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A Figure in Gray



Estimated reading time — 4 minutes

A Figure in Gray

If you have spent any length of time in the United States, you owe it to yourself to play the 1985 arcade classic, Paperboy. In it, you assume the role of a preteen boy tasked with completing his daily paper route. For whatever reason, your hero’s beat is a particularly rough neighborhood. Its streets teem with aggressive drivers who would rather hit a cyclist than their brakes. On the sidewalks, bratty children steer kamikaze RC cars into passers-by — modern-day drone pilots in their larval form. Elsewhere, skateboarding adrenaline junkies find their greatest thrill in demolishing live obstacles like your paperboy. In some cases, your character will be accosted by a knife-wielding madman who comes charging out of a house and pursues at tremendous speed, inevitably catching your hero and robbing him of a precious life.

Taken as a whole, the game makes for an effective satire of Reagan-era America. It captures the needless paranoia of the suburbs, where people fear the harm some stranger or foreign power will inflict on them, without realizing the vanity — in all senses of the word — behind such a phobia. It shows the violence and cruelty of the average American percolating behind the facade of white picket fences and well-maintained lawns. Most importantly, it reveals how far some people will go to make a buck — or be compelled to go, for socioeconomic reasons beyond their control.

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It would be troubling to consider these situations if the game didn’t make it all so damn funny. Odds are you will laugh too much while playing to think about many of the concerns the game raises. Perhaps it succeeds too well at its own satirical objectives.

You would be forgiven for assuming that the same merry cynicism found in Paperboy would carry over to its ’90s console sequel, Paperboy 2. Indeed, the second entry in the series contains every bit as much unnecessary peril — and consequent weird humor — as the first. You guide your choice of paperboy or papergirl through a suburban gauntlet featuring a whole new cast of memorable hostiles. A hermit holed up in a moat-ringed castle bombards you with cannon fire as you pass. Overzealous guard dogs chase you down the street. Roasting pigs, knocked off the spit by a misfired newspaper, do the same — evidently being grilled alive before your intervention, and none too happy with your interference. Runaway baby carriages, in a nod to the overpopulation worries of the modern world, mow you down if you are not attentive enough. Scarecrows, once hit with a paper, break from their stakes and ambush you, one hand raised in a Fascist salute all the while. The absurdity in Paperboy 2 runs high thanks to the game’s colorful cast.

Although perhaps “colorful” is not the right word…

As you play through the opening stages of Paperboy 2, you will notice one character who does not seem to belong, for he is, literally and figuratively, anything but colorful. He will first catch your eye because his palette is without color — he is the only person in the game rendered entirely in monochrome. He wears a gray sweatsuit. His neat and unremarkable hair is black. His stark white skin, however, is especially arresting, given the more nuanced flesh tones seen everywhere else in-game. His actions, too, are comparably bland. If left undisturbed, the figure in gray simply walks down his driveway, deposits a garbage can at the curb, then turns around and walks back to his house. If struck with a paper, he only freezes in his tracks. No attacks, no surprises. He is shockingly mundane in this world of cannons and mobile scarecrows.

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If you have some knowledge of ’90s news curiosities, you might be able to excavate the unusual case of one Dennis R— from your memory banks. Assuming the national news outlets had the story straight, and reported it accordingly, Mr. R— was an actuary — or some other specialist whose profession hinges on the unchallenged yet specious assumption that the future will be like the past — who woke up one night, dismembered his infant twin sons and his wife of eight years, and brought their remains to the curb in a metal garbage can alongside all the other refuse of suburban life. The mechanical arm of the waste collection truck had not detected the can’s abnormal weight, and the landfill, too, was none the wiser. It was entirely possible that nobody would have noticed the absence of Mrs. R— and her children, had the local library not begun to seek compensation for a long overdue book that Mrs. R— never had the chance to return. Alas, Mr. R— was never properly sentenced, as he was killed in prison by other inmates before his trial could be finished.

Recalling this story, you might begin to sense a resemblance between the late Mr. R— and the figure in gray; indeed, after a cursory image search for his photograph on the internet, you would be impressed by how uncanny a likeness a few pixels can produce. You might even begin to suspect that the satire of the Paperboy series is alive and well in the second installment. Here the game designers have given you a world of crime and violence and fright, and yet the most horrible thing in it is something as innocuous as a man taking out his trash. Here all the paranoid suburbanites target a kid on a bicycle, as if he or she posed any actual threat, while the real danger lurks next door. You might speculate that Paperboy 2 is a satire of complacency, where prosperity and habit inure the average American against diligence and introspection, where the idealized image of the suburb discourages its residents from looking beyond the glistening veneer of civilization, and scrutinizing themselves or others. Even you, the attentive player, were fooled — did you think to inspect the gray figure’s garbage can for pixelated limbs? Of course not. Why would you? The world you find yourself in does little to suggest you should have. Therefore, through the inclusion of this nonchalant figure in gray, the game makes you complicit in the poisonous mindsets that suburban America incubates — a mature critique indeed for such an early video game.

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Yet if you were to praise the developers of Paperboy 2 for their clever stunt, not one of them would take credit for it. For none of them would admit to drawing or programming the figure in gray. In fact, none of them would remember putting him into the game.


