Reflections on creepypasta

Jun 25, 2012

I’m a huge creepypasta geek.

In short, creepypasta is “urban legends or scary stories circulating on the internet, many times revolving around specific videos or pictures” (according to Wikipedia). The important thing to note here is the last part, since a creepypasta without a video or image to go with it is really just a plain old scary story. The term itself is a portmanteau of “creepy” and “copypasta” (or pasta for short), which is a term referring to a short text that is copied and pasted repeatedly on the web.

In case that you, dear reader, is not familiar with these pastas, I give you an example:

Yes, that one.

This is the fairly popular “suicidemouse.avi” video, which is considered one of the first (and arguably best) “lost episode” pastas, a genre of creepypasta that usually involves a cartoon or kids’ show suddenly taking a turn for the worse. Much, much worse.

The supposed story of the video is laid out in full in the video’s description. In short, suicidemouse.avi is an unreleased Disney animation loop from the 1930s. It starts out fairly innocuous, but gradually distorts into a crazy, wobbly mess – accompanied by the haunting soundtrack of someone banging on a piano and screaming wildly. Upon watching the cartoon, a Disney employee committed suicide on the spot.

Or so the story goes. Most of the time. As with any story, every time it gets retold (outside of copy-pasting) it’s bound to lose or gain some details, as indeed it has. Some versions of the story mention the suicidal Disney employee, while others claim the suicide is part of the original video. And as with most stories, there are plot holes that challenge its credibility. Some versions of the pasta claim that the original video is under serious protection, with several Disney employees having been fired after attempts to upload the video to the web, and yet, it is available on YouTube in several videos. With current copyright laws being what they are, Disney would most certainly not have any problems taking down a few mildly popular videos if they wanted to. Well, unless they don’t want to admit it’s real! Hmm, the plot thickens.

Of course, this is all nothing more than a good story, and requires some suspension of disbelief. But the thing is, it’s still creepy as hell. And that’s the beauty of creepypasta.

Well, good creepypasta.

You see, good pastas like Suicide Mouse are few and far between. The majority of pastas are either too long, terribly written, or taken much too far in the “suspension of disbelief” department.

Imagine sitting around a campfire telling scary stories. Everyone is having a great time, until that one guy that everyone hates whips out “The Shining” and starts reciting all 447 pages of it. That’s what it’s like to read some of the long pastas. You don’t want that because it’s fucking boring. Creepypasta is supposed to be something you’d be able to easily copy and paste, not a small novel.

Other pastas are not very long, just written in a language that doesn’t engage the reader. The sad part about this kind of story is that it might have the scariest plot in the world, but it all falls flat because the author was better at coming up with the idea than executing it.

Yet another type of pasta is the kind that may be well-written and well-paced, but are so far removed from the “real world” that they just aren’t scary. Two examples of this, and these are the ones that bug me out of my mind, are ghost stories and haunted computers.

Yes, seriously. People write scary stories about pieces of software misbehaving (and I’m not talking about bug reports). This one is especially annoying to me because I’m a programmer. I imagine that a haunted game slides a bit more easily with someone without the knowledge of how software is made, but come on. An old console game that somehow displays a photograph of the player?

Now, there’s an important distinction to make when talking about video game creepypasta: Some rely on uncovering things deliberately put in the game by the developers – things that are mostly possible if given the right amount of resources – and some rely on having the game do something supernatural, such as the aforementioned photo thing.

Having grown up with video games (and still playing them), I can definitely see the appeal of something like the Herobrine story – after all, a sufficiently advanced game AI could reproduce his behavior – but going from that to “it’s the game designer’s dead brother” is kind of a stretch. I actually think that story would be improved if the “dead brother” thing wasn’t in it. That way, it would be a mystery why Herobrine was added to the game (if he ever was), rather than having the story just straight up tell you that it has got something to do with a specific Persson.

Speaking of dead brothers … Creepypasta stories about ghosts and the traditionally paranormal seem to be playing it rather safe with the subject matter, and in turn – for me at least – end up sub-par as far as the creepiness goes. One thing I noticed – and this applies to any kind of scary story, I believe – is that the most terrifying things are the things we don’t understand. Lovecraftian horror is a variation of this on a grand scale, but even in smaller contexts, I think it holds up rather well. We already know that ghosts are the spirits of dead people, we know that garlic is a defense against vampires, and we know that werewolves are transformed under a full moon. Give us something new, and we will have no idea what to do – and that is truly terrifying.

Of course, everything I’ve just said is hugely subjective, and as with most everything else, your mileage may vary. In closing, I would like to introduce you to my favorite creepypasta. Enjoy.

A FEW YEARS AGO A MAN WAS WALKING DOWN A ROAD BECAUSE HIS CAR BROKE DOWN AND HE SAW A CAR COMING UP BEHIND HIM SO HE STUCK OUT HIS THUMB TO HITCH HIKE AND THE CAR STOPPED AHEAD OF HIM. HE RAN UP TO THE PASSENGER SIDE AND OPENED THE DOOR. WHEN HE OPENED THE DOOR A SKELETON POPPED OUT!