They often include a scary face with a loud scream. Screamers have been around since at least 1996 with some of the best known appearing at that time. One of the well-known examples of this include the infamous Scary Maze Game by Jeremy Winterrowd. Today, mobile apps and survival horror video games are beginning to take their place, though some such as the Scary Maze Game still prove popular.
The first known screamer was introduced on the Taiwanese website, Kimo, in 2003. A user under the name "Netspooky" posted a video called Kikia. The video contains a series of pictures of a cartoon boy wandering through various landscapes, accompanied by peaceful music. The video is then disrupted by a terrifying image that flashes on the screen followed by a piercing scream.
The video became extremely popular in Taiwan and China. Before the emergence of video-sharing sites such as YouTube, it was shared mostly by viral emails. By the time Kikia was introduced to the United States in 2004, it has already been seen and shared widely enough to become one of the first viral sensations on the Internet.
Scary Maze Game
A well-known example of Internet screamers is the Scary Maze Game by Jeremy Winterrowd. Disguised as a harmless computer game, the player is supposed to use their mouse to move a red square along a given path without touching the walls. The game has three levels. As the player progresses, the walls get smaller, making it more difficult for the player to avoid touching the walls. At first, if the player accidentally touches the wall, it will lead back to the start menu and the player has to start all over again. However, once the player reaches level 3, the walls get so thin that it becomes almost impossible to avoid accidentally touching the wall. When the player does touch the wall, an image of the girl from The Exorcist flashes on the screen along with the signature piercing scream.
In popular culture
After the rise of YouTube, Internet screamers gradually transitioned from chain emails to reaction videos where people filmed as they pranked others to click on an Internet screamer and recorded their reactions. The first Internet screamer reaction video was uploaded on YouTube on May 2006 by user "Can’t We All Just Get Along?". The video features a boy sitting at a desk while playing the Scary Maze Game on the computer. In the video, he asks, "Why can’t I touch this?" and shortly after, a horrifying image pops up with the piercing scream. The boy screams, hits the computer screen repeatedly, runs to the person filming him and starts crying.
Reaction videos to the Scary Maze Game aren’t intended to scare the person watching the video, instead, these videos were uploaded for laughs and views. Since the upload, the video has been viewed over 25 million times.
In 1999, K-Fee (Kaffee), a caffeinated energy drink from Germany, launched a series of advertisements inspired by the Internet screamers that were just gaining infamy on the Internet. These commercials all featured a peaceful clip, such as a car cruising through a grassy hillside, or two lovers running toward each other at a beach, when a zombie pops up on the screen, along with the frightening scream, potentially scaring the viewer. At the end of the advertisement appears the slogan, "So wach warst du noch nie", which translates from German to "You’ve never been so awake", simulating the effect the energy drink will have on its consumers. This commercial was also the first Internet screamer uploaded to YouTube.
Over the next several years, many advertising agencies for multiple companies took on this advertising method later coined as "prank-advertising" or "prankvertising".
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In 2008, Toyota Motor Corporation launched a prank campaign in order to create buzz for the Toyota Matrix. Thousands of people were sent fake emails by someone named Sebastian Bowler, who claimed to know where these people lived and that he was on his way to their homes. The company was later sued in 2009 by one of the victims, Amber Duick, for $10 million, after the ad campaign tricked her to believe that the emails she received were, in fact, real. According to the claims, the emails included links to Mr. Bowler’s Myspace page, images of him pointing to the victim, and a bill for $78.92 to compensate for damages made at a motel. The final email linked Duick to a video of Bowler pulling up in a drive-in movie theater where the movie Imbecile was playing in the background. An old man laughs repeatedly, revealing to Duick that she had been pranked and the emails were part of an ad campaign.
- Menning, Chris (13 October 2010). "Screamers - The History of the Scary Maze Prank and its Cousins". urlesque.com. Retrieved 16 December 2013.
- "Kikia" Cheezburger, Inc. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
- Middleton, Jason. Documentary’s Awkward Turn: Cringe Comedy and Media Spectatorship. Routledge, 2013.
- Louis, Rosie (17 April 2014). "10 Of The Creepiest Commercials to Every Hit the Small Screen". Listverse. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
- Asis, Adrian. (28 September 2014). "The Scariest Screamers to Prank People This Halloween". TheRichest.com. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
- Suddath, Claire (01 November 2013). "Why Terrifying Pranks Make the Best Advertising". Businessweek. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
- Halliday, Jean. (05 October 2005). "Toyota, Saatchi sued for ‘terror-marketing campaign’". Advertising Age. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
- Scary Maze Game by Jeremy Winterrowd
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