The term “creepypasta” is fairly elastic, covering a lot of Internet short fiction and manufactured urban legends – a notable example being the “Slender Man,” which began as a set of clever Photoshops inserting a tall, disturbing humanoid figure into mundane pictures of kids at play, and grew into an urban legend about a possibly extraterrestrial stalker. (Slender Man then got commercialized, even receiving his own video games.)
But the purest expression of the creepypasta art form is an entirely new form of horror fiction: a tale told in seemingly realistic manner through emails and forum posts. Sometimes the creators will sign up under a number of different aliases at a Web forum, creating the illusion of a group of unrelated people discussing some eerie phenomenon. It’s basically an elaborate hoax, carried off so well that you can’t help but applaud the effort when reading the finished product. At its best, creepypasta has the same air of legitimacy that the early found-footage movies did, particularly “The Blair Witch Project,” which could even be described as creepypasta in cinematic form, since its marketing was boosted with Web sites that made the film out to be a documentary about a group of students who really disappeared while researching an urban legend.
The most cunningly fashioned of these stories are highly believable at first. In the early stages of a good creepypasta, the reader thinks it might be a real story. One of the most notorious long-form creepypastas is called “BEN Drowned.” It’s a series of forum posts about an apparently glitched Nintendo 64 cartridge, purchased second-hand with a corrupted game-save file on board. The creator did a terrific job of faking “screen captures” from his corrupted game, which become increasingly bizarre and purposeful, leading into a “Ring”-type story about the cartridge being not just glitchy, but haunted. It’s interesting to read the “BEN Drowned” posts, remembering that they were originally released over a long period of time, and wonder at what point you would have jumped off the train and concluded the whole thing was a hoax.
Using multiple forum aliases to spin a creepypasta is the key to one of the best examples of the genre, “Candle Cove.” This one came to life in an online forum discussing nostalgic memories of long-ago children’s TV shows, particularly local programs produced by UHF channels. The author used several aliases to create a discussion between people who remembered a very odd puppet show about a pirate called “Candle Cove,” which grows more disturbing as each “forum poster” weighs in with a new recollection. The end result really gets under your skin.
There’s plenty of creepypasta out there to be found by Googling the term; the links above come from the excellent Creepypasta Wiki. If you love horror stories and want to spend a little time on Halloween exploring a brand-new art form that could only exist on the Internet, check it out.