Credit: Lex Joy (Official Webcomics WebsiteTwitter)

This story was submitted to Creepypasta.com by a fellow reader. To submit your own creepypasta tale for consideration and publication to this site, visit our submissions page today.

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20 thoughts on “A Figure in Gray”

  1. Hello, Lex Joy! After reading your story, I’ve decided that you’re not a bad cook! With a few more ingredients, you could be utterly amazing. Let me explain what I’ve digested.

    I’ve always liked the creepiness involved with things that are placed without knowledge, or with things that don’t belong. Playing tricks on the mind is fun to do. In this case as with others, creepy video game lore sends chills down the spine when examined. The only problem is, that’s all that this one did. It only becomes necessary to look around in anxiety when it becomes part of our world…when it steps outside of the realm of pixelation. You sort of did that, too, with the story of Dennis R., but considering that it happened in the past, it’s no longer something that we have to worry about. It doesn’t haunt us. How could it haunt us, other than with an Easter egg memorandum of what happened (of which, we don’t know about, anyway), presented in a classic video game that hardly anyone plays? The only way that I could suggest an addition is if there were a case of someone playing this game that resulted in the player’s real doom. That would blossom curiosity in the game, and perhaps convert this spine-tingling story into a bone-chilling legend.

    Other than this, I look forward to more tasty pasta from you, Lex Joy!

  2. Hmm I started to enjoy this thinking maybe it was going somewhere but then it stops. So say this was a “true” story and that the grey shirt man was really based after a real murderer…okay. That’s like putting Hitler in a game…oh wait, that’s been done a million times. Don’t get me wrong, the story was well written but I wasn’t creeped out at all.

    As for the other points that people were making about “Suburban America” and “Stereotypes” etc., who cares? Is this one guys opinion so important to you that you need to break out into a discussion panel and over exaggerate the situation? Have you confirmed that his story was really a direct hit at America or are you assuming?

    Anyway, the story was meh…but well written though.

  3. Actually I’m not sure. I’d never heard of the game until I read this so I did a little research and some of the elements in the story are actually found in the game. Besides that I don’t know, I was just enthralled by the overall analysis of the game and the cleverness of the author.

  4. Dude I thought the figure in gray was going to be the creepy grim reaper from the NES game. That thing, although very funny to me,(maybe because I thought it was funny when I played it as a kid 13 years ago and it just stuck) could’ve been creepy (or very cliche depending how you use it) and would have been waaay more interesting. I have to admit, not to be rude, but the story was incredibly boring to me, and I was thinking halfway through that there was a test on this that I had to take to make sure I knew it all. but idk, my biggest complaints would be it being boring, not creepy, and too illuminati confirmed for me.

  5. Nice pasta – I never played the game, and I don’t recall any such murder (neither can google), but it was kind of creepy.

  6. Finally you get it, its creepypasta not a socio-political forum and as you continually fail to address (and/or understand) my points choosing in favor of completely inane and absurd comments like “Maybe you don’t feel like your nations cultural output is the best foot forward, but that’s a personal decision”. What an absolutely ridiculous interpretation, obviously meant to inflame. I really expected a better response. In any case I will leave you to it and agree to disagree. Flame away.

  7. Again you miss the point, I find it truly sad and misguided that judgements are made about a whole nation of people from TV & Film portrayals.

    The readers nationality and/or your nationality is only relevant in so much as its not singling out your nationality, I would wager that if your nationality was exchanged for “America/American” you would be offended whether you admit it or not. In closing (but not wishing to offend, truly) “I didn’t think for a second that the story could be construed as offensive” Is rather confusing due to the fact that it WAS construed as offensive by more than just myself, if you read all the comments. Thank you Sam for the lively discussion. Cheers!

    1. I know what you mean, most of these ‘innocent thing is creepy’ stories (like video game pastas, lost episode pastas, scary fan theories) are pretty boring unless you relate to them. There are exceptions though.

    1. Were his big words harmful or something? He was fairly well versed and even if I don’t fully agree with him, he was still articulating and actually trying to have a conversation.

  8. As vidya gayme pasta goes it wasn’t bad! More of a theory/subversive critical analysis of the game than a pasta. Not too creepy but not bad

  9. Demelza Requiem

    I love the smooth writing style of this text. Unfortunately, while the story is interesting, I do not find it to be particularly scary. It reads more like a niche informational piece than a truly creepy narrative.

  10. Holy shit this was amazing! So simple, so wonderfully written. I LOATHE video game pastas, never found one I liked. They were all the same garbage, something eerie happens where the characters are acting out of the norm, lots of blood and gore, evil twin of the main character, stupid made up shit like that. But this was real, plausible, and factual. A compelling analysis of the video and equating it to the dark narrative of the American lifestyle. I absolutely love it. Sure it wasn’t super creepy but the elements of creepiness were there but were subtle, no cheap jump scares or anything. Fantastic, keep writing, this was beautifully written.

  11. Its really hard to enjoy this story when you don’t know about. 1. Suburban america. 2.paper boy series. 3.the dude who killed his wife and kids. It must be creepy for the guy who came to this realization and to some other people..just not creepy for me

    1. That’s a bit unfair. Most people I think know the cliches and tropes regarding suburban America (note I am neither suburban not American)

      I’ve not played paperboy but I got the gist of it. At least he didn’t spend half the pasta explaining game mechanics.

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