Previously: The Walten Files.
On Jan. 7, 2022, a found footage-style short film arrived on YouTube featuring the Backrooms — the meme-turned-collaborative fiction project that’s been one of the internet’s favorite non-realities for the past few years. This video, titled “Backrooms (Found Footage),” isn’t the first short film about the Backrooms to have hit YouTube; it’s not even the first found footage Backrooms film to arrive on the scene. But the “Backrooms (Found Footage)” video from the YouTube channel Kane Pixels is successful in a way that’s surprisingly rare, creating a sense of deep dread and foreboding and engineering some extremely effective scares — along with offering some truly excellent creature design.
It’s no wonder it went viral; within just a few weeks, the video had been viewed more than nine million times. As of this writing, the number has climbed to more than 14.5 million — and it’s still going strong.
What’s more, for those who dared to look a little deeper, it turned out that there was more to the clip than meets the eye. Although it works quite well as a stand-alone short, if you truly want to explain the “Backrooms (Found Footage)” video, you have to dig into everything that came after it, too.
There’s more, you see.
And there’s clearly more to come.
“Backrooms (Found Footage)” is the creation of Kane Parsons, a filmmaker and VFX artist based in California’s North Bay who posts his work to YouTube and Instagram under the name Kane Pixels. His Backrooms short has been universally praised for its technical ability, its stunning art style, and its well-crafted scares — all of which is even more impressive when you consider the fact that Parsons is just 16 years old, according to his Instagram profile. The level of finesse seen here is on par with what you’d expect from a seasoned pro, so if what Parsons has already produced is indicative of what’s to come, he’s got a bright future, indeed. (The moral of the story: Never underestimate what talented teenagers are capable of achieving if they’ve got access to the right tools and the room to be creative. See also: “No Through Road.”)
Although I’ve heard some describe the Backrooms as an “old” meme or piece of internet lore, the idea actually isn’t that old; the original 4chan thread in which it was born only dates back to May of 2019. I realize that, in internet time, three years can sometimes seem like an eternity, but I think it’s helpful to remember that we’re not dealing with a 10-to-15-year-old concept that’s suddenly seen a resurgence in popularity here; we’re dealing with a relatively recent idea I would even go so far as to say is currently at the height of its popularity.
[Like what you read? Check out Dangerous Games To Play In The Dark, available from Chronicle Books now!]
But what Parsons has done with “Backrooms (Found Footage)” is harness the best parts of the meme’s expansive concept while building out his own lore around it — which both makes sense given that the Backrooms doesn’t have One True Canon, and results in a unique and satisfying storytelling experience that’s great fun to engage with.
The nine-minute clip, you see, has turned out to be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. In the weeks following the publication of “Backrooms (Found Footage),” Parsons released several follow-up videos which, taken together and placed in the correct chronological order, tell a much larger story — or at least, the beginnings of a much larger story, one involving a secretive research lab, trans-dimensional travel, and whooooooole lotta missing people. It is, in short, a story about scientific hubris and the folly of humans trying to play god, with disastrous results for those who get caught in the crossfire.
Today, I want to talk about the lore and the narrative of Parsons’ Backrooms universe — although it seems very much like the series is a work in progress, so bear in mind that right now, we can only talk about the story so far.
First, let’s talk about the videos in the order they were uploaded. Then, we’ll talk about what the story they’re telling might be when they’re all taken together. And lastly, we’ll talk about what we don’t know yet — and where the series might go from here.
Here we go.
“Backrooms (Found Footage)” And The Beginning (Or End) Of It All
The plot of “Backrooms (Found Footage)” itself is relatively simple. The nine-minute video follows a teenage filmmaker named — like his real-life creator — Kane, who “noclips out of reality” and winds up in the liminal space known as the Backrooms. He has a camera with him because he and his friends were shooting a film when he slipped into the Backrooms; he was the camera operator on the production, and literally had it in his hands when the noclip happened. As such, he’s able to record everything he sees during his sojourn.
