Horror films, true crime podcasts, and urban legends are ways that we enjoy experiencing fear in controlled circumstances. Urban legends are especially interesting as they combine the past’s myths and folklore with the present’s technology and culture.
I find it fascinating, because it really shows how folklore is always adapting to new technologies and media, rather than being some relic of the past.
— Anthropologist Jamie Tehrani via BBC
Urban legends exist worldwide and are usually caused by a desire to understand our reality through fiction and even fear. While some urban legends like Bigfoot may not be anything too terrifying, others like Slender Man or Bloody Mary are paranormal stories that are entertainingly frightening.
The “Elevator Game” (also known as “Elevator To Another World” or “Elevator Ritual”) is another paranormal urban legend. The legend depicts an incredibly specific process to allow a person to travel to another dimension via an elevator.
The Elevator Game is so specific that “players” are warned that if any step is done incorrectly, the “ritual” either won’t work or will have disastrous consequences.
The steps to travel to another dimension include finding an elevator in a building with a minimum of ten floors and little to no people. Almost as if to add to the haunted effect of the “game,” it is ruined if someone else presses an elevator button.
Once you’ve found an appropriate elevator, there are a series of nine specific steps to eventually ascend to the tenth floor, where, if done correctly, you will enter another dimension.
Of course, not only do you have to be wary of other people accidentally using the elevator, but the legend claims that when you reach the fifth floor, a spirit might enter the elevator with you. You must ignore the spirit at all costs.
The other dimension the legend speaks of is not necessarily one specific destination. Still, the legend argues that you can tell you’ve entered a new dimension because you will be alone, any electronic devices won’t work, and all you will see is a red cross in the far-off distance.
Then there is an equally specific method for returning to our world, with just as many warnings and rules to follow for a safe journey.
The urban legend is even being turned into a supernatural horror film, Elevator Game, which is reportedly in production.
Elevator Game follows socially awkward teenager Ryan (Gino Anania), who discovers that the night his sister disappeared she had played ‘The Elevator Game’ — a ritual conducted in an elevator, in which players attempt to travel to another dimension using a set of rules that can be found online. Ignoring warnings, he resolves to follow and find her.”
— Bloody Disgusting’s summary of Elevator Game
But how did this popular, ominous urban legend originate? Many people believe that the Elevator Game first came from South Korea in the early 2010s. Although the Elevator Game did not come from South Korea, the urban legend’s popularity was propelled around 2014 by many posts on sites like Daum and Naver.
The earliest mention of the game is actually from Japan, around 2008. Unlike the more recent version of the Elevator Game, the initial urban legend stops once the elevator doors open on the tenth floor.
This kind of ending — a short, sharp, sudden stop — is common for ritual-based Japanese urban legends…
[It’s] a choice that leaves the reader guessing; allows their imagination to fill in the blanks; and, especially in the case of games meant to transport players to other worlds, supports the reality constructed within the legends. The reason the instructions just stop is because we don’t know what happens next; no one has been around to tell us. Those for whom the rituals were successful vanished from our world and haven’t been heard from since.
— Ghost Machine
The circulation of this urban legend in 2008 actually evidences where the urban legend originated from. Urban legends are usually a way for people to try and conceptualize the world around them, especially as a means to process horrific and sometimes seemingly inexplicable events. The Elevator Game is no exception.
In 2006, there was a massive investigation into the manufacturing of elevators in Japan after the Minato Ward accident. In June 2006, a 16-year-old student was killed after taking an elevator maintained by SEC Elevator Co Ltd.
The investigation found both the elevator manufacturer and maintenance crew responsible for not taking proper precautions.
The faulty elevators were replaced after the accident, but there was still anxiety around the usage of elevators in Japan for years.
Although the investigation suggested that faulty breaks, loose bolts, and poor maintenance were at fault for the accident, because the elevator was moving upward, unprompted, while its doors were still open, killing the student, the Elevator Game became an urban legend for society to try and cope with the accident.
Certainly, rather than fearing that the elevator you were riding was poorly maintained, it is more palatable to believe that unless you follow a specific set of instructions, nothing paranormal or out of the ordinary will happen to you.