Purple Francis, a purple biker who hates everything, is the best and weirdest Left 4 Dead character you’ve never heard of. You could read all about him on the game’s wiki, but don’t be alarmed if you haven’t heard of him until just now because he doesn’t really exist..
Over the weekend of February 12, changes were secretly being made to the Left 4 Dead wiki. References to a character that didn’t exist in the game, Purple Francis, were being inserted into existent pages. According to Purple Francis’s now deleted page on the fan wiki, the character is quite notorious, beloved by not only Valve co-founder and president Gabe Newell but by former Mexican President Felipe Calderón.
Of course, Purple Francis, who is depicted as a purple tinted version of the real Left 4 Dead character Francis, does not exist. Like most great internet pranks and viral content, it comes from the brains of two bored and hilarious teenagers, Lucy and Evan. Lucy told Motherboard over Twitter direct messages that Purple Francis was at first a running joke between the two of them, and while bored during a virtual class one day they decided to unleash him on the world.
“It was Lucy’s idea,” Evan told Motherboard. “She said to me that she was gonna make a wiki page. I thought it was pretty funny at the time, so she just kinda logged in and I told her what to write.”
Lucy said that Evan knows Left 4 Dead inside and out, so integrating Purple Francis into the existing mythos wasn’t hard for them. Although all the changes to the Left 4 Dead wiki have now been reverted, Lucy and Evan inserted Purple Francis across multiple pages of the wiki. The character page for Francis was changed to say that he was “notable for his similarities to Purple Francis.” A small reference to Purple Francis was added to the page about the tie in comic book The Sacrifice. They even changed the character pages for each of the main characters to say that they were one of five, not four, playable main characters.
Fan wikis, any of which are hosted on the site Fandom, are repositories of information about video games compiled by the obsessive fans of those games. While that obsessiveness can help you out a lot when, say, you need to know the type weaknesses for the monsters that can kill you in one hit in the Persona series, they also can attract some strange personalities. In 2015, an editor for the Silent Hill fan wiki began inserting references to circumcision onto various pages. Purple Francis isn’t all that different from what happened there, although the editors of the Left 4 Dead wiki were able to identify and remove the references to our purple friend after a few days, after a tweet about Purple Francis went viral.
Because wikis can be edited by anyone, it makes them rife for internet jokes and pranks. A few of my dirtbag friends in high school vandalized the Wikipedia page for “invisible hand” to say “magical unicorn” in each instance of the phrase, though it was quickly reverted. Other kinds of jokes spread more widely, like when a Wikipedia vandal added the alternate title “Wax House, Baby” to the page for the 2005 Paris Hilton film Wax House, complete with a fake citation for the claim. This smaller, subtler change lasted longer than the more overt ones my friends did as teenagers. The idea that Wax House was ever called “Wax House, Baby” is apparently still a persistent hoax according to the discussion page for the article.
At this point, Lucy said people shouldn’t take Purple Francis as a signal to start vandalizing wikis, and she has asked other people to leave the Left 4 Dead fan wiki alone. For now, Purple Francis lives on in our hearts–and also an archived version of the page.
“Wikias are super easy to edit, for better or for worse. I just hopped around on noteable pages and slapped him on there,” Lucy said. “You can go crazy on them without people noticing for a while.”
“When you have a place with no security or little involvement with admins, it’s gonna get Purple Francis’d,” Evan said. “The best way you can do it is make it as believable as possible, like you’re gaslighting an entire payer base. That’s the main goal of Purple Francis, be funny and be believable.”