This documentation becomes all the more important when he learns that he is not alone in those yellow hallways: There’s a creature of some sort in there with him, and it’s not friendly. After spending a period of time alternately exploring the Backrooms and trying to escape whatever might be chasing him, Kane is ultimately caught by the creature and shoved through a hole in the floor — and back into reality. Unfortunately, he re-enters reality somewhere way up in the sky — think airplane height — and plummets to the ground, where he presumably dies on impact. The camera lands on its side, somehow undamaged enough to keep recording for a few minutes, before the video finally cuts out.
But despite the bare-bones plotline, there’s a lot that this video — which, by the way, is by far the longest in the series — tells us about the series as a whole, and what we can expect to see moving forward.
First, we learn what the experience of slipping into the Backrooms is like according to this particular canon — that is, this first video sets up the rules of the world.
This version of the Backrooms incorporates pretty much everything included in the image and chunk of text that came together to create the meme in the first place. In case you need a refresher, the text reads as follows:
“If you’re not careful and you noclip out of reality in the wrong areas, you’ll end up in the Backrooms, where it’s nothing but the stink of old moist carpet, the madness of mono-yellow, the endless background noise of fluorescent lights at maximum hum-buzz, and approximately six hundred million square miles of randomly segmented empty rooms to be trapped in.
God save you if you hear something wandering around nearby, because it sure as hell has heard you.”
Parsons’ Backrooms give us all of that, from noclipping right down to the “something” wandering around the place with you.
But we also quickly learn that this version of the Backrooms also seems to follow one of the three primary organizational systems often used to describe the concept — the one I’ve previously identified as the Three Level System. According to this system, the Backrooms have three levels — no more, no less. The first, usually identified as Level 0, is the Backrooms as seen in the original meme. The second, Level 1, is darker and more dangerous, with more of an industrial appearance. And the third, Level 2, is the darkest, most dangerous, and the most industrial of the three.
As Kane explores the Backrooms, he begins in Level 0, jumps down a hole into Level 1, and seems to see Level 2 stretching across some kind of chasm, although he doesn’t end up actually entering the level itself. Instead, he finds a door marked “fire exit,” which leads to a short flight of stairs and another door, which, when opened, deposits him back at Level 0.
(Note, though, that I can only say that it seems to follow this system so far; more information may emerge as the series goes on that proves this not to be the case. Only time will tell, but that’s where we’re at right now, at least.)
Beyond the rules of how the Backrooms themselves operate, though, “Backrooms (Found Footage)” also introduces us to an array of storytelling conventions that we’ll see throughout the rest of the series — namely in what I’ll refer to as the main videos. These videos all feature a common set of conventions in terms of how they’re presented: Their titles begin with the word “Backrooms” and continue with a short phrase that details the video’s contents; in the description boxes, there are dates pinpointing something important about where the video fits into the general timeline; and the contents of the videos themselves document important episodes occurring within the larger storyline.
We also learn that we should be paying attention to dates and time. Although the video itself was, as previously noted, Jan. 7. 2022, there’s also a date noted in the description box: Sept. 23, 1996. Furthermore, there’s a date seen in the footage itself that places the actual events recorded as having occurred at least several months — and possibly even several years — before Sept. 23, 1996: The clapper used by the film crew at the very beginning of the video is dated 7/4, with a year following the month and day that’s somewhat indistinct. I read it as 7/4/91, or July 4, 1991, but it’s been pointed out by a few other theorists (MatPat of Game Theory, for instance) that it also looks a little bit like 7/4/9_ — that is, that the second digit following the nine is scrubbed out, with what I took to be a one simply being another backslash.
The dates matter because, as the follow-ups to “Backrooms (Found Footage)” arrived, it became clear that the storytelling here is non-linear: The videos were not uploaded chronologically. Indeed, the events of “Backrooms (Found Footage)” are the last to occur in the overall chronology so far. But there’s always a reason to start at the end of a tale: First, “Backrooms (Found Footage)” functions as the best possible entry point to the larger story, walking us through the fundamentals of the Backrooms by allowing us to see them in action in a single, focused, standalone episode. And second, once we’ve seen what happens late in the story, the point of the narrative changes: We know where it’s all going, so the point now is to see how we get there.
I also think that it’s likely the events seen in “Backrooms (Found Footage)” aren’t the ultimate endpoint, either, but rather the midpoint of the story — that is, I suspect that the saga may have actually begun in medias res. If this turns out to be the case, “Backrooms (Found Footage)” may be a lynchpin in the narrative as a whole — and I’m very curious to see what kinds of twists and turns the next installments might take.
