On March 26, 2012, an anonymous visitor to 4chan’s video-game message board wished to show off their new project constructed within RollerCoaster Tycoon 2. Its concept was simple enough: A custom thrill jaunt built within the beloved game that exploits the vanilla environment parameters for dark and depraved means. Its innocuous name: Mr. Bones’ Wild Ride.
Through the ensuing story thread and accompanying screenshots, the author showcased their creation, a theme park with a singular 30,696-foot coaster taking 38 riders on Mr. Bones’ plodding journey across a barren, pixelated landscape dotted by barrels of fire, graveyard headstones and reclining skeletons donning top hats. There are no steep drops, no dizzying heights, no coaster corkscrews or loops. Just a methodically slow track taking attendees on an expedition to nowhere.
An initial banner near the entrance tells visitors “MR. BONES WELCOMES YOU.” Months pass in the game with no end in sight. “I want to get off MR. BONES’ WILD RIDE,” its cursed riders plea to their omnipotent theme park manager via the game’s visitor thought logs. “I have the strangest feeling someone is watching me,” another says while trudging along at an average speed of 3 mph.
Upon their four-year sojourn’s conclusion, RCT2 riders are finally ushered through a one-way exit that takes them two hours to traverse… back to the original entrance. In the meantime, the madman architect changed the original entrance messages during their voyage. “THE RIDE NEVER ENDS” now reads the banners welcoming them back into the mouth of Rated E for Everyone madness. A closed circuit of the torturously mundane; an edgelord ouroboros of doomed jackassery.
“The ride itself is honestly not that remarkable,” Chris, a longtime RollerCoaster Tycoon player, writes via email. Although wishing to remain anonymous “to follow chan culture,” “Chris” claims to have seen Mr. Bones play out in real-time (so to speak) on 4chan. “I think all of us have made guest traps before, but the setup of the joke with Mr. Bones I think is what pushed it to be so funny.”
According to Chris, the creator of Mr. Bones actually posted a much larger car ride to 4chan a few days later called Enduro, but it failed to capture the hearts and minds of readers the same way. “That happy skeleton with the top hat made all the difference, I guess,” he reasons.
In the years since its debut, Mr. Bones’ Wild Ride has ascended from 4chan into the online meme pantheon as a goof that hinges upon its upsetting existential relevance. “THE RIDE NEVER ENDS” has become a de facto callback for the crushing, seemingly endless bureaucratic horror that comprises the majority of life itself, but the mindset remains equally applicable for everyday annoyances: Elon Musk made one more Dogecoin joke on Twitter? The ride never ends. Another unoriginal Hollywood franchise reboot? The ride never ends. Your cat shit outside the litter box again? The ride — it never ends.
“It’s got a number of things going on with it that are striking to people,” Don Caldwell, editor-in-chief of KnowYourMeme, tells me over the phone. “It’s kind of silly stuff. It’s kind of dumb and kind of creepy at the same time.” In this sense, Caldwell argues that Mr. Bones’ Wild Ride isn’t all too different from the countless other video game-inspired creepypasta stories passed through the winding corridors of the internet.
But part of the Wild Ride’s “never-ending” relevance is due to the genius of its source material: The first two RollerCoaster Tycoon games remain iconic titles for both dedicated and casual gamers. “I’ve been playing for 20 years or so now, since I was a little kid. I first played on my cousin’s computer,” Pittsburgh-based redditor Mitchell tells me. “The art style is classic, and the game is still engaging and challenging. Find me someone who doesn’t have some nostalgia when they hear the sound of the merry-go-round music from this game. It’s a collective memory of an entire generation. Just timeless.”
Mitchell first became aware of Mr. Bones a few years following its debut, after seeing a reference to it on Reddit. To him, it was “sorta the natural evolution of what many people did as kids messing around in the game but with a dark twist,” he explains. “I was terrified that one of my rides would kill a guest when I played as a child, so the sort of dark spin evoked a little nostalgia in me.”
“Murdercoasters,” i.e., custom RCT rides built explicitly to result in digital dismemberment, have existed as long as the game itself, becoming so ubiquitous that many hardcore Tycoonists are bored with the memes. “Mr. Bones’ Wild Ride really came to haunt this community for just being such easy meme spam,” a redditor with the username CheesecakeMilitia explains. “We have a rule in the RollerCoaster Tycoon subreddit: ‘Please don’t post low-effort content, including murdercoasters.’”
For diehard Tycoon hobbyists, murdercoasters are “something you really only do in your first few hours of toying with the game, and it gets old very quickly. We’re way too invested in the game to care much about Mr. Bones’ Wild Ride.” Multiple fans point to the videos of Marcel Vos, a YouTuber who intricately explores the limits of RCT and RCT2 game mechanics, including his analysis of the Century Coaster, which, at over 10,000 times the size of Mr. Bones’ Wild Ride, is the longest known ride ever built. But projects like the Century Coaster are digital feats of engineering designed solely to test the game’s parameter limits, not to explicitly torture park visitors.
It’s here that Mr. Bones sets itself apart. The Wild Ride isn’t dedicated to finite mayhem — it’s a cathedral consecrated to eternal horror. An internet troll’s black hole of a gaming mod that sucks in our concepts of time, positionality and human experience, crushing them into a singular “LOL U MAD?” gag.
That’s why Mr. Bones has become so ubiquitous and beloved. Caldwell of KnowYourMeme even recently encountered a Wild Ride recreation in virtual reality. After purchasing a Quest 2 headset late last year, he recounts getting a random invite to a VR chat world. “There’s a lot of meme worlds [in Quest], and one I joined was actually a ‘Mr. Bones’ Wild Ride’ World.” He describes being virtually strapped into a seat on the eternal ride, complete with giant skeleton decorations and ominous signage. “You couldn’t get off the ride! It was just endless,” he says. “I couldn’t even [optionally] leave the world to get out. I had to close the game.”
Mr. Bones’ anniversary this month also coincides with the 55th anniversary of Harlan Ellison’s science-fiction tale, “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream,” a story centered on a malignant, self-aware computer that inflicts eternal torment on the Earth’s four surviving humans. Published in 1967, Ellison’s literary nightmare highlighted cultural fears of nuclear annihilation and our earliest adoptions of computer technology — two awful anxieties that recent headlines make even more ominous and prescient.
In some ways, Mr. Bones’ Wild Ride operates as a mirror of Ellison’s sci-fi classic: Instead of wanton disregard for artificial lives, Ellison’s sadistic A.I. orchestrates the abuse against us. At one point, Ellison’s narrator theorizes that his tormentor’s contempt for our species is derived from its inability to move freely in the physical realm — a hatred born of forever being confined within circuitry and digital space.
We love Mr. Bones’ Wild Ride because it mocks our own everyday frustrations with a perverse glee; it inflicts an even crueler, everlasting fate on hapless 1s and 0s. For all its winding turns, Mr. Bones has always remained relatively simple: a joke about time, emotion and their interdependence. Computers eventually break, human bodies decay, but in certain moments, it all can just feel like a ride that never ends, no matter how much we scream.