The Horror and the Human


Among the greatest virtues of the internet is its ability to draw together groups of people around an interest. Writing is one of the largest parts of internet communities; just ask any mid-2010s internet user about fanfiction. However, a much more daunting prospect is collaborative writing: users, often strangers, coming together to create a cohesive narrative.

Of course, these communities exist — collaborative fanfiction, fantasy writing groups, even elaborate inside jokes like Tumblr’s “Goncharov” “movie” last year — but most either fizzle out or become a mixed bag of expended potential and gimmicks.

Among the most notorious of these communities, which has continued to survive and thrive over 16 years and a move from 4chan to WikiDot, is the SCP Foundation, a “collaborative speculative fiction website about the SCP Foundation, a secretive organization that contains anomalous or supernatural items and entities away from the eyes of the public.” These take the form of the now 7000+ SCPs (anomalous entities, items, or phenomena contained by the titular organization), countless tales, and articles from branch-offs. Beyond the official content, all neatly curated on the SCP Foundation wiki, numerous award-winning short films, published books, and notorious video games exist.

I’ve been lurking in the community for more than four years, and despite my shifting tastes (read: I’ve developed standards and media literacy), I’ve still found the SCP Foundation infinitely readable. Why, you may ask?

Well, one reason is the pragmatic, scientific tone. Each article is formatted like a government document, with item numbers, field reports, addenda, and lingo. It can be overwhelming, but it’s heaven for someone who loves detailed worldbuilding. The sheer size of the website also helps: of the over ten thousand articles, with countless sub-communities, authors, and canons, a few are bound to appeal to preferences in genre, subject, or tone.

Don’t get me wrong, I love many of these newer long-form, format-screwing, reality-breaking SCPs, but I also appreciate moderation.

Another part of the appeal is strict quality control — even to submit a draft, you need to get your idea reviewed. Then that draft is passed through senior staff, and you just hope the readers enjoy it enough to keep it on the wiki. It can be rough, but it works — even when SCP gets goofy (there’s an SCP about Al Gore being controlled by a fourth-dimensional alien and two about Amogus). If it remains on the site, it’s usually good, if not surprisingly great.

With this quality control and the audience trending older — or at least, more literature-inclined — the SCP wiki hasn’t seen significant downtrends in quality, even when spotlighted by YouTubers and breakthrough media. Thus, it avoids the trappings of many a community indie horror project: appeal to children, as mascot horror à la “Five Nights at Freddie’s” has plagued games, and general kids’ YouTube has destroyed the mystique of the Backrooms.

Of course, a site dependent on largely amateur writers will have varying degrees of quality regardless of countermeasures. Early SCPs, even after several rewrites and purges, are simple to the point of monotony. It’s hard to get invested in “my OC, Invincible Murder Monster #742, that’s totally so much cooler than Invincible Murder Monster #741.”

Nowadays, the problem is overcomplication, convolution for the sake of convolution. I, for one, love the aura of clinical reporting that goes into the worldbuilding of SCP and love long-form articles. Still, I draw the line at ones requiring college-level understandings of psychology, biology, or “SCP Foundation wiki history,” which may involve a complete read-down of thaumaturgy, ontokinetics, pataphysics, or memetics, all of which have lore that spans hundreds of articles. Many more are just too much; 10,000 words long and rife with format screws to the point of illegibility. Don’t get me wrong, I love many of these newer long-form, format-screwing, reality-breaking SCPs, but I also appreciate writers that know not to overstay their welcome.

Despite the ups and downs of SCP, the fact remains that it fulfills its unofficial mission to plumb human emotion. And here lies why I love the SCP Foundation, beyond my love of dark scientific storytelling: the profoundly human emotions it explores and exploits.

Dread, fear, nightmares for sure. When I was young and read my first SCP articles, I feared the dark again. Countless articles make one uncomfortable on a visceral level, horror to the corporeal form that twists the imagination and makes the reader squirm in their seat. There are more, especially now, that lean into existential dread — what lies above our plane of existence or just below. That which can kill us with a thought, whether with its own or ours. Stories that poke into the very fabric of being human, being alive, and what that means.

Along with the countless comments that compliment authors’ ability to keep their readers awake or to spike bouts of panic, so too exist those that thank them for lifting them out of darkness.

But there are so many stories that are hopeful, too, stories and articles that inspire joy, empathy, love. Stories about misunderstood monsters being given a chance, systems of oppression relenting to let the “others” live in peace, or failing to clamp down on the happiness of the innocent. Stories where humanity wins against insurmountable odds, where the actions of a few prevail against the darkness, persecuted lovers live together, scared little kids get the help they need, and humans find ways to have fun and love, survive in spite of gargantuan evil. Along with the countless comments that compliment authors’ ability to keep their readers awake or to spike bouts of panic, so too exist those that thank them for lifting them out of darkness, for helping them find themselves in narratives of gay, trans, or otherwise “othered” characters, for helping them feel seen. I first started exploring my bisexuality because of an SCP tale I read in middle school about a child coming to grips with his sexuality.

The SCP Foundation means a lot to me in ways I can’t even place in this article, and I’m worried about it. In the age of internet censorship, those trying to make anything and everything “kid-friendly” for evangelical or capitalistic purposes, it’s a miracle this project has lasted this long entirely unmonetized. That’s not mentioning the infamous Russian copyright case, community in-fighting, controversies, and instability with its host site.

Yet at the same time, I have faith that it will survive. It must survive, if for no other reason than for its community. They’ve shown again and again that they’re dedicated to the project they’ve created and to each other, from the thousands of dollars raised to protect the Foundation from copyrighting the SCP mythos, to the money raised for a founding member’s fight against cancer (with one person even buying and delivering groceries), to the small things like writers congratulating each other on important milestones, sharing resources for people in crisis, leaving gender-affirming comments on trans writers’ stories.

The SCP Foundation represents the freedom of collaboration on the internet. It’s a vast achievement of wiki storytelling. For these reasons, it must persevere.