It’s worth noting that, although Parsons didn’t upload the videos in the narrative’s chronological order, he has created a playlist that orders the videos as such. If you want to watch them that way, he’s done some of the work for us already. But even if we don’t have to worry too much about ordering the videos ourselves to get the chronology, we do still need to do some work to piece together the full narrative.
Before we get to that, though, let’s take a quick look at what happens in the rest of the videos in the order in which they were uploaded:
The Plot Thickens
The series continues next not with an entry in main set of videos, but with the introduction of a set of secondary, unlisted videos. The link to the first of these videos can be found in the description box of “Backrooms (Found Footage).” If we follow it, we’re taken to a video titled “Mar11_90_ARCHIVE.tar,” which was uploaded to YouTube on Jan. 8, 2022.
Derived from “Tape Archive,” TAR is a UNIX-based file archiving format that allows you to bundle together multiple files into one .tar archive. It’s similar to the .zip format, but unlike .zip archives, .tar archives aren’t compressed. TAR originally launched in 1979, so it’s somewhat older technology.
Knowing this, the title of the video tells us exactly what we’re seeing in the content of the video: A series of files archived into a single .tar file on March 11, 1990. Specifically, they’re image files; the video is basically a slideshow of old photographs.
But what of? That’s not entirely clear, but we see a lot of scientists, machines, and computers — all vintage in appearance, with the computers present seeming to run the gamut from 1960s-style machines to monitors that look closer to what we started seeing in the late ‘80s. It looks as though a facility is being built, although to what end isn’t clear until the last few photos emerge.
One seems to depict a scientist in an observation room of some sort; the room has both a computer monitor displaying what looks like security footage of the Backrooms on it, as well as a window looking directly into the Backrooms themselves. It’s not clear whether or not the observation room is within the Backrooms or outside of them, although the next image seems to be a diagram of something within the Backrooms labeled “Null Zone 4”; the implication looks to be that the observation room may be located in Null Zone 4, with “null zones” being “safe” areas, of a sort.
The last file seen looks like some sort of door — but not a normal door. We’ll come back to this.
In any event, like “Backrooms (Found Footage),” this unlisted video also introduces us a format that the other unlisted videos in the series will follow—although the format is different from the videos in the main set. The secondary videos have file names for titles; there’s no additional information in the description boxes; and the contents of the videos themselves provide supplemental information that illuminates something about what we’ve seen in the main video set.
The next upload, “Backrooms – The Third Test,” arrived on YouTube on Jan. 14, 2022; it bears a description date of July 2, 1988. For the first time in the series, we’re given narration, available both in the video’s own soundtrack, where it sounds as if it’s being spoken by a text-to-speech program, and through closed captions. The narration tells us the following:
“On July 2, 1988, the Async research facility tested its low-proximity magnetic distortion system for the third time. Details regarding the results of the experimentation have not yet been released. During a press conference held in April of 1988, Ivan Beck, vice director of the Async foundation, described the intention of these tests, stating that the program, if granted sufficient backing from the United States government, will offer a solution to all current and future storage and residential needs, and save billions of dollars on property construction and management.”
What we see then is video footage of the door featured at the end of the .tar archive, with a time and date stamp of 07/02/1988. 03:17. First, the door is stationary; then, the space in the middle of the doorframe begins to distort; next, we see a bright yellow light flare up in the center of the door while yellow sparks shoot around the frame; and then, the door returns to its stationary state again.
We know now that the images seen in the .tar archive are from this research foundation — Async — and its facility. We know that Async is studying the Backrooms, and that they hope to harness their unique qualities for practical use. We know that, to that end, they seem to be trying to open up access to the Backrooms — creating a pathway or doorway that can be used to enter or exit them at will, rather than simply randomly “noclipping” in. And we know they need government funding to continue their study, and that their tests — of which this is the third — are one of the ways they’re trying to drum up interest and money.
What we don’t know is whether Async simply found the Backrooms, or whether they created them.
