What Makes a Confic Organization a Confic Organization?
Culture & Community
by Dr "Blake" Pierson & Lack of Lepers
"Reality is stranger than fiction." This familiar quote can surely resonate amongst those operating within a containment fiction universe, who despite being fiction themselves, would surely regard their reality as stranger than their fiction. Yet, the reality across all communities of containment fiction, these sorts of multiverses — be it SCP, RPC, Chaos Insurgency, Wayward Society, etc — all seem to have a central containment organization at heart.
This begs the question; are these organizations essential to containment fiction? Are their features necessary? What are those features specifically? Which are the necessary building blocks of a confic organization? Size? Resources? Insight into a world of anomalous phenomena? What if we approach the question from the opposite side; what qualities from containment organizations can be taken away and it still be a containment organization?
We will attempt to answer this question in this article, and explore where we can go and still technically be a containment fiction organization. The discussion has larger implications for what containment fiction is. Definitionally here, you could say we are containing containment fiction orgs.
The Age of Discovery was a pinnacle period for our species as we stepped abound from our home and journeyed into the unknown; the unknown which contains great riches that are a grasp away, but came with cautionary warnings of great dangers; oceanic monsters, or a fall from the edge of the world. This of course, is the crux of the well-known in-universe statement from the SCP Foundation Administrator.
But as we explored and understood better how the world revolved, the greater fear from the unknown slowly dwindled from sound judgment into absurdity. As humanity progressed further into the modern era, creatures and unexplained phenomena practically were unsubstantiated by the scientific community, unless severely proven otherwise.
However, the fundamental concept of the unknown or fantastical, if proven to be true, would therefore even more so cause fear and panic within society than before, when dragons and ghosts were common beliefs. Such discovery or acknowledgement would change how society works, even question the fundamentals of our current understanding of knowledge and science. To combat or prevent a potential breakdown of society by the acknowledgement of this sort of unknown, secret societies and government institutes would be formed to hide them from public knowledge.
Concealment is one thing, but knowing how to do it well and keep it that way is another. There is a delicate balance between dissemination of needed data and informational discrepancy. For an organized institute to be able to conceal, they have to understand how such an unknown will operate, and only then properly establish the procedures to provide safe handling and prevent any potential harm it may cause.
Are these then the characteristic traits of a confic organization? Coordinated and organizational concealment of the anomalous?
Let’s explore and find out.
Who Are You Gonna Call?
It will have occurred to the astute reader that we cannot answer what is essential to containment fiction organizations without first defining containment fiction itself, albeit imperfectly. Luckily, there is just such a project that does this for us, and at least gives us a starting point:
Containment fiction, sometimes shortened to “confic”, is a literary genre presented through the framework of documents and material from one or many in-universe organizations which describe said organization’s interactions and study of various “anomalies”, oftentimes through the framework of the organization’s attempts to contain said anomalies. - Confic Wiki
To understand containment fiction, you must understand the format which lays the... you know it's coming... foundation of the genre. (We will retire this pun in 2023.) Indeed, the format itself tells us in a fugitive way what must exist at a minimum; a context in which documentation is being created, that being done for the education of others and with the intention to be read for instruction, and a habit of enacting specific prescriptions to keep things contained.
So, at a minimum, confic organizations (or groups) must operate via documentation. This even is true for extreme examples in the genre, such as SCP-2521, or something like RPC's New Frontiers format. We might pat ourselves on the back here, but then soon notice we haven't traveled very far; documentation is a key characteristic trait that any organization has to have in order for them to be functional.
There are other traits that might emerge from a review of the format, such as containment itself; the need to make captives out of wild anomalies. Seems obvious enough.
But while this is perhaps true most of the time, it cannot be true all of the time; there are plenty of anomalies that are not technically contained, that need to be contained, or that cannot ever be contained. So containment... ironically... is not strictly speaking an omnipresent quality of containment organizations. The SCP Foundation for example does not cease to be a containment organization when it is dealing with anomalies it can't contain, or hasn't contained yet; and it, like any others, was arguably a containment organization prior to its first actual contained anomaly. It seems the definition lies more in the intention to contain than the act of containment itself.
More concretely, something like the Anastasis sub canon of the War on All Fronts canon arguably focuses less on containment and more on outright destruction of anomalies, as does a more rudimentary perception of SCP's Global Occult Coalition.
