasta! But tell me what are your favorites? What was the first creepypasta you remember encountering? Let me know in the comments below.

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