It’s spooky season. And what could be spookier than the internet?
Don’t believe us? You should. There are plenty of creepy things lurking in the internet’s dusty corners. And we don’t just mean your ex’s OnlyFans account.
We bet you think you’re nice and safe, sat behind your screen in your own home. But these spooky internet stories will make you think again about that.
So this week, we’re going to take you on a tour of cyberspace’s most haunted locations. From a cursed popup to a ghostly avatar, we’ll show you that supernatural spookiness isn’t confined to the real world. It’s infiltrated cyberspace – and it’s been there from the very beginning…
THE GHOST IN THE MACHINE
Technology and the supernatural have been linked ever since the first lightbulb was switched on. Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla even added a supernatural edge to their legendary rivalry, competing to be the first to invent a telephone that could talk to the dead (we’re not joking. We wish we were, but we’re not).
Anyone who has watched a horror film will know that flickering lightbulbs, the radio switching itself on, and creepy things dashing across the TV screen etc are well-established horror tropes. So much so that modern ghost hunters use similar tech to pick up spirit activity.
Things like ‘spirit boxes’ (a sort of radio which cycles quickly through transmission bands), ESP monitors, and thermal cameras to pick up ‘cold spots’ are essential elements of a ghost hunter’s arsenal.
With the arrival of the internet, the world got a host of new ways to communicate, trade, play, hook up, and more. But is it just the living that benefit from the internet?
Some stories suggest otherwise…
SLENDERMAN STEPS THROUGH THE SCREEN
From its earliest days, the internet has been a great place to gather and tell ghost stories. And some of those stories have taken on a life of their own.
The classic example of this is Slenderman. Slenderman began his unnatural life as creepypasta (creepypastas are horror-related legends that have been shared around the internet). Tales emerged on storytelling sites of an uncommonly tall, pale man in a suit.
Slenderman’s features are indistinct, his arms uncommonly long. He stands, strangely still, in the corner of your vision. His aim, the stories say, is to abduct children and make them his servants.
Like all the best folklore monsters, Slenderman is deceptively simple. He’s just a shade off the familiar concept of Stranger In Suit – stretched enough to be uncanny, but not enough to be cartoonish. Slenderman very quickly caught on and became a popular bogeyman for American pre-teens.
So popular, in fact, that he developed a sinister life offline. On 31st May 2014, two 12 year old girls in Wisconsin, USA, stabbed one of their friends 19 times. When asked why they did it, they claimed that they were sacrificing the girl to Slenderman.
The victim, Payton Leutner, thankfully survived. In the ensuing investigation, mental illness was found to be a contributory factor. However, it can’t be denied that Slenderman had, in a sense, stretched out a long leg and stepped through the screen into the real world. His online existence was having offline consequences.
RED ROOM – THE CURSED POPUP
The USA has Slenderman, and Japan has the Red Room Curse.
The Red Room legend goes something like this:
While casually browsing the internet, a user will suddenly find their screen filled with a popup. The popup reads “Do you like..?”
Irritated, the user tries to close the popup. This works for a second, but it swiftly reappears with new text: “Do you like the Red Room?”
Slowly, the screen turns red, and a list of names scrolls down the popup. These are the names of the Red Room’s victims. As the appalled user reads the growing list of names, they sense a presence behind them…
Later, the user is found dead, slumped in front of their computer. In some versions, the walls of the room in which they are found is red with blood.
THE GHOST OF ACTIVE WORLDS
Then there is the abandoned spaces phenomenon. Websites that have been abandoned have a strange kind of creepiness to them. Frozen in time, they are like the online version of a ramshackle ruin – poignant, and spooky.
Some people have had strange encounters in abandoned online spaces. In 2016, Youtube streamer ‘Vinesauce’ went into a 3D virtual universe from the mid 90s – ‘Active Worlds’. Vinesauce was expecting a nostalgic wander through an empty world, but what he found was more than a little creepy.
What he took to be an NPC (“non-player character” i.e. one made by the computer), ‘Hitomi Fujiko’ approached and said “Hello traveller. Are you lost?”
However, rather than dropping the line of questioning when Vinesauce moved on, as a 90s NPC would, Fujiko followed Vinesauce, asking over and over again “Are you lost?”
Fujiko was initially helpful, even performing apparently impossible in-game feats, like opening a goblin gate.
However, Vinesauce began to get the creeps when Fujiko turned to him and said “Human…I didn’t want to tell you this. But this land…it is empty. I am the only one left.”
This could not have been scripted NPC dialogue, as the game was designed to be heavily populated by players. Sure, it was abandoned NOW, but a 90s NPC couldn’t know that.
The conversation proceeded like this:
HF: ‘There can’t be more than one wanderer of these empty lands.’
VS: ‘I AM the only wanderer here. You aren’t real’
HF: ‘I am real’
HF: ‘I am real, aren’t I?’
VS: ‘I don’t know’
HF (Stepping towards Vinesauce): ‘Please tell me I exist’
VS: ‘I don’t know. I don’t know if you exist.’
HF: ‘Wanderer, you are scaring me. I can’t feel’
HF: ‘I can’t…’
HF: ‘I can’t even feel pain. Can you feel pain?’
VS: ‘I feel fear. Right now.’
VS: ‘Are you not an NPC. A computer?’
HF: ‘Run. Run far away from me. Go.’
Veteran players in the chat confirmed that this was not scripted dialogue.
The rational explanation, of course, is that Hitomi Fujiko was a regular human gamer who, for some reason, liked to hang out on her own in this poorly-rendered digital landscape from the 90s. Upon encountering another person in this desolate place, she decided to have a bit of fun.
But if so, why was she so committed to her part? She seemed to enjoy talking to Vinesauce in the character of a ‘proud elf’, and warning him of orcs and goblins. She told Vinesauce that she was once the ruler of these lands. If she wanted to roleplay, why come here alone?
Or was Vinesauce’s fear justified? Is Hitomi Fujiko the spirit of a past gamer, whose avatar and consciousness still wander the barren landscape of a deserted game?
To make things even creepier, Hitomi Fujiko’s avatar resembles a Pierrot-style clown. Not your classic creepy clown – but somehow scarier because of it.
Is she still there? You can go and find out. If you dare.
BEING HAUNTED ISN’T LIMITED TO REAL LIFE
Spooky stories crop up everywhere that people congregate. And, right now, we’re doing a lot of congregating on the internet. It’s no wonder that the internet is getting spookier by the second.
We think that things like the Red Room Curse, Slenderman, and Hitomi Fujiko are just the beginning. If human history is anything to go by, it won’t be long before stories of haunted websites, spectral social media profiles, and more are popping up everywhere.
After all, you can already ‘talk’ to the dead via memorial pages and even chatbots. It’s perhaps only a matter of time before the dead go off script….
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