Lurk around the internet long enough and you’re bound to stumble upon creepypasta, horror stories written to spread among internet communities, often without attribution. Like the internet’s version of urban legends, these stories tap into the things that scare us, frequently taking familiar ideas and making them frightening.
This is especially true of video games, which are a childhood staple for many internet users, and also frequently accused of inciting violence, hatred, or rampant sexual behavior by critics. They’re a perfect vehicle to corrupt into horror stories—so much so that the creepypasta wiki restricts the number that can be posted. Here we take a look at some of the most famous video game creepypasta stories of all time.
BEN Drowned is one of many ‘haunted cartridge’ creepypastas, in which the narrator finds that the cartridge of a beloved childhood game they’ve bought or found from a dubious source is out to get them. But this story took the now-cliché idea a step further by maximizing the potential of the internet for storytelling. Featuring videos of a glitched-out ROM of Majora’s Mask, BEN Drowned follows the narrator through a terrifying playthrough where he’s followed by statues summoned by the Elegy of Emptiness and repeated phrases that take on a sinister meaning, such as, “You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?” Majora’s Mask is something of a creepy title to begin with, making this story a natural choice for creepypasta. But the haunted cartridge trope isn’t what makes the story; it’s the way the writer incorporated things like Cleverbot—which learns from its users—to spread the story and imply that BEN had infected the computers of everyone reading along.
Lavender Town Syndrome
Any kid who grew up playing the original Pokémon games remembers the eeriness of Lavender Town—the sudden realization that your beloved Pokémon friends could die, and the way an NPC hinted that there was a ghost lurking right behind you. Lavender Town’s theme is a series of spooky beeps that can make your skin crawl even as an adult, but this popular video game creepypasta claimed that an earlier version of the theme—released only in Japan—triggered a wave of child suicides tied directly to playing the game. What makes the story work is that it’s not the first time we’ve heard of Pokémon causing physical illness—some children experienced seizures after watching an episode of the TV show that featured flashing lights. Pretty much anybody who played the game experienced the creepiness of Lavender Town. Combine that with the knowledge that the show caused seizures and other real-life horrors, and it’s clear how Lavender Town Syndrome caught on as an almost believable explanation for the song’s unsettling nature.
Polybius is one of those video game creepypastas that seems just mundane enough to be true. As the story goes, a mysterious arcade game called Polybius showed up in Portland, Oregon in the early eighties, and caused hallucinations, nightmares, and suicides among players. Reportedly, men wearing black suits showed up to take data—not money—from the game. What endures about this story is that it sounds plausible; who hasn’t had a nightmare after long hours of a game, or seen the glowing arrow images after too many rounds of DDR? And given the conspiracy theories of the eighties and the select number of people claiming to have played or seen the game in the Portland area, it’s no wonder people are still theorizing about what Polybius—if it existed—might have been.
Herobrine is a persistent myth. According to the creepypasta, Herobrine is a version of the player avatar with glowing white eyes who invades single-player games to loom ominously and build structures. It’s not the creepiest story out there, but the added details of Herobrine being the ghost of Notch’s deceased brother (which Notch has personally stated to be untrue, as he does not have a brother), and mods that allow Herobrine’s odd behavior to manifest without apparent cause, add flavor to the story. Similarly, because the original video game creepypasta incorporates the idea that messages on Minecraft forums are deleted for mentioning Herobrine—a policy the Minecraft Wiki engages in to discourage people from misleading others—any post about Herobrine that gets deleted only furthers believers’ claims that Herobrine is real.
NES Godzilla is kind of like the epic ballad of video game creepypasta. It’s long, occasionally boring, and packed with obscure mythology—in this case, references to a variety of kaiju from the Godzilla series that require more than a casual knowledge to recognize. NES Godzilla is another haunted cartridge story, but, unlike many in the genre, it’s not lazy or spooky because of vague ghosts. This creepypasta, for much of the time, feels like a rambling, lengthy video game review peppered with screenshots of increasing horror. What starts out as a revisiting of a beloved childhood game becomes a story of terror told through video game sprites that seem to stare right through the screen and into your soul. Though its ending takes a bit of a turn for the sentimental, the attention to detail in each doctored screenshot makes it more memorable than most.