According to the website’s official history, the foundation came online after a lengthy gestation period on the now notorious (and then far lesser-known) message board 4chan. Internet horror fiction — “creepypasta,” in web parlance — is as varied in subject matter as it is in quality, but 4chan’s paranormal subforum, /x/, allowed visitors to hone their skills with anonymous and, therefore, often brutally honest criticism. If a story was bad, it would eventually disappear, along with its detractors’ insults, into the internet’s background static. If they were effective, well, who knew what could happen once the author hit send? Perhaps no one would read it. But maybe, with enough luck, it would gain a life of its own online, a 21st-century ghost invoked by a bored teen in their bedroom. Communities like /x/ let anyone become both the conjurer and the folklorist, creating the stories that were then passed from one storyteller to another.
Most creepypasta on /x/ followed a standard storytelling framework — setup, suspense build, twist jump scare, ending — but SCP-173, aka “The Statue,” took a more creative approach. Instead of a standard prose tale, the anonymous author crafted 173 like a bureaucratic report, one with a highly detached tone, full of unexplained jargon. SCP-173 wasn’t another demonic doll or haunted piece of jewelry, it was a “Class 4 hazardous object,” designated with “Object Class: Euclid” status, housed somewhere called Site-19. The blanks in the story were just as ominous as the creature itself, which was a being that stands still at all times if constantly kept under direct eye contact, moving in for the kill the moment it isn’t seen. (Doctor Who fans might note a certain similarity to a popular episode, but the SCP Foundation notes that they published 173 a few months before the “The Weeping Angels” aired on BBC.)
“The Statue” inspired a group of contributors to create their own entries and anomalies, and their writings soon spun off into massive message board threads that many realized could be the start of something larger. Finally, thanks to a few dedicated authors, a wholly separate foundation website went live on January 19, 2008.
There’s no monetary gain to writing for SCP, no widespread recognition or acclaim. Its authors are a group of people who concoct oddities for the sheer enjoyment of their creation. Said creations range from the horrific (SCP-439, an earwig that ossifies victims’ bones, turning them into a living hive) to the absurd (SCP-504, tomatoes that launch themselves at great speed toward tellers of bad jokes) to the absurd and horrific (SCP-1545, a two-person costume of a llama wearing galoshes that convinces its wearers to stay in character as “Larry the Loving Llama” until they starve to death).
“Autopsy indicated that the rearward operator had died 1 day earlier, and had severe bruising on her body from being dragged throughout the household by the frontal partner,” reports Larry’s case log.
In addition to these individual files, the foundation includes pages upon pages of information about the organization itself. There are dozens of groups known as Mobile Task Forces, each varying in number, size, personal insignia, and purpose, who aid the SCP in capturing monsters and protecting its archives. There are primers on security clearance levels, important individual personnel dossiers, and various classified site locations housing all manner of unexplainable entities. There’s even a nifty shortcut to remember each of the foundation’s object class designations:
The Locked Box Test is an informal guideline used to determine an object’s most appropriate Object Class. It goes like this:
- If you lock it in a box, leave it alone, and nothing bad will happen, then it’s probably Safe.
- If you lock it in a box, leave it alone, and you’re not entirely sure what will happen, then it’s probably Euclid.
- If you lock it in a box, leave it alone, and it easily escapes, then it’s probably Keter.
- If it is the box, then it’s probably Thaumiel.
The best ideas tend to go viral on sites like 4chan and Reddit, eventually drawing similar creative minds to SCP like moths to the digital flame. While the site originated with only a few dozen regulars on the fringes of the internet, 2017 brought it more than 12 million unique visitors. This past January alone saw nearly 1.3 million visitors. The website has offshoots in South Korea, Germany, France, and China, among other nations.
As the site grows, products like Snapchat, Instagram, and the late, great Vine are drastically shortening story lengths, trimming social narratives down to frantic clips of 30 seconds or less. Online horror isn’t immune to this quickening creation and consumption of online content. The past decade saw a revival of the horror short-film anthology format in theaters, and because of the lack of copyright laws, channels like SyFy are drawing directly from internet creepypasta for their own television series. Slenderman, one of the original and most famous lo-fi horrors of the web, inspired video games, short stories, and an upcoming feature-length film — not to mention an attempted murder. In an era when the president’s fireside chats are now bedside tweets, the SCP Foundation is a perfect means of serving up bite-size terrors.