On the Old Internet, I was Destined for Greatness

My childhood heroes all had the first name “NOA”. They were the living, breathing avatars of Nintendo of America. And Nintendo was God, for all practical purposes. But like Jesus, they were simultaneously divine and human. NOAPaul was a tough guy. A real street thug, with a tongue ring and everything. NOATravis, he was your boyband jock. Oh, the envy. And NOAAmy… did you know that she played Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger? I did. Imagine it: a girl who played RPGs.

One day, I was going to be a Nintendo Power Cyberjock too. It was my highest aspiration. Forget astronauts and fire fighters. If Paul and Travis could become Nintendo of America, so could I. And maybe I would make Amy my wife, though she was a withering old spinster of 24.

At 11 years old, I was dedicated to my future career. To become a professional avatar of Nintendo, you had to really know your facts. I was already on the right track, because I owned all 84 issues of Nintendo Power magazine. The knowledge was at my fingertips, but it was vast… so I decided to cheat.

I booted up my Gateway 2000 386/25–it was mine in practice, since my mother finished college–and I headed straight to WordPerfect. If I could quickly search a game name and know exactly which issue and page to check for information… A month later, I possessed a complete index of the entire Nintendo Power catalog. And you thought you were a lame kid.

But there I was, equipped for battle. Ask me about a game. I dare you. I had it down to a science. I could look up a relevant article and spit out an answer within a minute, and Nintendo of America would never know that I cheated. They would think I was just that good. I sent in my job application right then and there, along with a crayola masterpiece of Samus Aran battling Ridley.

I didn’t get the job, but that was probably for the best, since we did not actually subscribe to dial-up internet for another six months and “Cyberjocks” worked online. A minor technicality. Still, I kept Nintendo Power Issue 84 close at hand.

The fame. The glory. The honor.

*Section removed due to copyright issues. They were compressed scans of an out of print magazine spread welcoming you to the Nintendo Loud House with some amazingly dorky-looking staff members striking a pose.*

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My first actual experience on http://www.nintendo.com, some time in 1996, was overwhelming. I had waited so long for this. Line by line, the pixels of that jpeg unfurled in slow motion. “Nintendo Power Source”. “Welcome to www.nintendo.com”. I was there. And it was wonderful.

Nintendo.com was a disorganized sea of information that you could spend all day exploring (especially on a 14.4k modem). There was a frame up top filled with totally nondescript or misleading images that would link you to different parts of the site, and each of those sections had its own upper frame of links. They could take you anywhere. The internet had no rules yet, you see. For instance, there was a really buried subsection called the “N-List” that linked all kinds of random fan sites totally unmoderated by Nintendo, mostly hosted on Geocities. As a consequence, through Nintendo.com you discovered such wonders as this flattering photo of the founder of popular present-day gaming website RPGamer:


Ultimately though, I went to the Loud House. That was where the NOA gods resided. To get there, I had to travel underground, down an elevator shaft that consisted of scrolling really far in a narrow frame to the left. If I thought the main site enormous, the Loud House was madness. They had a proto-forum–everyone still called them bulletin board systems then, though it was not an authentic BBS–where topics appeared in a single endless list set to a fire-engine red background with the texture of an aluminum tool box. Damn was it beautiful.

I knew there had to be at least a few dozen RPG fans out there besides myself and NOAAmy, but I never predicted this. The realization that I could be a part of a secret society of hundreds of Square(soft) aficionados must have waylaid my dreams of working for Nintendo for a time, because I don’t remember doing anything but theorycrafting Final Fantasy III (sic) for the next few months. I would spend every school bus ride studying my official players guide, looking for minute typographical errors that could be exploded into radical theories to share with my peers. I actually killed 4,000 dinosaurs in that forest near the Veldt in the false hope of resurrecting General Leo.

