We’re living in a creepypasta boom. Anything you want, you can find it — or make it yourself and get an audience. Cursed video games? You can literally download and play them. Ruined childhood? Some of it’s even being made into TV series and films. Creators and analysts have built entire Internet careers around the making and taking-apart of these online horrors, all so we can lose a few more hours of sleep at night.
Those cursed vintage video games in particular have a wide audience. They tap into an already spooky part of our lives: a time graphics were especially uncanny and storylines were darker and more surreal than our typical Saturday morning fare. Illustrated stories like NES Godzilla Creepypasta and fake Let’s Plays like Petscop are becoming more and more common, and urban legends like Polybius were already circulating at the turn of the millennium. But one project shaped the trend as we know it: Alex Hall’s BEN Drowned, a scary spin on The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.
With the classic game celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, it’s a good time to look back at the infamous fan creation stemming from it — including the second, interactive half that many fans of the series may have missed.
A Terrible Fate
The story we know as BEN Drowned was an immersive fiction piece in which viewers follow a student playing through a haunted cartridge of Majora’s Mask. The game is, to be fair, already plenty creepy on its own — sending you into the limbo-like world of Termina and giving you three days to stop a crazy-faced moon from crashing into the planet. But YouTube user Jadusable’s version was above and beyond even this madness.
In a series of video uploads and posts to 4chan’s /x/, Jadusable outlined his experience with a used copy of the game. He was haunted by Ben, an entity appearing in the game in the form of the Elegy of Emptiness. The empty shell of Link can be used for puzzle-solving in the game, but its uncanny appearance made it fitting as the vessel for Ben. Scenes from the game, assembled with the help of an N64 emulator and Game Shark codes, fell apart and killed the player character time after time. Lines like “You shouldn’t have done that” and “You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?” recurred outside the game’s script to taunt Jadusable, with Ben finally escaping into the world outside the game.
That’s the story we know — but an entire second half existed past the videos.
More Like This:
- How Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice Made Video Game Horror Work
- Antrum Delivers on Everything (Except Actually Killing You)
- A Decade Later, Ace Attorney: Investigations Remains Criminally Slept On
The Moon Children
After the initial presentation of BEN Drowned on YouTube and 4chan, the website youshouldnthavedonethat.net opened, housing a forum for a (fictional) cult known as the Moon Children. The cult believed “The End” was nigh, and each worked toward their own ascensions. There were also several moderators on the board, including one named Ben, who operated under the username “Drowned.”
Rubberneckers on the cult’s forum were soon in for a game. Drama raged between the cult’s (fictional) members, and keen-eyed visitors could trace it back to more game videos on Jadusable’s channel. Not only that, they could influence the drama. Clever players learned that the link between this new website and Majora’s Mask went beyond moon imagery. By posting links to ocarina songs from the game, they could take action, such as turning back time. This went on for a few intriguing rounds, until the game came to a halt.
The site still exists, and there have been occasional murmurings about a revival, but nothing concrete. See, amongst the ghosts and cults and video game characters catching fire, there was one nugget of truth: Jadusable was a college student.
Jadusable — real name Alex Hall — flew the project solo. Despite his best intentions, that’s a lot of work for a student. So the story of Jadusable, Ben, and the Moon Children ends here for now: with an impressive collection of YouTube videos, plus a hidden plethora of interactive storytelling tucked away on a sister site.
Why It Works
A decade late, it can be easy to forget that creators didn’t have it as easy then as we do now. With game creation software becoming cheaper and easier to obtain, and more and more creators learning coding and design, projects like these are becoming easier to create. Channels like the aforementioned Petscop even go so far as to create their own games for the purpose.
But what Hall did during this time was both unique and effective. He took a concept that was already gaining steam and gave it a reality it was lacking. Creepypastas about Mickey Mouse and The Simpsons were already poking at people’s childhoods, occasionally with attempts at “haunted tapes” to back the stories up. But BEN Drowned brought a level of realism to its story that had yet to be accomplished in other attempts.
Creepypasta is successful when it punches you in that dark hidden corner of your brain: the one where you have nightmares that are terrifying to experience, but sound inscrutable when you try to put them into words. Recreating that sort of imagery effectively is hit-or-miss, with very little middle ground. Jadusable’s videos succeed because nothing happening in the game is technically impossible (it’s all Game Shark hacks, after all), while still treading in that aforementioned nightmare territory. It’s scary because it’s uncanny, because it wouldn’t take a huge leap of logic to imagine it happening the next time you sat down to play Majora’s Mask.
These days, the bar has been raised. Spinoff horror does still exist, but creators are challenging themselves to create completely original projects that they can call their own with no fear of copyright strike. Every new project will build on the last, but it’s highly likely BEN Drowned will remain the best of its kind. And for many, it’s been a gateway into that era of Legend of Zelda games, drawing in an audience that might otherwise have skipped over them for newer titles. If you’re one of them, rest assured, you’re in for a nightmare-fuel-filled time even without the extra edits.
It’s uncertain whether there’s any more life in BEN Drowned, but Hall has mentioned wanting to return to it someday. Either way, it has left its footprint on indie horror, and more than a few Zelda fans’ nightmares.