Exploring Creepypasta: The Left/Right Game

Using horror tropes to tell a uniquely spooky story

Welcome to the Creepypasta Corner! If this is your first time here, definitely give my previous articles on Mother Horse Eyes and Borrasca a peek. And if you have any stories you’d like me to cover in the future, please let me know! 

The Left/Right game was originally posted to Reddit in late 2017, and grew to have a dedicated fanbase. Like Borrasca, Left/Right also has now been adapted into a podcast, produced by and starring Tessa Thompson. Strange coincidence that this and the last Creepypasta I covered went on to audio format, but podcasts are extremely popular these days and lend themselves well to horror, so maybe not so surprising. Thompson also played my favorite character in Annihilation, which I’ve written about before. I honestly think the way this story is told would work quite well as a podcast, so I might have to check it out someday. 

Before we get into the meat of the Left/Right game’s narrative, there are a few concepts I’d like to explore that come into play. 

Two of my favorite types of horror are the fear of the unknown and the uncanny valley. It’s been researched that the more inhuman something is, the less we can relate to it. It’s why we feel more empathy toward a chimpanzee than a spider. Obviously, you can guess the emotions an ape is going through, via facial expressions and body language—but what’s going on in a spider’s head? It’s incomprehensible. To help give us an emotional tie to them, cartoons and animations will give a variety of creatures including insects huge, puppy-dog like eyes, and other more human features. Films like District 9 have delved into this, with the humanoid “prawn” aliens that are subject to discrimination with direct parallels to the apartheid. We’re meant to sympathize with the aliens, but it’s also a struggle because of their appearance. 

a "prawn" alien from District 9
I think they’re kinda cute though.

Uncanny valley, on the other hand, is kind of the opposite. It’s the idea that when something is almost human, but not quite, like an android, we start to feel revulsion. There’s an unsettling wrongness to it. It’s so close to reality but our brains know it isn’t and there’s a disconnect. Another more recent example of this is the process known as “deepfaking,” where machine learning and neural networks help recreate or replace one person’s face with another, even in some cases the deceased. This tech was used in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to create a younger Princess Leia after actress Carrie Fisher had passed away. When you see it, you know something is off about it. You might not understand right away, but the feeling is there. 

the light of a flame illuminates the xenomorph alien's face
You can just make our the human skull underneath. Creepy, huh?

These concepts work together like bread and butter, especially in sci-fi and horror. The legendary xenomorph in the Alien franchise has a human skull underneath its shell-like face. The eerily beautiful Ebrietas, Daughter of the Cosmos in the video game Bloodborne resembles a mournful praying woman from behind, though once attacked she turns and her cracked, tentacled visage and skeletal wings make it implicitly clear she is the furthest thing from human

The Left/Right game uses both of these concepts in wonderful and horrible ways. 

The story is told in a “this happened to a friend of a friend of mine” way which I quite like as a trope—close enough to be plausible, but far away enough that hopefully none of the spooky things happen to your person. The “my uncle who works at Nintendo” of horror. The poster receives a mysterious email written by a journalist acquaintance of his named Alice, full of text files. Each file of an entry into the story and delves into what happened to her once she seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth for a few months.

Alice has been chasing stories for NPR and comes to meet a man named Robert, who himself chases paranormal phenomena after once seeing a ghost and deciding to see “if one was true then who knows how many others could be.” After finding a paranormal forum, he becomes intrigued by a post describing the Left/Right game. The rules are as follows:

Get in your car and take a drive. Take a left, then the next possible road on the right, then the next possible left. Repeat the process ad infinitum, until you wind up somewhere…new.”

He goes on to explain that he specifically moved to Phoenix, Arizona, due to its enormous grid layout making the game a lot easier to play. He invites Alice to join them on their next run through, which consists of Rob, Alice, and seven others. They’re mostly adventurous types, including a duo named Eve and Lilith who are filming bits for a supernatural vlog. (They all go by call signs. Apollo, Ace, Bluejay, etc.) So in total eight cars, with walkie talkies to communicate amongst themselves.

