We Will All Go Together When We Go
Updated: Apr 30, 2022
Culture & Community
The folks who come together within the world wide web are like any other gathering of humanity; subject to inevitable cycles of growth and decline. All good things must come to an end, after all. Whether they be corporations, nation-states, or neighborhood watch committees, the inevitable rise and fall will be equally earth-shaking to those involved. When an organization becomes your whole world, even if it’s just a bunch of dorks writing spooky stories on the internet, the fall must become the end of the world. Those inside the system will do anything within their power to protect it even if they don’t know how or why. As natural as death is, those subject to the reaper will grind themselves to dust trying to stave off the inexorable.
An unthinkable possibility that must be avoided at all costs? Hardly. Dr. Manhattan was wrong when he said that nothing ever ends. All good things must come to an end for them to remain good, lest they be forced into becoming parodies of themselves in a vain attempt to perpetuate their relevance. It might seem like a specific confic community is being referred to here but this is applicable to all human endeavors. After all, what goes up must come down. To paraphrase something a fat ghost once said, if you try too hard to fart you often end up taking a dump in your pants. This might be considered a guide on avoiding that fate but this is a descriptive work, not prescriptive. There is no way out, for the pact is already sealed upon the initiation rites performed by the Administrator when bringing containment fiction to WikiDot. This genre too will die someday, once those who once wrote for it become the dust of the Earth.
But what of this pact? Was there any chance to avert this before it was sealed? Absolutely. The first stage is the primordial one, although in confic’s case there is a more specific pool of ooze from whence the first authors crawled from. We are now, of course, going to talk about 4chan. Before there was KiwiFarms, before the alt-right stormed the web to create an alternative ecosystem for the worst people you know to share the stupidest ideas imaginable, there was only 4chan. A lawless post-web 1.0 wasteland hosting content only a fool would take for true facts. So therefore we can say that all confic communities take some of their initial characteristics, their opening moves, from this space. Whether they evolve to be a million miles away or stay within viewing distance of 4chan’s glass-bottomed boats, they all came from the same cultural milieu. There is a good reason for this, but one will leave to the reader to ponder. For now.
This was a place where no taboo was off-limits, where anything could fly, and where in 2006 the original SCP-173 was posted for the first time by moto42. It wasn’t anything much at first, but a few people were struck by it and began writing fiction of their own. Among this initial crop of writers are those who now exist in the halls of legend. Not just the ones we know like DrGears or FritzWillie. Nameless authors who contributed works that have endured the test of time. The people responsible for injecting confic into the online cultural zeitgeist. Forming up like the first protons and electrons and synthesizing atomic nuclei. Whether writers in the present like it or not, this is where it all began.
While the modern incarnation of SCP might like to act like it alone can rise above its origin, but other communities can't, they are fooling only themselves. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging your roots, it doesn’t mean you are like them. The Backrooms also emerged from 4chan, although not for a baker’s dozen years hence from SCP. Between them, there was the RPC Authority which technically did not originate on 4chan, but that was where it was announced, and the acceleration of its growth was made real. So, a humble imageboard can count creating the genre of containment fiction and inspiring its most well-known examples multiple times over among the many feathers internet pioneers on 4chan continue to put in their hat. SomethingAwful and tumblr are cultural afterthoughts but 4chan lives on strong. There may well be reason to expect more containment fiction to burst forth in the future. Why not? It’s already happened three times in sixteen years. That’s once every six years. If the math carries, that means that by 2025 there will be a new player jumping into the pool. Who they may be is a mystery now, even to them, but we shall see if they emerge or if the trifecta from 4chan will be their lasting contribution.
It is worthwhile to spend time dwelling on this point for a spell. What is it about 4chan which has made it a driving cultural force for the world wide web? The website itself has been known since basically its inception as one of the ‘worst’ places on the internet, where you were as likely to be traumatized as intrigued by the contents. But perhaps that edginess was part of their allure. One hallmark of humanity across time and space, history and fiction, is that we are prone to doing that which we are told we ought not be doing. So it is with 4chan. As much as people might hold up their noses at it they can’t help but look. Even if they don’t know it or would hope to deny it, these cultural tendrils reaching out from the 4chan servers through their computer screens and into their eyeballs before finally nesting in the viewer’s mind, these ideas are influencing them whether they like it or not. So it could be the rubbernecking car crash effect wherein those who are looking and seeing make the traffic behind them back up, so that even if you wouldn’t naturally be inclined to stare you are left with little choice, unless you’re making the conscious choice to avoid it. Even then, if you’re doing your best to look away, it doesn’t change the fact that everyone else’s rubbernecking is going to delay your day and cost you time. Whether you look or not, whether you want to be there or not, you’re there and you are being affected.
So 4chan’s punching over its weight when it comes to influencing other online communities and spinning-off a dizzying quantity of outside communities comes down to the fact that folks just can’t look away from the train wreck. They succeed at being influential without trying, without central control, not in spite of being awful but because they are awful. If they cleaned up their act, nobody would care about what their goings-on were. They would become just like everybody else. Instead, the free reign of free speech leads to the ideas which might otherwise fall to the guillotine of good taste can flourish and meet their fullest potential. At least that’s the rosiest possible interpretation. If one were less positively inclined towards channers they might denounce this wretched hive of scum and villainy as being a cancerous tumor killing civility online. But if it weren’t 4chan it would be someone else. There is no central control orchestrating 4chan’s activities. Anonymous isn’t sending anons marching orders. It’s a reflection of humanity at our best and our worst.
So what is it about 4chan that’s making it a factory specifically for containment fiction? The conditions we listed above are impactful but they could be applied broadly to any of the many spin-offs who have launched themselves from 4chan in an effort to get as far away from the other anons as possible. It’s probably the free-flowing nature of the site, especially on the section of the site made for ‘anything-goes’ type content: /b/. When one person makes something new there’s a ready repository of people ready to copy, reproduce, and remix their work. The anonymity of the website means the users, the anons, have free reign to do what they like. In 2006, 2018, and 2019, they liked containment fiction and wrote a whole lot. These anons are pioneers who should be saluted for brewing the batch that allowed for the cream’s floating to the top. We would not have any of the amazing works of containment fiction seen today were it not for these early anons making stories they didn’t expect to last or to have impact beyond the immediate gratification of creating something their fellow anons would enjoy. The posters in any of these days, especially in 2006 or 2019, had no reason to expect things to blow up the way they did; a stark contrast to the containment fiction of today.
So, in brief: the Anon stage of confic community development is the origin point of nearly every containment fiction community of note. They are able to form an initial core of writers through sharing of anonymous texts. However, this format is inherently limiting on top of the creative limits posed by writing under any format. 4chan threads are highly ephemeral, they disappear almost as soon as they are created. Even those with loads of interaction and engagement eventually hit a limit on how large they can grow and are swept into the dustbin of 4chan. So what is to be done?
This is when the Editorial stage comes into play, the second phase of confic community development. Once there is a core of dedicated writers working together they inevitably come to the conclusion that posting on a website not dedicated to their craft where any rando can drop in to disrupt the proceedings is less than ideal. It’s just too crowded and not everyone is into it. A space to call their own is necessary. For SCP, their Editorial Stage brought them to EditThis. For the RPC Authority it was WikiDot, where they remain to this day. Backrooms had their Fandom origins, of which that effort is still ongoing, even as their creative works are outpaced by the products being created on the WikiDot site, Backrooms Tech Support. These disparate efforts all had the same singular goal, getting away from the stinky non-confic people so that they could focus on refining their craft. Each one was wildly successful in this endeavor.
While the primordial works created during the anon phase have their merits and are undoubtedly excellent in many cases this doesn’t mean that what came later, building on top of it, isn’t unquestionably better. All of these groups got much, much better at their jobs once they were no longer beholden to channer culture. Without being distracted by a million little things they were much more easily able to figure out what about their format set it apart and focus on improving that. This didn’t come immediately or easily as the initial choice of platform may prove to have been chosen poorly, a zero-day and potentially indelible mistake. The SCP and Backrooms communities learned this the hard way, with the latter having to deal with a schism within their community that left some of their members behind to work on the Fandom site; although the relationship between them is not acrimonious, even if it is a bit condescending from the WikiDot end of the equation.
It is miles removed from the relationship between the SCP and RPC Wikis wherein the former would prefer the latter cease to exist at any given moment. The RPC Authority is an interesting case for even though the Anon Stage took place on 4chan like the others, it was not done by random chance but specifically with the intent of creating an “SCP-Killer” confic community to steal their thunder. If this had gone down in the era prior to the Containment Breach video game phenomenon, when SCP was much smaller and didn’t have an endless barrel of manpower to draw on for replacing lost writers, they may have succeeded. But they didn’t, so they won't.
Yet, they persisted in writing for the sheer joy of it. This is the true joy that can be gleaned from writing confic, creating something within limits that your fellow humans can enjoy with full thorough sincerity. This is why though SCP-682 is unfortunately considered to be ‘woefully outdated’ by modern SCP Wiki ‘standards’ it continues to resonate with a wide audience beyond the elite power-users of the SCP Wiki, much to the chagrin of said folk. Any given community's elite look down their noses at where they came from, they demean the works of their forefathers for they do not understand where they have come from. They can only see things in the immediate term. Unfortunately for those who are spending time on the SCP Wiki there is no possibility of effective long term planning. The staff are not detached enough from the material elements of their community to do anything but tilting at windmills of their own creation. This might be what the final stage looks like, the end is inertia. When all the best, good, and decent ideas have been had there's nothing left to do but be absorbed into the wider popular culture.
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