You may have noticed that most if not all organizations in confic are not known to the general public, by design; nothing of their activities or the acknowledgement of the unknown is published. So how about the implicit assumption in the confic format that it is not intended for eyes outside of the organization? The conprocs are not meant for just anyone after all, and these are supposed to be classified. So, is secrecy a fundamental trait?
To your surprise, however, secrecy is actually not essential either. There are a few organizations that do what other confic organizations do while being publicly acknowledged. For example, we can look to SCP to see examples: the SCP Foundation as it exists in the Broken Masquerade canon, which has over 60 entries; or again we can see the War on All Fronts canon. In both, the veil of secrecy typically cast between the Foundation and the rest of the world is torn; the anomalous is common knowledge. Yet, the Foundation still contains and is a containment organization there.
Or consider The Bellerverse, an SCP canon that sees the end of nearly all human life on Earth, with only a few Foundation personnel surviving and starting anew. Containment continues, but certainly there is no need for secrecy here.
There are other examples. In short, the idea of “secrecy” is not necessarily a required trait. But given how many confic organizations are portrayed in writing and entertainment, it may be considered virtually or classically essential; with the exceptions proving the rule.
Surely a cohesive, centralized operation itself should be an essential quality to the idea of a confic organization, no? Something capable of facilitating, with... facilities! At least one. However that too has been played upon in the world of containment fiction, and is still being challenged.
In the past, The Wayward Society was an active containment fiction project. In this universe, the collective was termed the "Society", and was a patchwork crew of local groups and individuals taking it upon themselves to volunteer their services for the protection of humanity — almost a militia of sorts. These individuals were "Warders":
"... brave men and women who have taken off the blindfold that kept them ignorant to the existence of these anomalies, and fight day to day against the forces that plague this world." -- Who We Are, Wayward Society
The about page of this wiki goes on to say that information about anomalies (here "aberrations") are investigated and submitted by Warders as they experience them, and processed at proxy Data Collection Centers, which attempt to standardize the reports for documentation and select dissemination. (Wayward maintains the imperative of secrecy.)
Or, if you prefer more recent, currently active confic projects, enter the proprietary AOE indie format which stands for "Anomalous Object Entry". In this confic universe, whether a centralized organization exists is a matter of author preference, or what serves the particular confic article best. Sometimes, the format casts a traditional organization, yet other times, the "organization" is a loose and anonymous cloud of archaeologists who scour records of a long-gone golden age of confic organizations for second-hand anomalous data. Other times, the anomalies seem to be experienced directly.
In the post-archaeological interpretation of AOE, the lack of a centralized bureaucracy, official personnel, and hierarchy is replaced by the remote organizing powers of decentralized blockchain technology, which stores the gathered information by way of standardized input fields in a document format. Even information regarding newly discovered anomalies are placed in this blockchain, and these may or may not be strictly contained... done so by whatever is available to the individuals interacting with the anomaly, if at all. In this universe, the job of the organization is essentially democratized. (We can also note here in this confic that the secrecy does not exist, as that is counter to a decentralized blockchain's premise.)
So, it seems that the best we can do in defining what a containment organization is, is that it works to produce documents and has at least the intention to contain anomalies; or at least did at one point, or will in the future. We can discount the observation that any confic organization deals with anomalies, because that is more a necessary condition of containment fiction itself... no anomaly (or presumed anomaly, a la SCP's -EX), no confic. Everything else regarding confic organizations, then, is amazingly variable.
Let's now put this to the test, by analyzing examples... from popular sci-fi media; tv shows and video games.
Confic has a close and fond relationship with The X-Files. It is where the 4chan board that birthed SCP (and most all other confic projects too) got its name, /x/. Running from 1993-2002 (and an 11th season, released in 2018), it is commonly thought of as a spiritual ancestor to confic. But is X-Files itself anachronistically containment fiction?
The X-Files Unit is a section of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that is tasked with investigating unexplained phenomena, fringe pseudo-science, and alleged paranormal activities that are referred to as X-Files ("X" being the least populated letter when it comes to files organized by subjects' last names). In-universe, this department is low-budgeted and largely ridiculed by the rest of the bureau due to their subject material. If this were containment fiction, it would have the most effortless brand of upheld secrecy, in that most witnesses of anomalous phenomena are considered crazy outright, and anything out of the ordinary that the X-Files team occupies itself with is gawked at endlessly by everyone else with even modest exposure to it.
