Creepypastas are an extension of our fascination with legends and myth—we love to spin horror stories that pass from person to person, growing as they’re told and re-told. The internet just gives people new ways to do it. Instead of cursed VHS tapes, we’re dishing out distorted pictures of dogs and smiling faces, asking others to share them, otherwise, they risk some kind of doom, and instead of ghost stories around the campfire, we’re documenting these tales on forums. My favourite of these modern digital-era myths is the Backrooms (which is getting its own A24 movie), and diving back into Persona 3, I can’t help but feel that the internet has simply taken an old fear we’ve always had and given it new life.
The Backrooms are a labyrinth of mundane, repetitive corridors just a step out of our normal dimension. Time flows differently, and the shadows cloak monsters hiding in our periphery. It’s the strange vagueness of your dreams, where the shapes don’t quite hold their, well, shape, and it’s the uncomfortableness of monotony given life. They’re an eerie reflection of our world that can only be reached by glitching out of reality (noclipping), something the legend says few can do. All of which sounds a lot like the Dark Hour and Tartarus, the corridors of twisted normality found in a hidden hour after midnight, accessible by only a few extraordinary people, where the shadows serve as hideaways for distorted monsters.
The Backrooms holding monsters is eerie enough, but a key part of the mythos is that people can get trapped in them. There’s a risk in trying to reach this other world, that maybe you can’t noclip back out, stranding you in this endless, empty liminal space. You’re boxed in, never able to go outside, with your existence becoming a strange series of hallways where the shadows can’t be trusted. Persona 3 is far less bleak, as we’re not alone in these spaces, and can instead venture into them to rescue laymen who ended up trapped in Tartarus. It’s still unsettling, though, because there’s something unnerving about dreams, even the good ones.
You can never place your finger on exactly what you saw, as everything is clouded by a fog that messes with rationality. Body parts aren’t quite right, and faces don’t look how they should. Maybe you look down and see you have six fingers instead of five, like an AI-generated picture, or perhaps you can’t will your body to move.
They’re often set in familiar places because our brain is pulling from what it knows. I regularly stumble into an industrialised, dystopian, Mad Max-style version of my hometown, where everything is recognisable but slightly off. The Backrooms are these kinds of dreams, the ones where we’re in a familiar place that’s been twisted, drawing from our innate fears and experiences as any good urban legend does.
It’s no wonder then that we can find examples of Backroom-style horror before the internet popularised it and gave it a name. We’ve always fallen into them, stumbling from one reality to another in what feels like a different, bizarre version of what we know. It’s just that we did it while we slept. Fitting then that Persona 3 takes us to such a place in an extra pocket of time beyond midnight, when most people will be asleep—it’s the idea made real, the idea that this other world we’re inadvertently exploring is a peek behind the curtain at something we normally can’t access.
Backrooms as a term wasn’t a thing until 2019, and Persona 3 launched in 2006—it managed to tap into those fears long before the internet caught up, and playing it today, the internet has made it all the more creepy. It played on anxieties we’ve always had but never had a name for, shining a green-hued light on the vagueness of our dreams and nightmares. We might have names for them now, whether it’s the Dark Hour or the Backrooms, but that doesn’t take away from the otherworldly terror of their normalcy.
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