Gaming Creepypasta: ‘BEN, Drowned’ – the Haunting of Videogaming and Other Digital Spaces

Posted by Stuart Lindsay on October 29, 2012 in Uncategorized tagged with , , , ,

The very nature of digital textuality always affords its re-writing and retroactive editing. Not only do its texts account for haunted spaces and happenings, it is itself the medium through which haunting occurs. Digital textuality – or code – is haunted metaphorically in that it encrypts the presence of other texts to conjure up their resources and display graphics or animation, and perhaps literally – as the ‘BEN, Drowned’ documents claim. Before explaining who or what BEN is, it’s necessary to outline the technical terms which describe Creepypasta and its supposedly paranormal subject.

Creepypasta is a term derived from the word Copypasta, which describes any story that is spread in its original form around the internet through ‘copy and paste’ methods. Creepypasta, then, defines any horror-themed or frightening story that has gained notoriety online by going viral. While some Creepypastas consist of literary works that pre-date the internet, such as The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor, the most effective ones are born out of – and thus inherit the haunted properties of – the digital age. Creepypasta in the form of online anecdotes, diary entries and instant messenger chats detail disturbing hidden scenes in popular cartoons and television shows that are inserted by unknown authors and discovered by editors and viewers, and videogames with corrupted code that, according to their gamers, indicates the presence of a hidden intruder at work in the game. Indeed, the language of digital textuality: code, is one that contains no explicit marks of authorship; one cannot write like Flannery O’Connor but must subscribe to a rigidly uniform series of letters and numbers to program successfully. Also, as digital texts are frequently archived in online spaces, they are subject to a multiplicity of authors, both authorised and unauthorised. Thus, the digital nature of Creepypasta’s subject empowers the author that can hide their true identity and location.

While most Gaming Creepypastas are revealed by their original narrators to be hoaxes (some of which are more elaborate than others), the one that fascinates – and in an odd way actually frightens – me is ‘BEN, Drowned’, a Creepypasta about one youtube viewer’s experiences playing a corrupted copy of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – a videogame released on the Nintendo 64 gaming system in 2000. On September 7th, 2010, this youtube viewer, alias Jadusable – a college student in his sophomore year, bought a second hand Nintendo 64 and some games at a yard sale. There, he was given the Majora’s Mask game cartridge for free by an old man. The cartridge – which was missing its official sticker and instead had ‘MAJORA’ crudely written across it in black permanent marker – belonged, according to the old man, to a boy called Ben who “didn’t live there anymore”. Upon returning to his dorm and starting the game, Jadusable noticed a save file entitled ‘BEN’. His notes on the Creepypasta wikia describe the strange events occurring in-game, which are too detailed to list in their entirety here, but some of his in-game footage uploaded on youtube provides an example of the things he experienced during play.

Close investigation of Jadsusable’s documents reveals ‘BEN, Drowned’ to be a hoax; the Majora’s Mask footage depicts not the gameplay of an original Nintendo 64 cartridge, but that of a hacked rom running on an emulator. The game’s unpredictable and unsettling features were coded into the rom by Jadusable himself; it was not the work of the original cartridge’s supernatural haunting. Despite its fakery, however, what makes ‘BEN, Drowned’ compelling is that it reveals digital textuality to be, like the manuscript of literary Gothic, a space of multiple mediums in which creator and content is always under suspicion. As online interest in the ‘BEN, Drowned’ Creepypasta grew, Jadusable added depth to his hoax, suggesting that BEN was not the boy referred to by the old man, but a malevolent entity that possessed his dead body; that Ben himself had a history of depression and drowned himself in his backyard swimming pool, and that a cult who call themselves the ‘Moon Children’ convince suicidal teens to kill themselves so BEN can merge with and bind their souls to videogame storage space.

After Jadusable revealed ‘BEN, Drowned’ to be a hoax, online responses to the Creepypasta flooded the internet, furthering the idea that digital textuality consists of multiple mediums and multiple authors. Representations of ‘BEN, Drowned’s most memorable moments in fanart, cosplay, and youtube videos cemented the Creepypasta as an internet meme, and the BEN saga was continued by other authors in subsequent Creepypastas such as ‘BEN: The New Target’. But the most terrifying – and downright bizarre – response to ‘BEN, Drowned’ was the one that convinced Jadusable that BEN was real. Using remote administration software (software which allows one system to be controlled by another for legal or illegal purposes), one user hacked into Jadusable’s computer and started opening up and typing messages for him to read, claiming to be BEN. Digital textuality retroactively reinstalls the ghost into the online space from which it was previously banished, signalling an unsettling departure from the paper-bound manuscript fictions of the past. While Anne Radcliffe in her Gothic novels conjures the ghost merely to exorcise it, and Horace Walpole owns up to his authorship of The Castle of Otranto in its second edition, the language of ‘BEN, Drowned’s open, online archive – with its hoaxes-within-hoaxes that anyone can anonymously extend – disguises rather than discloses authentic authorship. Where Walpole’s one signature confers authorship and disproves the supernatural, ‘BEN, Drowned’s multiple marks serve to keep the question of the ghost open, undoing the finality of the originator and undermining the authenticity of the origin. In the new age of Gaming Creepypasta’s digital manuscript, where online communication connects private life with the rest of the world, it is no longer the fiction that allows us to question; instead, it is that the fiction itself is always in question.

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