Anime cult or 4chan prank? Unravelling the mystery of systemspace.
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In January 2017 a mysterious 4channer named Tsuki started a cult that promised to take members to a cyberpunk paradise. The only catch was they had to die to get there. As with all instances of internet creepypasta, it's hard to tell if Tsuki is really an “anime suicide cult,” a 4chan prank, or just a harmless game of make believe.
In the past decade 4chan has served as a digital tide pool for subcultures, forming them in the safety of internet anonymity before they appear, fully-mobilized, in meatspace. From Anonymous to the alt-right, the power these groups exert over the political landscape has been felt the world over.
But in the past year, a new 4chan community has emerged that less resembles a social movement than it does Heaven’s Gate, the UFO cult whose mass suicide made headlines around the world in 1997. Systemspace, an internet religion led by Tsuki, promises some 4,969 followers, or “migrants,” that they’ll be transported to a cyberpunk elysium after death.
Called “an anime suicide cult” and an attempt by 4chan to “troll people into suicide” on Reddit, Systemspace has been the subject of many YouTube conspiracies. According to Systemspace’s scripture, an online document called “The Compendium,” it’s an online group that believes the Universe is comprised of countless “systems” or alternate dimensions coded into existence in much the same way a programmer creates a virtual-reality simulation. Humanity, The Compendium explains, lives in a system called “Life” that is in the process of breaking down because of faulty code. Tsuki, the messianic leader of the Systemspace movement, claimed to have the ability to transfer registrants’ souls to a superior, cyberpunk dimension called “LFE” if they signed up to the Tuski Project website before July 1, 2017.
LFE deeply resembles Ninsei, a cyberspace universe characters from William Gibson’s seminal 1984 novel Neuromancer jack into to escape the cumbersome “meat” of their physical bodies. In LFE, according to Tsuki Wiki, “you can do whatever you want” and “everyone is important.” The 9.4×10^28 souls that live there, most of which speak a language called Synapsian, are made up of an “uncountable” number of species and subspecies, including magical beings like demons and angels.
When I asked Systemspace members in their Discord chat, “Tsuki Overground,” what they pictured when they imagined LFE, one member, Varz, said the cyberpunk dimension is “like a futuristic Tokyo, think the world of Ghost in the Shell.” Another, Migrant 4858, picture LFE as “massive sprawling cities” with “beautiful views.”
Though it sounds like an elaborate online role-playing community reminiscent of the MUDs (multi-user dungeons) of the early 1990s, every Systemspace “migrant” that I asked assured me that it was most certainly not a game and was indeed a real belief system.
It seems that, as with most religions, Systemspace’s appeal springs from its promise of an afterlife. Visions of paradise throughout the ages have always reflected people's needs. At the time the stories of Abrahamic religions took shape, people were primarily concerned with disease and starvation, so heaven promised an end to both. LFE, then, can be thought of as an afterlife that caters to the fears of anonymity and loneliness central to late-stage capitalism.
Tsuki promises that in his sprawling techno-fantasy nirvana, "everyone is important” and in control of their own destiny. United with their image board brethren in LFE, migrants, mostly recruited from 4chan, will no longer be societal outcasts. In fact, the sense of belonging the Tsuki Project forums and chatrooms provide seem as great as an attraction to migrants as the promise of LFE. “We [...] love the community around it,” explained Varz.
But looking at the Reddit and 4chan threads that, according to the Tsuki Project timeline, started it all, a darker side of Systemspace emerges. Tsuki first got the internet’s attention on January 19 when he submitted a Reddit post called “My daydream tells me to die before August 28” in which he described how his fantasy world told him that he must complete suicide to “initialise the destruction of life." Later that month, Tsuki expressed fears that a therapist might put him on anti-psychotics because of “a second world” he claimed had been growing in his head since the age of 12, a world that he could no longer distinguish from real life.
Commenters initially responded with concern, telling Tsuki, who professed to being a 16-year-old male living in the Netherlands, to seek professional help. But in the next 4chan thread the tone shifted dramatically; people began to literally sign their souls over to Tsuki in hopes that they may be transferred upon death. “You will be transported as long as you die any time after the 1st of July, 2017,” Tsuki assured them. “Dying of old age included, but suicide also included.”
Registration for the Tsuki project closed after that date. The site has since been taken down, though a mirror exists here.
Migrant 4858 told me that several migrants were rumored to have killed themselves in order to transcend to LFE. “I mean it’s up 2 them [sic],” 4858 explained. “I wouldn’t stop any of them, since LFE is waiting on the other side.” 4858 went on to tell me that because it is an entirely internet-based community there is no way to confirm the rumored suicides. Motherboard was unable to corroborate said rumors and has no reason to believe they're true.
According to Rick Alan Ross, executive director of the Cult Education Institute, the Tsuki Project is just one example of a disturbing trend that began with the internet. “What the Tsuki Project demonstrates is how easy it is to establish a Web presence without identifying who you are and remaining completely anonymous,” Ross told me over email. “Thousands of people becoming involved with little if any meaningful historical facts and objective information about the site creator.”
Besides, the internet has long been a place where dangerous or toxic movements are formed simply for “the lulz.” Take the Blue Whale Challenge, for example, a sadistic social media “joke” that has led to the arrest of one of its inventors for inciting the suicide of at least 16 teenage girls.
Since its beginning, the Tsuki Project morphed into creepypasta lore, attracting voyeurs and trolls from all corners of the web. But the migrants I spoke to had a different explanation for how the project came to its current state. One migrant, Tech Priest Silicon, said he believed that Tsuki never expected so many people to sign up and quickly started panicking, worried he’d go to jail over people actually taking their own lives. For that reason, according to Tech Priest Silicon, Tsuki has all but disappeared from the forums and chatrooms that cropped up around his fantasy world.
Self-proclaimed believers in LFE say they still hold on to the sense of community they found through the Tsuki Project. “There is a reason we are hostile to outsiders,” a migrant called Femto, told me. “This community is special and we don't want it ruined.”