The video titled “Backrooms – First Contact” was uploaded on Jan. 17, 2022 and bears a description date of Oct. 17, 1989. In it, Async performs their sixth test on their “low-proximity magnetic distortion system” — and this time, it seems as if it succeeds: We’re shown something that looks like a map to a labyrinth unfolding on a computer screen — and then, when the dust clears, we find we can see through the doorway into a maze of yellow hallways. The video ends with the scientists venturing through the doorway.
And here, we encounter the second unlisted video; like the first, it’s in the description box of the previous video. Following the link brings us to “collateral.mov,” which was uploaded on Jan. 17, 2022. It consists of news footage discussing a major earthquake. Looking further into the matter reveals that the footage — which is actual, real-life news footage featuring Ted Koppel, among others — is covering the Loma Prieta earthquake. This earthquake struck California’s Central Coast on Oct. 17, 1989.
Next, we have “Backrooms – Missing Persons,” which was uploaded on Jan. 28, 2022 and bears a description date of Feb. 3, 1990. We see a montage of missing persons posters, among them people named Nicholas Bolton, Margaret Watson, and Janice Scott; an unnamed white man; and a small child named Ellis White. We see a graph showing the number of missing persons cases reported climbing dramatically starting at the end of 1989. And the we see footage of a small group of people we assume to be Async personnel, all wearing full PPE suits, exploring the Backrooms. During their exploration, they find something they don’t seem to have been expecting: The remains of a man, seated, leaning against one of the Backrooms’ yellow walls, with some kind of organic matter — fungus, they posit — spreading up the walls and around the floor surrounding him.
After the footage of this exploration cuts out, a final message flashes across the screen, printed backwards: “If anybody, blame him.” We don’t yet know to whom the word “him” refers.
And lastly — for now, at least — we have “Backrooms – Informational Video,” uploaded on Feb. 12, 2022 and with a description date of Feb. 29, 1990. Initially showing footage of an informational video, it gives us Async’s official terminology for much of their work and some rules regarding its exploration and study of the Backrooms. First, the whole project is termed Project KV31; its aim is “the study and development of the Async Low-Proximity Magnetic Distortion System.” The door Async uses to access the Backrooms is called the “Threshold.” Other terms by which the project may be referred include the Machine, the Door, the Back Rooms, the Complex, and Hallways. The rules for exploration include not talking about the project outside the facility, not approaching the Threshold without “guided supervision,” and never entering the Backrooms alone. All expeditions must include three or more individuals.
Then it turns into footage captured on Feb. 29, 1990 starting at 11:36 am. We see a group of four Async personnel enter the Backrooms, only for one of them to become separated from the others after hearing something down one of the hallways and experiencing a sort of glitch in reality. He roams the Backrooms for some time, eventually discovering what looks like an exit door. It leads to what appears to be an Async observation room — but the lights are off and no one is inside. An alarm sounds, and the video cuts to black.
The final frames show us schematics of Project KV31 while strange, music box-like music plays.
Notably, 1990 was not a leap year. Feb. 29, 1990 does not exist. Or at least, not in reality as we know it.
And… that’s all we’ve got for now.
The Story So Far
So: Let’s put it all together in the correct chronological order. As it currently stands, here’s the story of the Kane Pixels Backrooms universe so far — as far as I understand it, at least:
Sometime prior to the late 1980s, a research organization calling itself Async begins studying the phenomenon now known as the Backrooms. They build a facility in an undisclosed location for this purpose. (Files seen in “Mar11_90_ARCHIVE.tar.”)
In April of 1988, Async makes their research public knowledge in a press conference — sort of. They do not announce anything about the Backrooms themselves, but state that they have been developing a “low-proximity magnetic distortion system” with the aim of finding “a solution to current and future storage and residential needs” while “[saving] billions of dollars on property construction and management.” They need funding from the government to continue, though, and have been conducting tests — at least two so far — which they hope will garner enough interest for the funding to emerge. (“Backrooms – The Third Test.”)
On July 2, 1988 at 3:17am, Async conducts the third test on their low-proximity magnetic distortion system. The results of the test haven’t been released, but they don’t seem to have achieved success yet: They’ve created the doorframe they hope to use access the Backrooms, and they’ve even managed to crack the door open, so to speak — but before the door can fully open, it slams shut on them. (“Backrooms – The Third Test.”) Unbeknownst to the public, the Backrooms project is called Project KV31, and the doorframe Async has created is called the Threshold. (“Backrooms – Informational Video.”)
