A while back I wrote about a popular new video game, Phasmophobia, in which players attempt to identify the correct “type” of ghost they are dealing with at a haunted location. In the time since then, the number of ghost types within that game have nearly doubled. This makes the game more fun and more challenging but also increases some of the unrealistic aspects of ghost hunting within the game.
I’m not here to complain, though, because one of the new ghosts is so realistic, I want to write an entire blog about it.
But first, let me lay some foundation in real life.
In a town near where I live there is a cemetery boasting to be haunted by an apparition that sometimes appears as an inhumanly tall woman. Legends abound as to this apparition’s origins, but few of them can agree—and neither can the evidence gathered by paranormal investigators. Sometimes the ghost is photographed and sometimes it is heard. Sometimes it acts like a child, other times like an angry, shrieking witch. Some people claim it is the mother of a man hung for murder, while others think it is the man, regressed back to his childhood after death. Some claim it is the ghost of his lover, not his mother.
Why can’t this ghost get its story straight?
Is this the inspiration for the Phasmophobian mimic?
You know that creepy, decrepit asylum that the paranormal investigators like to film themselves “investigating” on their Cable TV or YouTube channels? Or that house on the hill that sits abandoned but is strangely filled with a motley collection of creepy dolls? Or maybe that old bridge with “666” painted all over it thanks to some urban legend about it being a satanic portal? What do you suppose happens when people go there looking for ghosts…and there are none? Do you think they just go home and tell their friends that the urban legends aren’t true?
No. They bring their own “ghosts” with them.
I can hear some people saying it now, “Hold on, Alfie! Are you saying they’re faking the hauntings?”
No. I’m saying it’s likely more real than what you think.
Having watched a lot of paranormal investigators (both the boring, scientific ones and the “like and subscribe and check out our merch” ones), I noticed that the same technical words tend to be used in very different ways depending on the genre of the audience (or the intellect of the investigator). Manifestation is one such word bearing two distinct levels of meaning. On the surface, it tends to be used to indicate manifested evidence of a ghost’s presence. EVPs, infra-red images, orbs, etc. Those tend to be described as “manifestations”.
However, some paranormal investigators use the term “manifestation” to describe a ghost-like presence that only manifests at a location after people start assuming that the location is haunted (and start bringing their own “haunted” energy to that place). In this use of the word, a manifestation is a non-human entity that has taken on the role that is expected of it. Usually, at these haunted sites, it will take on different roles depending on what the investigators expect to experience. Often it acts like a child (because who doesn’t respond emotionally to a child ghost). Sometimes it acts like a creeping shadow or an angry, malevolent spirit. Sometimes it outright demands that the investigators stop filming or documenting its behavior. Why? Do they know that, when enough investigators start comparing notes, they will realize that its performance has always been a ruse?
The Phasmophobian mimic is, by nature, a game mechanic meant to confuse the players into incorrectly discerning the true nature of the ghost they are dealing with. Within the game, this is just a challenging aspect of the gameplay that only occasionally presents itself. At harder levels of gameplay, the mimic actually becomes easier to identify because it continues to misbehave beyond the constrictions of the level difficulty.
In real life, we do not have that luxury. In fact, in real life it is quite possible that any paranormal entity encountered may not be what it says it is. It is, in fact, mimicking the behavior expected of it by the “investigators”.
From the skeptic’s side, real life also has hoaxes not present in the video game (because who would want to play an entire level of a horror game only to pull a mask off the ghost and discover that it’s just the old museum curator from down the road). In real life, it is just as difficult to tell where the hoaxes stop and the real paranormal experiences begin as it is within the game to tell between a mimic and a Jinn.
Here in the real world, if hoaxers are going to get positive attention from fake hauntings, it’s going to encourage more fake hauntings. And they are going to do their darndest to come as close as possible to the expectations of paranormal tourists and skeptics alike. And even if you ARE dealing with something paranormal, it is hard to tell whether one is communicating with the soul of a small child who unfairly died…or the soul of something that showed up later because it wants some of the attention that child’s ghost is now getting.
Ahhhhhh. Now we have come to the real meat of the issue.
In future blogs this Halloween season, I hope to expound on both the nature and the dangers of this real-life “mimic” phenomenon.