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Eventually the forums changed, and so did I. They became more manageable and subdivided into “boards”. Me, I became 12, and that meant responsibility. I couldn’t just be another anonymous Joe researching Final Fantasy VI anymore, aging in obscurity as fame and fortune passed me by. I needed to get back to my dreams, and that required becoming involved in the social community. So I did what anyone would have done back then to turn the page: I changed my name.

That was a principle of the Old Internet that runs totally counter to modern social media culture and may have culminated with 4chan and the birth of Anonymous–the hactivist organization that never actually existed yet frequented headline news throughout 2008. You were really empowered to dictate how a community perceived you. You could completely ‘reset’ your identity at the click of a button, experimenting with different personas until you found one that jived with the community. Nintendo Power even encouraged this behavior in Issue 72:

So died BobaFett207, and a new entity dove into the RPGs board with a mission to earn the unrivaled respect and adoration of its citizens. (His mom also lifted the half hour limit on web browsing, so he actually had time to read replies and stuff.)

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What I found was appalling. My plans were immediately surmounted by a more pressing issue. The release of Final Fantasy VII was rapidly approaching, and people were actually discussing the Playstation.

The Playstation. The Sony Playstation, in what would one day be my Nintendo kingdom. These were the filthy traitors who planned to endorse Squaresoft’s debauchery, and they had to be destroyed. I charged head-first, furious and uncaring of the consequences. “JERK!” “IDIOT!” “HOW COULD U!” I let the hatred flow through me, channeling it into dozens of single-sentence replies, until a thread title appeared that gave me pause. It said “ATTN: SHADOW 4000”. That was me! Registered only one day, and my new identity was already known to the community! The post, no doubt, would praise me for my heroic defense of truth and the Nintendo 64.

It did. This was where, in retrospect, things got weird. I wasn’t banned by a forum moderator, or even told to shut up. No, I was invited to join the NES Knights–a legion of warriors who, like me, vowed to fight against the evils of the Sony Playstation. I was promptly recruited and informed that we were at war with the Freedom Knights, who had organized to defend forum-goers’ rights to enjoy non-Nintendo products.

I earned my first stripes when the PSX Invaders came to town. They were a band of ruffians that would show up every few weeks and ravage the RPGs board by posting hundreds of threads titled “N64 SUX”, “PSX 4 LIFE”, etc. Certain that I could stop the incessant barrage of spam posts, I set a clever trap. “ATTN: PSX INVADERS” the thread title ran, and when they clicked it… BAM! “***FIRE LANCE X***” As I am sure you expected, this worked phenomenally. Two invaders stopped spamming and engaged me with their own barrage of attacks. I parried them as best I could, while fellow forum-goers engaged them similarly in other threads. The battle was long and bloody, but we were victorious.

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I had found my true calling. Every evening, after school, I would log on to the Loud House RPGs board and train with my allies or engage rival groups. I even started my own, which amassed over 100 members. This was clearly my best route to becoming an official Nintendo-employed Cyberjock… while that dream lasted. It all came crashing down on Thanksgiving Day 1997. Nintendo deleted the Loud House.

And in its place, they created NSider. NSider was ugly, stupid, and it featured Diddy Kong instead of Fulgore.


Worst of all, by far, they renamed my precious board “Other RPGs”. Other! Lesser! Inconsequential! And why? The only reasonable explanation was to emphasize the Zelda board. Practically in tears, I called my RPGs brothers to arms. The Zelda board must pay. That war would last for weeks, because the Zelda board was well organized under the Zelda Alliance. (This same game had been going on there all along, despite there being almost no overlap in users.)

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As it turned out, the game was not just an RPGs board thing or a Nintendo.com thing, but a common trend throughout the internet. As we transitioned away from NSider to Geocities and forum hosts like VantageNet and InsideTheWeb, we encountered more of the same everywhere. It was as if thousands of kids were dumped into an empty field and told: “Play. No one is watching.” You will never find a Wayback Machine record of the bizarre, seemingly pandemic consequences, but if you were socially engaged in the 90s internet before high school, you probably belonged to some sort of guild.

