This September marks the Tenth anniversary of the original post to 4chan’s /x/ board that formed the basis for the Legend of Zelda Creepypasta known as Ben Drowned.
I will venture to say that Ben Drowned isn’t my favourite work of this genre, but I find it surprising to think about how much folkloric impact this block paragraph ghost story had over the ten years it has existed.
For those uninitiated by the late night two-hour long analyses of this story found all over YouTube (with varying degrees of atmosphere music, and spooky-voice narrators), the crux of Ben Drowned is pretty basic. It follows the format of cursed object found in circumstantial ways, with the twist being that said object is a video game. Tell me this isn’t the most early-2000s idea for a CBBC halloween special you’ve ever heard.
However what differentiates this from a slightly scary episode of Doctor Who, is that the story engages with themes of suicide and was posted to 4chan. Which at the time (and to some, probably still now) was enough to sell this off as totally real, and unique. Since there was a time where haunt game cartridge was a pretty novel idea.
An interesting quirk of the Ben Drowned legend is how mundane it is. Almost serving as a small time capsule to what the internet was like in the early 2010s, with Cleverbot being a concept that doesn’t need explaining and the air of 4chan mystery somehow giving this story creedence.
But the reaction to it was delayed on the most part, with a huge surge in interesting only coming later. By this time, around 2014, the concept of the creepypasta was widely acknowledged as the best thing for a YouTube based voice actor to put on a traditional scary-story cadence and read.
Retrospectively watching and reading the reaction to the story is strange, because there seems to be this group effort to suspend disbelief and pass the story off as real.
Ultimately to a lot of people in the early days, the story was real, with the applied logic of “why would anyone on the internet write lies”. Of course this is just my assumption, since Ben Drowned was originally posted to a part of 4chan that is dedicated to researching supernatural occurrences.
This suspension of disbelief did also balloon the story’s popularity, with a Blair Witch-esque enthusiasm. With some videos discussing it garnering literally millions of views.
Likewise did other creepypastas with a video game aesthetic began to surface. Some with names that sound incredibly unscary (Pokemon Creepy Black, Sonic.exe and Lavender Town to name a few popular ones). This subsection of internet ghost story fuelled the fires of the voice acting community, who built there channels off of the increasingly ridiculous stories told with unparalleled certainty.
This boom caused by Ben Drowned, and aided by the surge in other stories like the Slenderman, coincided with an increasing awareness to this creepypasta culture that is still ongoing now. In fact, it is probably quite a development if I don’t feel the need to explain what a creepypasta is.
Changing times indeed.
Somewhat predictably, what began as success soon turned to saturation and then parody. Ben Drowned began trends in ways that were both complementary and completely derivative. Suddenly everyone had a story about how they picked up a cartridge and it had a spooky spirit in it.
This began the slow decline of the video game horror story, and I think creepypastas in general, with the final tombstone possibly being the Slender Man film in 2018 (which I am told was exactly as awful as a big budget adaptation of a photoshopped image sounds).
I think Chris O’Neil does an incredible impression of what all these creepypastas sounded like:
This what I think makes Ben Drowned so interesting, since it may not have been the first or even the best of its kind. But it did have an impact, and is possibly of-its-time.
It is so worth remembering apparently, that YouTuber Nexpo has made a feature length film retelling of it to mark the ten years of terror. Complete with purple gel lighting, and stubble-faced men silhouetted by computer screens!
Whatever the effect, it is a chapter in the story of metafiction and horror online in general and is worth a read, or better yet; a dive into the cavernous and neverending world of internet horror stories (and the white guys who read them for patreon subscriptions).
Link to the original story here: