Scary stories have been a part of society for as long as there has been a human civilization. Thousands of years ago, our ancestors would be hunter-gatherers without science or critical thought. When lighting flashed and thunder boomed, the frightened people would wonder what made the sky flash and growl. Someone among them thought up a reason that their tribal gods, who lived in the sky, must be angry. And when the story of angry sky gods was repeated to other tribes, that may have been the world’s first creepypasta.
Today, the term creepypasta is used to describe a frightening piece of content, usually a story or an image, that originates from the internet. Because the web makes it so easy for information to spread by cutting and pasting it in emails and on webpages, these stories can begin on one site and then quickly replicate to many others.
The word “creepypasta” was first coined in 2006 on a 4chan discussion thread discussing the then-new rise of these scary stories. Creepypasta comes from the blending of two words: “creepy” and “copypasta”, the latter is itself a new word used to describe copying and distributing stories across the web.
What Creepypasta Does
The best creepypasta stories share common elements:
- An unsettling aspect to the menace, usually psychological
- A blurring between what is real and what shouldn’t be possible
- Plausibility, meaning that the creepypasta usually can happen to anyone – like yourself
Often certain elements are incorporated into the creepypasta: the supernatural, acts of murder, items that on first appearance seem to be innocent, locations that are typically regarded as safe. After quickly establishing the setting, the creepypasta author then starts showing what was believed to be normal and unassuming is not. Finally, there’s usually an ending that comes as a shock to the reader, lingering long after the creepypasta has been consumed.
Just try going to sleep at night.
Creeypasta is Evolving
Because these stories originate on the internet, creepypastas can be edited by anyone. A new writer may add a sentence or paragraph, or come up with a new story that incorporates the creepypasta villain from the original story.
This is how the legend of the Slenderman came about: the tale began as a contest to see who could come up with the scariest paranormal story on a message forum. The winning entry was only a photo showing children in a schoolyard, with a Photoshopped-in figure of a tall, thin being lurking in the background. A caption was written for the photo by its’ creator that ominously suggested the photo was taken shortly before a tragic fire at the school.
The Slenderman mythology was so popular that others built on its’ foundation. Soon new creepypastas were being created, with the most widely received being a series of YouTube videos titled “Marble Hornets”. Through dozens of videos the “Marble Hornets” creator built up an immense sense of dread as a young man in search of his missing friend slowly attracts the attention of the Slenderman.
Viewers were left with the haunting question of how much in these videos were real, and if the events depicted in them happened.
The Slenderman has now grown into a true phenomenon. There are hundreds of images, dozens of stories, even video games where you can come face-to-face with the Slenderman himself. Tragically there has been a real-life attempted murder inspired by the Slenderman, as well as suicides attributed to belief in the legend.
And it goes beyond Slenderman. Dozens of well-known creepypastas exist: Ted the Caver, Candle Cove, Smile Dog, Jeff the Killer, The Russian Sleep Experiment and so many more. Some creepypastas have even become so popular that they stand as their own franchise or universe, like the vast number of entries that comprise the SCP.
Is Creepypasta the New Horror for the 21st Century?
Our brains haven’t changed that much from our ancestors of thousands of years ago. We still feel fear, of the unknown and also known threats. Our minds look down a dark hallway and see shadowy shapes walking closer. Sightings of cryptids, UFOs, demons, monsters, ghosts and apparitions are still reported. Is it really that hard for our rational selves to think that there isn’t something waiting to get us from inside the dark?
Just as the printing of books introduced a new form of horror stories to be shared amongst people, the arrival of radio, movies and television in the early part of the 20th century made it even easier for people to be scared. For example, the legendary writer and director Orson Welles’ infamous radio show broadcast of The War of the Worlds terrified listeners and fooled the world into believing Martians were invading Earth on Halloween Eve, 1938. Another example: the horror movies of the 1930s, 50s, and 80s, like Friday the 13th and Halloween. More recent films have blurred the lines further, like 1999’s “found footage” movie The Blair Witch Project, or the Paranormal Activity series.
Today, it’s as easy as hitting enter and the creepypasta that you’ve written can be read around the world. Your video footage can be upload can be viewed by millions in a matter of minutes. New monsters and things that go bump in the dark are being created daily by creepypasta enthusiasts.
The tide of creepypasta isn’t slowing; if anything, it’s speeding up and becoming more unnerving as people refine and build on what’s come before.
Welcome to the world of creepypasta. Expect to be tasting a lot more of it.