I tended to see a change in people when they got to be 13 or 14, and the game for them might transition into an interactive story. These were shared universe worlds in which participants would write a collaborative fiction story through their individual characters’ perspectives. It wasn’t RP, but rather a real (poorly written and highly derivative) novel, and it could go on for years. The one that began on the Loud House RPGs board amassed thousands of pages (which were archived). Alternatively, the game would evolve into cyberbullying. Account security was non-existent and cracking tools were a dime a dozen on Yahoo!. A lot of sites also used forms to password protect their content, and the redirect link was usually embedded right in the HTML code. As a high school freshman, you were too “mature” to pretend you were a wizard anymore, so you pretended you were a 1337 hacker instead. It was not uncommon to see a Geocities site vanish over night, replaced by “Conquered by” so-and-so. My first email address got hijacked. It was actually kind of stressful.

But that was the 90s internet as I remember it. …Am I supposed to inject some sort of closing point or moral here?

Clint Eastwood’s Chair

Politics constitute an indomitable itch for those of us inclined to discuss them. This is not a post about politics. This is a post about Clint Eastwood’s chair.

Clint Eastwood’s chair was first made known to me at about 3:30 this afternoon. I know, I’m behind the times. At my ripe old age of 27 it’s hard to keep up with the world. But I made that perilous journey to youtube, and with, I am proud to say, no great difficulty, I procured a mouse cursor in a blank textbox, from whence my journey began.

Arriving at my destination, and bearing witness the public oration there displayed, I found myself not at all befuddled or amused by an old man’s rant. Quite the contrary, I thought it a reasonably clever comedy sketch in consideration of his age, chuckled at his tongue-in-cheek endorsement (which amounted to little more than a ‘lesser of two evils’ vote), and felt inclined to comment on his behalf. Then my troubles set in.

I was caught off guard. The text below the video bombarded me like an artillery barrage, every 10 seconds a new string of demented rambling surpassing all of my direst expectations for the video at hand:

“LOL do you just make shit up? California well off? LOL just keep making shit up your boy will gone in November.” (kEMCO2)


“You’re an idiot. You’re going to get old to you moron. Old age has nothing to do with dementia. People become deranged at 35, look at your hero Obama, he is as stupid as they get.” (DonDraperism)

“Ask the ones that OUR military freed and saved! Your a pansy and have no clue! Your part of the reason we’re in the shape we are!” (bessedchevy20)

“LOL. congratz u have been brainwashed” (bobilo95)

And I realized something.

I realized something terrible.

My internet was gone.

It was gone. It was dead. The shroud tailor measured it for a deep six holiday.

I didn’t believe it at first. I panicked, frantically hammering out search terms into Google, but no relief was in sight. I turned to Gogloom, dear old friend, but its springs too had run dry; IRC, my last vestige of hope, failed me.

And I thought maybe, just maybe, this tragic loss and the verbal assault upon Clint Eastwood’s chair were somehow related.

I was born and raised on the internet. I remember when we first got dial-up in 1996. I passed the tender age of 11 sharing insightful comments much akin to those I experienced today, only geared to my youthful interests. “LOL u dont even know ff3 is rly ff6 and u wasted $200 on a PSX even tho ff7s gonna suck NINTENDO FOR LIFE” Ah, such fond memories. A prodigy no doubt, I learned quickly to curb my intellectual idioms to placate the masses, adapting to the drudgery of coherent English in my teenage years and beyond. Was it some cruel twist of fate that now finds me linguistically isolated from the very internet users for whom I learned to converse? All I wanted to do was talk about Clint Eastwood’s chair.

