Monday, 27 April 2015

Foreshadowings: Terror and Technology in the Digital Age

Ahead of our next GRG meeting, I wanted to explore the ways in which technology – specifically, the internet – has changed how horror stories are disseminated and received. We will be looking primarily at the phenomenon known as Creepypasta: popular horror microfiction (often centred on allegedly ‘haunted’ images, videos, games or other media) that is shared and circulated on the internet in a similar fashion to urban legends. Also known as ‘internet campfire stories’, Creepypasta derives from the traditional ghost story formula, only instead of gathering around a fire to hear oral re-tellings of supernatural tales, you huddle over a screen. And you are possibly by yourself.

There are several different types of Creepypasta (‘Lost episode’, ‘Haunted image’, ‘Ritual’) with varying degrees of disturbance. What they all have in common is the way they are passed on in a process of uncanny repetition – they spread like rumours, until the ‘original’ tale becomes distorted though the numerous re-tellings.  It is almost impossible to trace a Creepypasta back to a definite, original source. The inherent ghostliness of modern technology lends itself to this kind of storytelling – the disembodied voices floating around in cyberspace are at once absent and present. One might even go as far as saying cyberspace is the new ‘haunted house’. The idea of haunted media displaces our assumption that technology belongs to the realm of rational logic. If we accept, even for a moment, that ghosts inhabit our computer/tablet/phone screens, then technology becomes transgressive. Ultimately, Creepypasta scares us because it signifies an assimilation: the ghost is in the machine.

As a 90s child/00s teenager, I remember spending many evenings after school in front of a computer screen, using MSN instant messenger to ‘connect’ with my friends and peers (you know, instead of actually meeting up with them). 

One of the things I remember about instant messenger was the annoying, terrifying ‘chain letters’ that always seemed to start with:

Of course, nothing ever did happen when I was brave enough to ignore the stories (usually something along the lines of ‘the ghost of ------ will murder you in your sleep tonight if you don’t send his message to 20 of your friends within the next five minutes’) but that didn't stop me from feeling unnerved. The question I find myself asking now is: was it the content that seemed terrifying, or the viral, infiltrating nature of horror microfiction?

If you haven’t encountered Creepypasta yet, be prepared for a disrupted sleeping pattern.* You can find a list of some of the more well-known Creepypastas here:
Or you can visit the website:

Join us in RRB Room 84 on Wednesday 20th May to discuss horror microfiction and the internet. In the meantime, search the internet for ‘two sentence horror stories’. You’ll be amazed at how chilling some of them are!

*GRG accepts no responsibility for possible sleep deprivation caused by too much Creepypasta ;)

***Correction: The GRG will be reading "Creepypasta" on May 20th, not May 6th as was previously stated.  The May 6th meeting will be a discussion of "The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Carly Stevenson is a PhD student at the University of Sheffield.

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