Creepypasta is one of the most popular niches of creative works published to the internet. Several stories in this online literary horror genre have become mainstream, such as the 2018 film Slender Man based off the creepypasta of the same name. However, while many of these stories have evolved to stand on their own in whatever form, their conceptions were heavily reliant on the internet as a medium. In order to understand the origins of these stories and how they got their success, one must learn more about the relationship between creepypasta and the internet.
What is Creepypasta?
Creepypasta is, at a basic level, online horror content. Its name comes from the phrase “copypasta,” which is an internet-born phrase referring to, as Merriam-Webster states, “data (such as a block of text) that has been copied and spread widely online.” The merging of this word and “creepy” refers to the nature of creepypasta as horror images and stories posted online and spread around the internet. In this way, creepypasta somewhat resembles oral storytelling. There is a source for the story (usually an image or ambiguous post), then an established canon writing, then internet users spread the story and add on pieces of their own. An article by Annalee Hewitz called “Has Creepypasta Reinvented Classic Folklore?” posits that creepypasta has the same “fluid and ever-changing” nature as an oral folktale. However, in the case of creepypasta, the story does get to be published (if not in the traditional sense) online.
While creepypasta has historically come from various different sources, many of the most recognized stories from the genre have come from the online forum known as “Something Awful.” The Library of Congress digital archive refers to the forum as “a comedy website housing a variety of content, including blog entries, forums, feature articles, digitally edited pictures, and humorous media reviews.” One of the threads on Something Awful is dedicated to original horror stories written by members of the site, and in June of 2009, user Gerogerigegege posted a thread asking for submissions of “paranormal images” created by fellow users. This thread led to the creation of Slender Man, one of the most recognizable and popular creepypasta stories. Additionally, Something Awful was used to spread the “Smile Dog” creepypasta, which began as a single edited image and became a full story with abundant lore. The site is doubtless one of the leading sources for the spread and creation of creepypasta content.
Slender Man, by Eric Knudsen, is a creepypasta featuring a tall, faceless pale man in a suit. The story started when Knudsen, using the username Victor Surge, posted edited pictures of the character to the aforementioned Something Awful thread. He paired these black and white images with a cryptic caption: “We didn’t want to go, we didn’t want to kill them, but its persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time … 1983, photographer unknown, presumed dead.” The creature Slender Man is characterized as an enactor of chaos and violence, usually grooming young children into doing his bidding. Knudsen expanded his creepypasta into an established intellectual property, beginning with lore that he shared on the internet, then with the indie game series of the same name, and leading to the 2018 Slender Man film.
“Smile Dog” has a far more ambiguous origin than that of Slender Man. The creepypasta comes from a heavily edited image of a dog with human-like teeth that was spread around the internet. This became an established story about the image in which anyone who sees it becomes haunted by dreams of the creepy dog until they themselves show the image to someone else. The author of the official story is unknown, but it is still considered as the official canon. The image itself was shared to Something Awful, like many other creepypasta images.
Creepypasta Vs. Traditional Horror
One question that may come to mind when considering creepypasta is how it is any different from the regular horror genre, like any scary story from a book in the library. The definitive factor here is the internet as a medium. The internet is interactive, which is one of its most definitive features. When one picks up a book from the library, with the author’s name and publishing company emblazoned on the cover, there is a disconnect between the reader and the story that allows a sense of removal from the events occurring in the narrative. The reader may become captivated by the story, and even frightened by what is depicted within, but there is a comfortable padding of reality that comes from a traditionally published work. With the internet, and especially spaces like Reddit or Something Awful, there doesn’t have to be an announcement of the story’s fictional nature. The interaction between the reader and content is far more intimate without the red tape of published works, and strips away some of the comfort provided by a printed fictional work.
Creepypasta and its Legacy
The internet has provided a new avenue for digital publishing that transcends the restraints of traditional publishing companies. Stories like Slender Man and Smile Dog might never have been conceived within a traditional setting, especially given the components heavily reliant on an internet format (such as the original images associated with the stories). As Hewitz states, “creepypasta stories — whether visual or written — are always undergoing transformation.” There is a fluidity to online storytelling that cannot be replicated in a fixed format like a printed book. In this way, creepypastas are more similar to stories shared verbally, and contain the same kind of ingenuity and originality that comes with collaboration of such a large scale.