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When I first covered the rules for the ritual game known, variously, as the Elevator Game, the Elevator Ritual, Elevator to Another World, and, sometimes, Elevator to Hell, it was 2014. Only a handful of sources for the legend existed in English on the internet back then, and although my research skills were good, I hadn’t yet developed the toolkit I now have to facilitate online research in languages in which I’m not fluent.
Accordingly, what I knew — or what I thought I knew — about the game at the time was limited. It was pretty clear, for example, that the legend originated in an East Asian country; however, there was some debate over which country in particular lay claim to it. It was Korean, some said; no, it was Japanese, others thought.
Everyone did, however, agree on one thing: If performed correctly, the ritual would see you first visiting various floors of a 10-story building in a certain order, then, finally, arriving at a world that was… not your own.
I know a lot more about the Elevator Game now — and not just because the basic outline of the legend itself has spread across the online landscape in numerous languages since then (although, yes, that’s certainly true). Most of what I’ve learned since 2014 is a result of the extensive research I conducted in 2020 in an attempt to map out as complete a history of the legend as I could. It’s of course possible that there’s still stuff I missed; for what it’s worth, though, the oldest version of legend I could find — a 2ch post — is written in Japanese and dates back to Nov. 22, 2008. For the curious, I wrote up everything I dug up in a longform piece I published at TGIMM in April of 2020, so if you’re interested in finding more about the path this legend has taken over the years, you can find it here.
[Like what you read? Check out Dangerous Games To Play In The Dark, available from Chronicle Books now!]
Which brings us to now. There’s been, I’ve noticed, a recent up in interest in the legend, no doubt spurred on by two possible inspirations: One, the Feb. 10 release of the Netflix docuseries Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel and its main focus, Elisa Lam; and two, the legend’s appearance in the anime 裏世界ピクニック, or Ura Sekai Pikunikku (in English, Otherside Picnic). So, now seemed like a good time to revisit the story — to take another look at the whys and wherefores of actually playing the game. To examine, one more time, exactly what one must do to play the Elevator Game.
(Reminder that I do not ascribe to the theory that Lam was playing the Elevator Game at the time of her death. The full reasoning on why is detailed here, but the short version is that I think it’s an enormously disrespectful way to approach a real-life tragedy. Just, y’know, for the record.)
The set of instructions you see here is my third take on the actual telling of the legend. The first set of rules makes up TGIMM’s original 2014 post, while the second set appears in my book, 2019’s Dangerous Games To Play In The Dark. If you count my 2020 deep dive, this piece also holds the distinction of being the fourth time I’ve explored the legend overall.
Why do I keep coming back to it?
Well, partially because you all keep coming back to it, Dear Readers.
But also, because legends that have this kind of staying power… interest me.
There’s a reason they stick with us, after all.
As always —
- One principal — no more, no less.
- A building, at least 10 stories high and equipped with an elevator capable of reaching all 10 floors.
- Begin at any time.
- Enter your chosen building and proceed directly to the elevator.
- Call the elevator. Use only the “up” button to do so. If a “down” button is present, do not touch it.
- When the doors open, enter the elevator. You MUST enter it on the first floor, and you MUST enter it alone. Do not proceed if anyone else is in the elevator with you.
- Press the button for the fourth floor.
- When the elevator reaches the fourth floor, do not get out. Instead, remain in the elevator and press the button for the second floor.
- When you reach the second floor, do not get out. Instead, remain in the elevator and press the button for the sixth floor.
- When you reach the sixth floor, do not get out. Instead, remain in the elevator and press the button for the second floor.
- When you reach the second floor, do not get out. Instead, remain in the elevator and press the button for the tenth floor.
- When you reach the tenth floor, do not get out. Instead, remain in the elevator and press the button for the fifth floor.
- When you reach the fifth floor, a young woman may enter the elevator. Do not look at her; do not speak to her. She is not what she seems.
- Do not get out. Instead, remain in the elevator and press the button for the first floor.
- At this point, one of two things will occur: The elevator will begin descending to the first floor, or it will begin ascending to the 10th floor.
- If the elevator descends: The ritual has failed. Do not proceed. When the elevator reaches the first floor, exit as soon as the doors open. Do not look back. Do not speak. Exit the building and don’t look back. You may try again another time.
- If the elevator ascends: The ritual has succeeded. You may proceed.
- Note, though, that if you are having any second thoughts about what you’re about to do — if you find that you are losing your nerve — now is your last chance to back out. To cancel the ascension and terminate the ritual at this point, press the button for any floor in the building besides the first or 10th floor. You MUST cancel the ascension BEFORE the elevator passes the ninth floor in order to terminate the ritual.
- When you reach the tenth floor, you may choose either to exit the elevator, or to remain aboard. If you choose to exit, AND if the woman entered the elevator on the fifth floor, she may take this opportunity to ask you where you are going.
- Do NOT answer her.
- Do NOT look at her.
- Exit the elevator without comment.
- Now: Look around, but do not lose sight of the elevator in which you arrived.
- You will — it’s said — find yourself in another world.
- And although you may see many things and notice many details, you will know you have arrived in this other world — you will know for certain — by one indication, and indication only: The only person present in it is you.
The Return Trip:
The method by which you may return to your own world depends on your choices thus far.
If you did NOT exit the elevator at the 10th floor:
- Press the button for the first floor. The doors should close, and the elevator should begin descending. If it does not, keep pressing the button for the first floor until it does.
- When the elevator reaches the first floor, exit as soon as the doors open. Do not look back. Do not speak. Leave the building and return home as soon as possible.
If you chose to exit the elevator at the 10th floor:
- Return to the elevator. You MUST use the same elevator to return as the one in which you arrived.