Things proceed normally at first but Rob warns her—once they reach a tunnel, that’s where it gets serious. You need to completely retrace your turns to get back. Before the tunnel, you can get out and leave at any time. Alice is skeptical of this (as I imagine anyone would be) but at the 34th turn, they meet a strange woman who rambles about lambs to the slaughter which unnerves her. Rob tells her she’s there sometimes but has never acted out this much. “Must be a special trip.” There are two possible options in her mind: either Rob has bought into this game and believes whatever fits into the narrative or this woman is a paid actor and it’s all a setup to get Alice to write an amazing article about it. Of course, it is neither of these things.

The first instance of something strange beyond the tunnel (the landscape is mostly desert now, nothing too out of the ordinary for Arizona) is The Hitchhiker. Rob calmly explains you will pick him up, you will take him where he wants to go, and drop him off. Do not look at him. Do not interact with him. When they do come across him, he’s dressed quite well in a suit and cheerfully tries to make conversation with them. After having little success, his words start to get nasty. Calling Alice a disappointment and claiming he can give her secret knowledge. Here’s the uncanny valley I was talking about—The Hitchhiker is human as far as we know, but he just feels off. Why shouldn’t you talk to him? Alice doesn’t ask questions, but the implication is there that he’s more than what he appears.

a man in a large coat signals a car offscreen to stop and pick him up
Dust Devil also features a mysterious hitchhiker (this is me telling you to please watch Dust Devil).

After passing through a small town, they feel like the road is actively pushing back against them, trying to keep them from continuing. Almost like an immune system response. The turns are getting sneakier, and one is hidden in a cornfield. One of the cars containing the two girls who run a paranormal video series misses the turn, and their car literally sinks into the asphalt like quicksand. The road does not take kindly to those who break its rules. Apollo and Eve sink into the road and are presumed dead.

As each turn takes them deeper into the unknown, two more are lost when it’s revealed the Hitchhiker whispered to them about a perfect place, just off the path. Bonnie, an older woman, becomes paranoid and obsessed with going there. Once she passes the threshold of the “wrong turn” her body turns to ash and disappears. Her brother follows her, saddened but overcome with the need to follow. (Compared to sinking into a road I think I’d prefer this fate.)

Soon they come across a forest, where a small naked child comes out of the woods. They shine their flashlights on it and it begins to change. Its limbs elongate, in jagged, lurching bursts of growth. Anything exposed to the beam develops with grotesque rapidity. It’s as if the child is aging before our eyes. I love this description and can imagine the sickening snap of bones as this “child” goes through an unnatural growth spurt when exposed to light. I don’t need to know what this thing is or why it’s here to know it’s freaky as hell. Less is more, people.

Along with the concepts I mentioned earlier, “less is more” completes my trifecta of Things I Like In Horror. Yes, explaining things a bit helps, but giving away the whole game kind of ruins it, don’t you think? Would The Thing be scarier if we understood it? Probably not. Perhaps this led to why the same name prequel didn’t work so well, it followed the same format but went into too much detail about the creature particularly in the final act going into the spaceship. (That’s not to mention the decision to change from practical effects to CGI, but that’s a different discussion lots of people have gone into already.)

This is the point where I want to recommend you finish the story for yourself if you like the sounds of it. I liked the Left/Right game because it leaves me with questions without answers, but I don’t think they need answering. Not everything needs to be explained to be enjoyed, just appreciated. I love horror because it takes me places other genres don’t—into the strange and often sad places we all have in our hearts and minds and explore it in interesting and safe ways. Many Creepypastas are normal people losing control in the face of impossible situations, which feels a bit close to home nowadays, doesn’t it? Stories can help us escape, and sometimes that’s all we need. You just have to make the next turn.

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Written by Lor Gislason

Lor is a body horror enthusiast from Vancouver Island, Canada who can be found chilling with their two cats and playing farming simulators. Find them on Twitter: @lorelli_

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