BEN Drowned, Again…and Again…and Again

Ten years ago, a college student purchased a used copy of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask from an old man at a garage sale. The blank cartridge had no label: just the word MAJORA written on it with a black permanent marker. Over the next few days, under the username Jadusable, the fate of this nameless college student unfolded through a series of posts to 4chan’s /x/ board, the anonymous message board’s home for all things paranormal.

The story of Jadusable’s haunted Majora’s Mask cartridge remains one of the most iconic examples of internet creepypasta stories, under the name BEN Drowned. One of the things that set BEN Drowned apart from its peers was its use of video game footage as evidence to support the first-person narrative of Jadusable’s explorations of an increasingly cursed cartridge, culminating in a dramatic twist when followers opened the arc’s conclusion contained within the downloadable file, TheTruth.rtf.

The Haunted Cartridge arc that concluded the initial creepypasta story was followed by The Moon Children arc, an alternate reality game that gave players direct control over the fates of a forum of cult members tangled up with the malevolent force behind the first arc. But that wasn’t the end of BEN’s story. For that, fans would have to wait almost a decade for series creator Alex Hall to bring the project back from the dead.

BEN Drowned: Stepping Out of Time in The Haunted Cartridge
The initial story of BEN Drowned started out relatively simple, with a narrator, recounting his experiences with a haunted video game. After picking up the unlabeled Nintendo64 cartridge for free from an old man at a garage sale, Jadusable noticed the previous owner left a partially completed save file, named “BEN”. Leaving the file undisturbed, Jadusable started a new game under the name “Link”.

At first, the game functioned normally. But every now and then, Link’s name was replaced with BEN in the game’s dialogue. This was the extent of Jadusable’s problems, until he attempted to perform the “4th Day Glitch”, a popular tactic to break the flow of time within the game.

Majora’s Mask is a curious installment in the Zelda franchise. After the events of Ocarina of Time, Link is thrust into an alternate universe, three days before the moon collides with the planet. Link uses his ocarina to repeat the three-day cycle over and over again until he frees four giants, capable of halting the moon’s descent, allowing him to face off against the game’s eponymous mask. Performing the “4th Day Glitch” moves Link into a version of the world outside of time, before the moon started its descent.

And it’s in that frozen world that things start to go terribly wrong for Jadusable. The game’s glitches grow more serious. BEN’s save file is restored, and Jadusable’s file is renamed with the ominous message, “Your Turn”. His character is stalked by Skull Kid, the game’s antagonist. A statue version of Link known as the Elegy of Emptiness also randomly appears, haunting Jadusable at every turn. Even the game’s music turns on him, remixing already creepy songs in reverse. The game starts to insinuate its way into his dreams, until eventually…Jadusable goes missing, and BEN finds a way out of the console.

BEN Drowned: Playing with Time to Save The Moon Children
Shortly after the initial arc concluded, BEN presented players with a cipher, an online forum for a cult called “The Moon Children”. Cult members were obsessed with the teachings of Luna, and achieving ascension: ritualistic death, followed by a transition to another plane of existence.

The Moon Children cult’s first leader Kelbris was the first to “ascend” following his death by electrocution, assuming the role of “The Father” to the forum members. Ben was the next member to ascend following his death by drowning, with his consciousness embodying the Elegy of Emptiness statue that haunted Jadusable in the first arc.

When players discovered the Moon Children’s forum, one of the forum’s moderators who went by the username Nekko had recently ascended, and fellow moderator Ifrit was fast approaching. The site also featured a countdown clock, eerily similar to the one featured in Majora’s Mask. Just before the countdown ended, players who were emailing Ifrit received a message, “Hang on someone keeps knocking at my door.” When the countdown concluded, the site was restored to an earlier version…except Ifrit’s presence was largely erased from the site.

Over the next few months, players tried to save various members of the Moon Children arc from disappearing like Ifrit: players soon learn that they can upload videos of Majora’s Mask gameplay to affect the events transpiring on the forums: playing the Inverted Song of Time slowed down the site’s countdown. However, songs were just as likely to have negative consequences: playing the Song of Healing, which set Jadusable’s character aflame in the initial arc, led to the disappearance of Ifrit’s sister, Rosa. Playing the Oath to Order, a song that could only be unlocked by completing the game’s endgame requirements, led to the death of fellow forum member TheLinkMissing, although the savvy choice to upload a video of Link using a fairy subsequently brought him back.

While The Haunted Cartridge arc was a largely passive experience that BEN Drowned fans watched unfold, The Moon Children arc gave players more direct ways of trying to uncover what happened to BEN and Jadusable, and even attempt to influence the story by slowly learning the rules that formed the basis for BEN’s twisted version of Majora’s Mask.