On Oct. 17, 1989 at 5:04pm, Async conducts their sixth test on their low-proximity magnetic distortion system. At first, it looks like the system is overloading; orders are heard to “shut it down,” that it’s “not safe” — but something appears: Something that looks like it might be a map of the Backrooms. As the dust clears (literally), we see that the door is properly open for the first time — that is, it’s not just a glowing rectangle of light; we can see into the Backrooms, as we now know them to be. The test ends with the scientists entering the Backrooms for the first time. (“Backrooms – First Contact.”)
Simultaneously with Async’s sixth test, the Loma Prieta earthquake hits the Central Coast of California, with the epicenter located on the San Andreas Fault System between Santa Cruz and San Jose, specifically in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park in Santa Cruz County. The quake is huge; with a magnitude of 6.9, it causes 63 deaths and 3,757 injuries, along with $5.6 to 6 billion of damage is caused (equivalent to $11.7 to 12.5 billion now). The implication is that the test — and the opening of the Backrooms — caused the earthquake. It’s also possible that the epicenter of the quake indicates the location of Async’s facility. (“collateral.mov.”)
In the years following the sixth test, the number of reported missing persons cases goes way, way up. Among the missing are: Nicholas Bolton, Margaret Watson, Janice White, an unnamed white man, and two-year-old Ellis White. The implication is that, with the door to the Backrooms now permanently open, all these missing people “noclipped” in and were never able to find their way back out. (“Backrooms – Missing Persons.”)
On Feb. 3, 1990, Async conducts an exploration of the Backrooms. During their exploration, they discover the remains of a man — presumably one of the missing people, possibly Nicholas Bolton. He, the floor he is sitting on, and the wall against which he is leaning are covered in some kind of organic matter, possibly “some kind of fungus,” as the Async folks put it. It’s a new development; they’ve never encountered anything like this before. It’s not even clear whether they knew that regular people were getting lost in the Backrooms. (“Backrooms – Missing Persons.”)
On Feb. 29, 1990, Async conducts another exploration of the Backrooms. One of the four Async personnel who enters the Backrooms for this exploration becomes separated from the others. He hears something — a crowd, music, perhaps — and turns down a hallway, but when he turns back, asking if his companions can hear it, there’s some sort of glitch and suddenly, he’s alone. He wanders the hallways, finding a few unusual rooms — one with some risers and something crumbled in the middle of the floor; a hallway wallpapered in a green, leafy print, with tools like wheelbarrows and a sledgehammer strewn around, and the façade of a barn — and then, finally, a door that looks like an exit door. When he steps through it, he finds himself in what looks like an Async observation room — but the lights are off and the room is empty. When he speaks, the lights go red and an alarm sounds. We don’t know what happens to him after that. (“Backrooms – Informational Video.”)
Note that Feb. 29, 1990 is an impossible date, as 1990 was not a leap year.
On March 11, 1990, numerous photos and files from Async’s history and the development of the facility are compiled into a TAR archive. (“Mar11_90_ARCHIVE.tar.”)
On July 4, 1990-something, a group of teenage filmmakers are shooting a horror film of some kind when their camera operator, Kane, “noclips” into the Backrooms. He explores Level 0, is chased by a creature, jumps into Level 1, possibly sees Level 2, then finds a way back to Level 0. He is chased by the creature again and hides. While hiding, he finds a square hole in the ground. The creature finds him and pushes him down the hole. He emerges from the Backrooms back into reality, falling from a great height and smashing into the ground. His camera and footage survive, although he presumably does not. (“Backrooms (Found Footage).”)
On September 23, 1996, Kane’s footage is recovered by an unknown person. (“Backrooms (Found Footage).”)
But although we’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s happened so far, again, the story seems far from over; there’s still likely a long way to go when it comes to completing the narrative. But what we do have at this point does prompt some interesting questions — which, in turn, offer some suggestions of where the series might go as it continues.
