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Entry updated 1 May 2021. Tagged: Theme.

Catch-all term that began as a descriptor of anonymous Urban Legends copied and reposted on the Internet and has grown to encompass a online folk Horror tradition with millions of adherents. Creepypastas are the campfire stories of the digital realm, reflecting the fears and anxieties of the first generation to have grown up as natives of that world.

Although creepypasta is a flexible term, traditionally they are short, first-person accounts of supposedly true-life encounters with the supernatural, either told directly or framed by a concerned narrator sharing the messages of a vanished friend. Subjects include familiar urban legends of child murderers and Doppelgangers, but the genre also displays a tendency for more metaphysical terrors. The haunted houses of creepypastas are not Gothic mansions but the cookie-cutter, white-walled apartments of modernity, in which impossible doors and infinite stairways doom characters to recursive nightmares. Death is relatively rare; fates worse than death are common.

Set in anonymous Cities or small isolated towns, creepypastas provide a glimpse into the fears of a generation that grew up with technological monitoring, used to anonymous messages from their screens, and for whom isolation and social anxiety are familiar burdens. Fears of observation and control predominate, as does the nostalgia that fuelled so much early twenty-first century internet culture. As films like Videodrome (1982) or Ring (1998) drew dread from VHS tapes, creepypastas repackage technophobic tales of ghosts in the machine to the Nintendo consoles and Nokia phones of the 1990s and 2000s. Science-fiction staples such as other Dimensions, Pocket Universes, mind-altering Drugs and Internet memes as Basilisks also abound, although these terrors are rarely given a prosaic explanation. Indeed, the unexplainable and unfair nature of the universe is at the heart of the creepypasta anxiety, as befits a genre fuelled by adolescent creativity.

The term creepypasta derives from "copypasta", itself an allusion to the "copy/paste" function by which Internet users could spam paragraphs of text across message boards. While examples of the form go back at least to the "Ted the Caver" stories posted on Angelfire pages in 2001, references to "creepypastas" proper originated on the anarchic 4chan message boards in 2007, where stories were traded on the /x/ forum for paranormal discussion. was created in 2008 to compile the growing number of tales, and similar websites followed. Although use of the term creepypasta has declined since the early 2010s, the genre is as popular as ever. As of 2021, the nexus of creepypasta writing is the /nosleep Reddit board, created in March 2010 and which as of April 2021 boasted 14.7 million subscribers. [For selected relevant websites, see under links below.]

Creepypastas are a largely amateur but democratic form, in which audiences participate in shared world-building and favourite tales are upvoted on these websites. Authors and readers collude in the pretence that all stories are true. To this end, creepypasta tales can be supported by "evidence" in the form of photographs, sound files or even Found Footage style video, and audiences will frequently offer advice, commiserations, or draw connections to other pastas in the comments. Occasionally the author will respond to these comments, and this can lead to a novel-length serialized work in which the author adapts their story in response to feedback. In this way, the creepypasta genre can be seen as an update of the Club Story in which the real-world audience take the role of the club members.

While creepypastas began as anonymous and very short, as the subculture has matured (and been plundered for Cinema by Hollywood) it has seen some writers shed the artifice and claim ownership of their fictions, and some pastas have reached a wider fame.

Kris Straub's "Candle Cove" (2009) is an unsettling tale that epitomizes the verisimilitude of creepypastas, made up of purported internet message board posts in which users reminiscing about the titular public-access children's show remember increasingly disturbing details. The story was adapted by the SyFy channel as the first season of Channel Zero (2016). Other popular creepypastas include the many stories about a smiling murderer called "Jeff the Killer" (origin uncertain), and the depraved results of medically inflicted sleep deprivation in "The Russian Sleep Experiment" (2010) by the anonymous "OrangeSoda". The latter story has been adapted into The Sleep Experiment (2019) by Jeremy Bates, the short film The Russian Sleep Experiment (2015) directed by Timothy James Smith, and two feature length independent movies: The Soviet Sleep Experiment (2019) directed by Barry Andersson and The Sleep Experiment (2020) directed by John Farrelly.

The most famous denizen to emerge from the creepypasta community is The Slender Man or Slenderman: a tall, faceless, tentacled figure in a black suit who observes and kidnaps children. Originally created in doctored photographs by Eric Knudsen on the Something Awful forums in 2009, the entity caught the imagination of an online community which expanded its mythos collaboratively. The Slender Man achieved real-life notoriety in 2014 when a pair of twelve-year-old American girls attempted to murder a classmate in a ritualistic attempt to appease the monster – an incident which triggered a brief moral panic against creepypastas in general. A movie adaptation, Slender Man (2018), utterly failed to live up to the disquiet of the original photographs.

Although most creepypastas tend towards fantastical horror, The SCP Foundation offers a science-fictional spin on the form with its scientific studies of unexplained phenomena. Like many creepypastas, the SCP stories originated in the /x/ forum of 4chan, before fans migrated to their own website, SCP stands for the Special Containment Procedures that are required by the Foundation to control and study supernatural entities. These entities can range from a sentient Star to a microwave that accelerates time (see Time Distortion), and the stories about them are relayed in thousands of deadpan bureaucratic accounts submitted by the fan community. SCP entries must pass gatekeepers before being added to the wiki, and are generally of higher quality than creepypastas on other websites. The SCP Foundation has inspired several independent video games and was lifted wholesale for the high-budget First Person Shooter game Control (Remedy Entertainment, 2019) which re-badged SCP as FBC, the Federal Bureau of Control.

While creepypasta tales are often derivative and poorly written, their cumulative upsurge of creativity has been a strong influence on early twenty-first-century horror. Podcast serials such as Welcome to Nightvale (2012-current) and The Magnus Archives (2016-2021) show formal influences in the way their narrators expound supposedly true-life tales of trauma; the SyFy channel's Channel Zero (2016-2017) expanded the creepypastas "Candle Cove," "The No-End House", "Search and Rescue Woods" and "I Found a Hidden Door in my Cellar, and I Think I've Made a Big Mistake" into six-episode series; and films such as Vivarium (2019) or The Bye-Bye-Man (2017) play with similar traditions of urban legend. To date, few of these adaptations have been able to effectively replicate the uneasy blurring of fiction and reality that marks the best of the genre. [JN]


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