Whether it’s Gilgamesh or urban legends, the art of storytelling has been around for thousands of years. In the case of creepypastas, just replace the campfire with a computer screen.
For those that have never experienced this internet genre of storytelling, creepypastas are horror-related stories, images, or videos. The name is based off the term “copypasta” because the stories are typically copied and pasted all over the internet.
But over the past few years, the popularity of the genre has dwindled after tragic events caused the community to reel itself back and stifle creation.
Despite its struggles, creepypasta hasn’t quite met its own horror movie ending, but rather turned into something else. Shifting from its home in the corners of the /x/ board of 4Chan and r/NoSleep subreddit, the genre has made its way to TV screens across the country thanks to a SyFy television series created by Nicholas Acosta that expands on the plot of creepypastas on the internet.
The early days of creepypasta
Some older and popular creepypastas include Jeff the Killer, a serial killer with no eyelids and a terrifying smile who murders his family; and BEN Drowned, a story by YouTuber Alex Hall that revolves around a haunted cartridge of the video game The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.
Hall included videos of the ordeal to further enhance the creepypasta.
“I saw that a lot of creepypastas only had one element to them — the writing — and I felt that if it had a visual component as well it would make it that much more engaging,” Hall wrote.
BEN Drowned follows the story of a college student who goes the username Jadusable. The character buys a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask from a mysterious old man at a garage sale, that turned out to be haunted by a malevolent spirit named Ben.
“The genre itself was still pretty young when I wrote it in 2010,” Hall wrote. “I didn’t know what it was at the time. I saw a few creepy video game stories in the wild, and I wanted to try my hand at writing something similar. It just happened to evolve organically from there.”
Creepypastas get bigger—and more visual
The infamous Slender Man creature — who was birthed from a creepypasta — helped propel the community into the spotlight with his unnaturally elongated limbs and pale face lacking eyes, mouth, or a nose. Slender Man got so big that he had video games, YouTube web series, and a feature film based on him.
“I started making videos back in 2010,” Rosner said. “That type of raw horror was something that really appealed to me. It’s a lot of what creepypasta lore really is.”
Rosner’s TribeTwelve series was well received by the community. In the series, Rosner plays the role of Noah Maxwell, a college student who is being tormented by a group of evil entities known as The Collective, and of course, Slender Man.
“When I started out I didn’t have a big plan,” Rosner said. “I only wanted to have a few episodes and have a joke ending. But then people started posting in forums about my stuff, and they were really into the plot and visuals of the series.”
As one of the large figures in the “Slenderverse,” Rosner joined the ranks of other series creators like Marble Hornets and EveryManHYBRID, whose YouTube channels are dedicated to creating Slender Man videos.
Creepypastas take a dark turn
In 2016, a 12-year-old girl named Katelyn Davis livestreamed her suicide on Live.me. According to a blog post Davis wrote in December 2016, she had fallen in love with the the character Ben from Hall’s creepypasta.
“I NEED his love. I NEED his warmth. It has been several months since I last spoke with him,” Davis wrote. “He went by Ben Drowned. He claimed that he was the real Ben Drowned. Right now, I don’t care.”
In an interview with Kotaku last year, Hall commented on the event.
“I don’t feel responsible,” Hall said. “I feel like if it wasn’t my story, it would’ve been something else. Someone would have impersonated someone else or whatever, from another story, to lead her down that path or whatnot.”
Davis’ suicide was not the only tragedy surrounding creepypastas. Perhaps the most infamous case came in the form of an attack by two young girls in order to appease Slender Man.
In 2014, Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, lured their friend Payton Leutner into the woods in Wisconsin where they stabbed her 19 times and left her to die. All of the girls involved were 12-years-old at the time of the attack.
Multiple reports during the incident highlighted the girls’ obsession with the creepypasta figure as a motive. Because of this, many felt Slender Man and the creepypasta community were guilty by association.
Thankfully, Leutner survived the attack after she dragged herself to a nearby road and was found by a cyclist. She was taken to the hospital to recover from her injuries, and her attackers were tried as adults in a court. Both Weier and Geyser pleaded guilty of attempted homicide. Weier was committed to 25 years and Geyser was committed to 40 years. Both of the teenagers are serving their sentences in psychiatric institutions.
“The stabbing was pretty discouraging for a lot of people,” Rosner explained. “It felt like a lot of media outlets were looking for someone to point a finger at, and they just didn’t understand the community at all.”
Considered these two tragic events both involved young children, the community was hit hard.
Despite setbacks, creepypastas move to TV
Despite the backlash and decline in new stories, Nicholas Acosta saw potential in the genre, and revitalized the dying genre through his television show, Channel Zero.
“We wanted to honor the genre and give it our own twist,” Acosta said. “The original stories are very short and it’s necessary to bring a lot of stuff into it, so we wanted to give them more life with characters and a larger plot.”
Channel Zero expands on creepypastas by using it as a platform to create an entire universe, characters, and a plot lines based off the original stories.
The show has been received well by critics and audiences. It’s slated to premiere its fourth season, Dream Door, based on a creepypasta that was posted on the NoSleep subreddit last year. All of the original authors of the creepypastas were credited and paid.
“I have faith in the genre,” Acosta said. “I think as long as people have fears in the modern world, they’re going to continue to read, write, and watch this stuff.”
Will creepypastas continue to thrive?
At the moment, creepypastas are still being produced online, but not nearly at the same rate as they were previously. There also haven’t been any standout creatures recently, such as Ben or Slender Man.
“I haven’t really seen too many newer ones crop up organically,” Hall said. “I think a lot of the really popular ones came out in the first half of the decade and we’re waiting for the next big author out there to put their own spin on the genre.”
Although the written aspect of creepypasta has declined over the past few years, the versatility of the internet has allowed it to retain its spooky value regardless of medium.
“It has a ridiculous amount of variety,” Rosner said. “The community has so much to offer and I don’t think it’s ever going to go away, it’ll just change forms.”
Whether it’s on TV, in a YouTube video, or written form, you can’t escape a good urban legend or spooky story. As long as there are innovators in the community producing quality creepypasta for the internet, the genre is set to keep us up at night for more years to come.
“I’m excited to see where it goes in the future,” Hall wrote. “I think there’s someone out there with an idea involving multiple mediums that’s going to set the internet on fire and I can’t wait for him or her to realize it.”