- When you enter the elevator, press the button for the fourth floor.
- You will now proceed to press the buttons and visit the floors of the building in the same order you did during Steps 6 and 12 of Venturing Out:
- When you reach the fourth floor, press the button for the second floor; when you reach the second floor, press the button for the sixth floor; when you reach the sixth floor, press the button for the second floor; when you reach the second floor, press the button for the 10th floor; and when you reach the fifth floor, press the button for the first floor.
- The elevator will again begin ascending to the 10th floor. You must now cancel the ascension before the elevator arrives at its final destination. To do so, press the button for any other floor in the building besides the first or 10th floor. You MUST cancel the ascension BEFORE the elevator passes the ninth floor.
- If you have correctly canceled the ascension, the elevator will descend to the first floor. When the elevator arrives and opens its doors, do NOT exit — not just yet. Look outside and check your surroundings carefully.
- If anything seems “off” — even the smallest detail — do NOT exit the elevator. Instead, press the button for the fourth floor. Repeat the previous four steps, beginning by pressing the button for the fourth floor and again checking your surroundings before exiting the elevator upon its return to the first floor. Once you are confident you have returned to your own world, you may safely exit the elevator.
- Repeat the previous five steps as many times as necessary.
- Do NOT exit the elevator before you are ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN you have returned to your own world.
- If you do, and you are incorrect—
- You might as well get comfortable.
- It may be a while before you see your home again.
- You may, in fact, never see your home again.
Regarding the building:
- “10-story building” may be defined as a building with 10 floors above ground, including the floor at ground level. Basements and sublevels should not be included in the floor count.
Regarding floor numbering conventions:
- The floor numbering conventions used here are such that the ground floor is considered to be the first floor; the next floor up is considered to be the second floor; and so on. If you are located somewhere that uses different floor numbering conventions — e.g. the ground floor is considered to be a designation all its own; the next floor up is considered to be the first floor; and so on — you may need to make certain adjustments in order to play.
- One possible adjustment involves the transposition of the numbers of the buttons — that is, rather than pressing buttons labeled 4, 2, 6, 2, 10, 5, and 1 during the course of the game, you may instead press buttons labeled 3, 1, 5, 1, 9, 4, and 0 or G. Using this adjustment will see you visiting the same floors as detailed above, spatially speaking; it is only the labels for the floors that have changed.
- Another possible adjustment involves keeping the numbers of the buttons as written, but playing in a building at least 11 stories high instead of 10 — that is, the floors will be labeled 0 or G, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. This adjustment is somewhat riskier, as it requires you to take the stairs to the first floor before beginning the game and does not deposit you on the ground floor at the conclusion of it. It is not known what effect(s) this shift in spatial location may have on the outcome of the game. Experiment at your own risk.
Do not attempt to play this game with more than one principal at a time. Do not attempt to play this game with any bystanders. Players MUST be alone in the elevator at all times during the course of the game — with one exception: The woman who may or may not enter on the fifth floor.
If anyone OTHER than the woman on the fifth floor enters the elevator at any point during the course of game, do not proceed. Terminate the ritual immediately. (See below.)
If you wish to terminate the ritual early, you may do so as detailed in Step 13 of Venturing Out, as long as the elevator has not yet passed the ninth floor on the way to its final ascent to the 10th. If you have already passed this point, it is too late. You must see it through to the end.
Regarding The Other World:
Reports concerning both the nature and appearance of the other world vary. Some state, for example, that should you choose to exit the elevator at the 10th floor, you will see a world that looks almost identical to your own — save for two details: All the lights on the floor will be off, and if you look out the windows, the only thing you’ll be see is a red cross in the distance. Other reports, however, do not specify that this will necessarily be the case.
Additionally, some say that electronic devices — mobile phones, cameras, recording devices, media players, etc. — do not function in the other world. Others, however, say they function as usual.
Given the inconsistencies between reports, it is therefore not entirely known what you may expect from the other world. You may see or experience what others have before you; or, you may see or experience something unique or previously unknown.
Whatever happens, though, you will be alone — you, and perhaps the woman from the fifth floor. That much is certain.
Concerning The Return Trip:
Getting back to your own world may be more difficult than it seems. Should you choose to exit the elevator on the 10th floor, you may become disoriented and forget which elevator in which you initially arrived; the elevator may seem to get further and further away from you as you walk towards it; and so on. Be vigilant, and keep your wits about you.
Some sources note that the method for returning used in the event that you choose NOT to exit the elevator may only be used as long as the woman on the fifth floor did not enter the elevator — that is, you must both have chosen to stay aboard the elevator AND be alone within it in order to utilize this method. Notably, these sources do not say what to do if you choose not to exit the elevator, but ARE in the presence of the woman from the fifth floor.
Additionally, some sources note that the method for returning used in the event that you DO choose to exit the elevator requires the buttons to be pressed not in the same order you pressed them when Venturing Out, but rather in the reverse order — that is, instead of pressing 4, 2, 6, 2, 10, 5, and 1, in that order, you must press 1, 5, 10, 2, 6, 2, and 4.
Furthermore, some early accounts do not include any methods for returning — none at all.
As such, any and all return trip methods — even the ones detailed in the above instructions — may not necessarily be relied upon to work as expected.
Also: If at any point during the game you faint, pass out, or otherwise lose consciousness, you will likely wake up in your own home. However, be sure to carefully examine your surroundings upon waking — the “home” to which you have been returned may not be the one you left when you first set out to attempt this ritual.
Concerning the Woman on the Fifth Floor:
Do NOT speak to her.
Do NOT look at her.
If you do, she may decide to keep you for her own.
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[Photo via kaisender/Pixabay, remixed by Lucia Peters]