The fact of the matter is the internet no longer functions as an outlet for sharing free thought. Oh, I am “sharing” my thoughts here, with the four or five of you who happen to read this, but should you choose to respond you will do so in the form of a comment, in reply to my post which I moderate. I am in charge here, and that means I am not really intimately engaging with anyone. These WordPress blogs completely lack an equal playing field for discussion, but they’re ideal for sharing one’s opinion with the wind. We’re all special. We all have a voice. Here’s mine.

That’s the state of WordPress. That’s the state of Facebook. That’s the state of Twitter, I suppose. I don’t use the latter two, frankly because the notion of making an isolated personal statement bores me save on rare occasions such as these. I post here because all of my previous outlets have slowly withered away. Are new outlets out there? I suppose there’s 4chan. The launch of /r9k/ encompasses some of my fondest memories of the internet, specifically due to the brief period of intellectual discussion it spawned. Coincidentally coinciding with the launch of Project Chanology, it generated countless debates on the political and social impacts of anonymity and collective thought, perhaps culminating in a collective realization of and expansion upon the notion of Stand Alone Complex (Ghost in the Shell). We were each participants, debating and trolling in turn, in the very social experiment we were conducting. It was a grand culmination of everything I loved about the internet in the 1990s and 2000s, but it was indeed a culmination–an end–because complacency and the totality of its form of anonymity rendered it non-sustainable. I remember acknowledging that at the time, and feeling as though my online world was passing away even as it stood resplendent in its most accomplished form.

And so it did. It took me four years to admit it, but the internet is dead. The pathways and connections through which such experiments as /r9k/ emerged as hubs for collective contemplation (a great majority of us, myself included, were not active 4chan members, and that fact was pivotal to elements of the discussion) dried up into defunct forums and dead irc channels. Our mutual file-sharing ties, the final tether, were severed by delayed but decisive corporate rationality headed by the likes of Apple and Netflix. The generation-spanning cultivation of anonymity was wiped clean and even culturally discredited by Facebook, with present-day internet users lavishly emblazoning their identity upon all electronic activity. The collective internet mind dispersed into relegated pockets. I am now an individual, and I despise that fact.

I wanted to talk about Clint Eastwood’s chair, but I couldn’t. I could tell a few people about it. I’m not really doing so at the moment, but I could. I could also scream at the wall, as so many youtube users of voting age are doing right now. And indeed, they’re relatively anonymous. Chloe Smith and blessedchevy20 will certainly never know that I read their banter, and, though I could probably trace down their thorough identities with easy today, apathy preserves them. But they aren’t engaging anything. Their ‘thoughts’, if what they wrote even amounts to thinking, involved not but petty rebuttals to the most recent of 12,000 comments, by now surely buried behind thousands more. The /r9k/ ideal, of thoughtful engagement under the shroud of total anonymity, was short-lived. Perhaps it carries on in some diminished form. But the long-sustained anonymous community is what we’ve truly lost. The modestly sized forum; the casual irc channel; the self-contained communities where one could engage under independent but locally consistent identities: it’s their loss that we now suffer.

Would so many adults scream at the wall if they had any alternative? In an age where everyone has access to the internet, would we be so simultaneously excitable and yet devoid of well-formed opinions if we had any means of discussion? I can talk here and hope you hear me. I can shout on youtube knowing you won’t. In neither medium am I well positioned to receive an intelligible response by an identity in equal social standing. You’re either on my turf or in the combat zone with barely time to breathe before taking aim. And even if the spirit of youtube calmed down a bit, what can you meaningfully say in 500 characters?

I don’t want to talk about Clint Eastwood’s chair anymore. I was going to say some silly crap about a metaphor for lack of political leadership that would sound corny as hell but would spark up some discussion. But I can’t do that here, because as an editor I’m in charge and that means I have to maintain boundaries. And there’s no point in doing it anywhere else. I guess I’ll just go back to playing Warcraft, maybe discuss the new expertise cap or auction house inflation. In the absence of loosely-moderated discussion boards and public chats those seem to be the approachable topics we have left on the internet.