Questions, Possible Answers, And The Future Of the Backrooms
The biggest question about this universe, of course, is whether Async created the Backrooms, or whether the Backrooms were pre-existing, with Async simply discovering them. I’m not the only person to have pondered this question; both MatPat of Game Theory and Nick Nocturne of Night Mind, for instance, brought up the same conundrum in their respective videos about this series.
My gut instinct is to lean towards the idea that the Backrooms already existed and that Async simply found out about them; there’s so much focus on doorways and egresses in the visual language of the series that I just keep getting the impression that Async is trying to open the door to something that’s already there, not that they’re trying to will something new into being.
Then again, though, the development of the “map” that just sort of… appears on Async’s computers following the completion of test number six in “First Contact” could be read either way: Either the area the map depicts already existed and Async, having successfully opened the door to it, have now been granted access to the map; or, the creation of the map also represents the creation of the space itself. MatPat noted that it looks a little bit like the map is (or is showing us something) procedurally generated, which would suggest that the whole thing — the Backrooms, the map, everything — is literally being born right then and there.
We don’t really know either way, yet — and it’s even possible that ultimately, it won’t really matter.
Then again, it might matter enormously.
So: Worth considering, I think.
A related question has to do with the creature seen in the original “Backrooms (Found Footage)” clip — which, interestingly, doesn’t appear in any of the other videos, although to my ears, some of the noises we hearing during Async’s third test sound quite similar to the noises the creature makes in “Found Footage.” The question is this: Did the creature already exist in the Backrooms? Or did Async somehow create the creature over the course of their experimentation?
What’s interesting to me here is that the answer to this question may not necessarily be the same as the answer to the question of whether Async created the Backrooms or found them. If Async created the Backrooms, they probably created the creature, too; however, if Async found the Backrooms, it’s possible that the creature already lived there when they found them — or that the creature came into being as a result of their tests. Furthermore, if the creature is a result of Async’s actions, it could have been either unintended or intentional.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s too likely that Async intentionally brought the creature to life; their goal, after all, was to make the Backrooms usable space, for storage and for living — which wouldn’t really be possible if there was a weird and hostile creature roaming the grounds.
Then again, that’s assuming Async was telling the truth about their intentions, which they may not have been. Heck, it’s even possible that Async may have created the being with the aim of having it function as staff within the space — something intended to provide service and aid to the humans utilizing the Backrooms.
The narrative I personally like the most is that Async discovered the Backrooms, have been trying to harness them for their own purposes, and have basically just mucked everything up by messing with things that weren’t theirs to control: They opened the Backrooms, but caused a huge earthquake in the process; their door to the Backrooms might be permanently open, but they’ve also ripped enough small spaces in reality that innocent, unwitting people keep slipping in and becoming trapped; their constant tests have inadvertently created a monster that stalks whoever might be unlucky to find themselves sliding into the Backrooms; and so on and so forth.
The most recent question to have occurred to me centers around whether some or all of what we’re seeing in the videos may have occurred not in our own timline, but in another timeline completely. The inclusion of that date — Feb. 29, 1990, a day that did not actually ever happen — in “Backrooms – Instructional Video” can’t have been an accident; as such, we have to ask why it was included. If Feb. 29, 1990 is a date that didn’t happen in our own, real-life timeline… does Async exist in a different one? And if so, is the entire story happening in that timeline — or just some of it? Heck, it doesn’t seem outside the realm of possiblity that Async could exist in one timeline, the fictional Kane from “Backrooms (Found Footage)” could exist in a different one — maybe our own, maybe not — and somehow, all timelines are capable of converging with the Backrooms.
And, lastly, I have some big picture questions about the framing of the story: Who, within the reality of this piece of storytelling, is putting all of this footage online? To what end? Where or how did they find or otherwise acquire the footage? What’s their relationship to Async, or any of the other major players in the series? What’s the ultimate goal of revealing all of this?
Those ones, I don’t have any answers to… yet.
I hope we’ll get them eventually, although given Parsons’ age, I imagine it’s likely that there will be gaps between uploads. (He’s a teenager, after all; he’s got school and stuff to keep him busy.)
I don’t know about you, but I’ll be here, waiting, ready to jump on them as soon as I can.
As long as I don’t end up noclipping somewhere without YouTube access, of course.
You never know, right?
[Photos via Kane Pixels/YouTube]