BEN Drowned: An Unexpected Awakening and Time as Scarce Resource
In March of 2020, Alex Hall uploaded the videos awakening.txt and hubris.wmv to his YouTube channel. The two videos introduce an alternate timeline to our own: a darker one, where a pandemic known as the H.E.R.O.E.S. virus started to ravage the world in 2018, and society slowly yet insidiously descends into anarchistic chaos. And then…the now-familiar title screen of Majora’s Mask flashes on screen, bringing viewers back into the familiar world of BEN Drowned.

At this point, Alex Hall dropped a link to a post on his Patreon account, which established the rules for how to interact with The Awakening, the third and final arc of BEN Drowned. Like the Moon Children arc, players would have regular opportunities to influence the progression of the story, which would primarily unfold over YouTube uploads. But rather than relying on individual players uploading videos to drive progress, every major update would be followed with a poll to allow the community as a whole to vote on what to do next.

With these rules established, The Awakening split to cover three diverging narratives. In the first narrative introduced by Hall’s initial uploads, Jadus’ experiences living through the slow dissolution of society unfold across video footage reminiscent of visual novels. The second narrative shifts into first-person footage of a faceless man thrust into a hotel room, with an ominous presence known only as The Jailer wandering the halls. The final narrative returns players to BEN’s haunted cartridge, uncertain about who exactly is controlling Link this time.

While Jadus’ tale passively unfolds for viewers much as The Haunted Cartridge did, players exert considerably more agency over the latter stories, controlling the action unfolding in the hotel like an extremely protracted full motion video (“FMV”) game. After thoroughly exploring the hotel room and receiving warnings of how to engage with the world through a man named Abel, players collect a few useful items from the room to explore, but eventually get their avatar killed by the Jailer, only to have him replaced by a woman named Sarah who takes over as the players’ avatar.

As a welcoming gift, Abel gives Sarah a copy of BEN’s haunted cartridge to play on the hotel television, and player choices dictate whether she dives into the haunted cartridge to help those trapped within, or explores the hotel to try and find a way out. With every subsequent vote, players continually choose to delve deeper into the cartridge, leading Sarah to learn why the cartridge is haunted, and how to potentially break the cycle.

By exploring the haunted cartridge, Sarah learns that the act of Ascension digitally transfers people into virtual worlds, starting with the haunted Majora’s Mask cartridge. Kelbris, the first of the Moon Children cult to ascend, inhabited the avatar of the game’s antagonist, the Happy Mask Salesman. Jadusable and the Moon Children cult members who “ascended” joined them within the cartridge, living a tortured existence. The Moon Children that remained went on to found the Eternity Project, an effort to digitize humanity as a means of escaping the darker timeline Jadus’ tales depicted, entering into a plethora of virtual worlds, all modeled off the underlying corrupt code of the haunted Majora’s Mask cartridge.

BEN Drowned concludes with one final video on October 31st at 4PM EST, as Sarah races to perform the 4th Day Glitch once more.

BEN Drowned: A Narrative Spiral That Repeats Time and Again
BEN Drowned is a game of threes, spiraling out with greater stakes and greater spectacle with every repetition. With Majora’s Mask at its core, BEN Drowned is a game about reliving the same three days over and over again, until things finally work out. Like any video game, it’s possible to start over and try again…but like Majora’s Mask, not everything will be the same when you reset.

In the game’s first cycle, players had no agency to save Jadusable as he progressed through his text-based tragedy: his fate was sealed. The first real choice players had was to open Pandora’s Box through the file TheTruth.rtf, without knowing that BEN was hidden in that file, and opening it unleashed him on the wider world.

For the game’s second cycle, players followed BEN into the Moon Children forums, and found they could effect change in the world, and that the story had grown from text and video into the wider internet, crossing online forums and emails. And yet, players were unable to save the cult members from their fates through individual efforts of uploaded videos: at least, not entirely.

Which brings us to the third and final cycle, where players banded together as a collective to control a series of avatars, who are in turn controlling their own virtual avatars to dive straight into a twisted version of Majora’s Mask to finally save the characters they’ve grown to care about over the past decade, once and for all.

And yet, even that isn’t the true ending: because as much as BEN Drowned is a story of threes, it’s also a story about breaking that cycle. Stepping outside the predetermined bounds of the game with the 4th Day Glitch is how the alternate reality game started, and it looks like that same Glitch will bring events to their end. Because this isn’t just a story Alex Hall has told. It’s a story that has been told through the game’s comprehensive and exhaustive wiki, and through fan-run websites that replicate the game’s states across snapshots in time. It’s a story that has been told and retold dozens of times over the past decade across media, including an hour-long dramatized adaptation by YouTubers Nexpo, NightDocs, and MamaMax that covers the game’s first two arcs in considerably more detail than this piece.

You can find BEN Drowned in its entirety on the Jadusable YouTube channel. But this is also a story you can find in the archives, stories, and theories that will continue to grow long after the “final” episode.

1 Comment

  1. Here I go again, and I’m going to solve this

Comments are closed.