Does the X-Files team... basically Dana Scully, Fox Mulder, and A.D. Skinner... fit the definition of a containment organization? There is certainly a bureaucracy present, even though they are sort of the appendage dangling off the side, and resented for it. They fit other traits such as documentation; Scully and Mulder monologue their mission reports at the end of some episodes and can even be seen typing them out. They submit these reports to their superiors — again, seen explicitly in some episodes, and implied in others.
However, they do not contain anomalies, nor do they intend to. In fact, their mission (certainly Mulder's) might be to expose the anomalous; the opposite of containment. They simply investigate them. There is no product expected of them except the paper that A.D. Skinner will (infuriatingly, we know) disregard the potential legitimacy of over and over despite the sample size of unlikely and anomalous happenings increasing well past the point of concession in the show's numerous, numerous seasons.
Also, there are no instructions in their documents, only descriptions and maybe addenda. X-Files thus is not containment fiction, and so the team cannot be a containment fiction organization.
The show that makes me wish there was more out there, Warehouse 13 is a top-secret storage facility that contains and stores supernatural and anomalous artifacts. Artifacts, as such, tend to usually be relics from history, or souvenirs. The Warehouse itself is a remote location within South Dakota overseen by a collective group known as the Regents. Much like the SCP Foundation’s illustrious O5 Council and the RPC Authority’s Global Directors, they are responsible for the Warehouse on the highest and grandest scale of operation.
It’s one of the few straight-up containment organizations to find within TV shows. It’s interesting to note that they are not a government entity, though it is implied that they have a “complicated relationship" with the US government; again not unlike some containment fiction settings. They are shown documenting and containing artifacts, and cataloging them into their proper areas within the Warehouse.
So does Warehouse 13 count as an anachronistic containment fiction organization? Our answer is absolutely yes.
Much like the X-Files Unit, the Fringe Division is a multi-agency task force under the parent supervision of the United States Department of Homeland Security. They’re responsible for investigating and researching crimes that are considered bizarre. Largely, these are pseudo-scientific phenomena classified in aggregate as “The Pattern.”
The term “Pattern” is essentially the equivalent to “anomaly” within confic universes. However, unlike low-budgeted organizations that are ridiculed or not taken seriously by their government, this organization sees the “Pattern” and any activity relating to it as a matter of supreme national security.
Interestingly, the organization has a parallel version, much like the Righteous Central Protection Authority (RCPA) from the RPC Universe, that is a Fringe Division but is under the parent agency of the United States Department of Defense. It can be argued that they are more militarized, and push for more counter ways to combat the “Pattern” in their universe.
However, this mission statement is more focused on investigative means and ends, and documentation is not explicit, nor implied. So would Fringe Division be considered a confic organization? Our answer is no.
When a murdered student was found 12 miles west of the Idaho-Washington border, the FBI sends Special Agent Dale Cooper to investigate. It is believed that the case is related to another that Cooper had been involved prior. However, this show — co-created by confic community favorite David Lynch — wasn’t like your a-typical crime solver show. Later on, “paranormal” phenomena and objects began to be involved in the story.
Dale Cooper encounters many of these phenomena such as the Dopplegangers, but far more interesting was the fact that he also encountered many top-secret confic-esque organizations that he worked under, within the U.S Air Force to the FBI. These organizations were the Blue Rose and Listening Post Alpha. The show briefly mentions Project Blue Book and the Majestic 12, who specifically had an apparent involvement in closing Blue Book.
Blue Rose was a joint task force between the United States Military and the FBI. Their specific goal was to investigate cases of a paranormal nature, including “troubling abstractions” that Project Blue Book could not resolve. Blue Rose was the sort of “successor” to Blue Book, but cordially focused on the paranormal. And finally, there's Listening Post Alpha, acronymized as LPA. LPA is a secret U.S Air Force installation located outside of Twin Peaks. Much like Blue Rose, they were involved in studying paranormal activity both local and extraterrestrial.
Are these confic organizations? Technically, they don’t fit any of the traits that we’ve thus categorized. LPA is more so a location than an organization, and while “investigating” is a thin sort of documentation, it is only adjacent to containment and its concretized documentation.
Heavily inspired by the SCP Foundation Wiki (explicitly so), Control is a video game that focuses on the character Jesse Faden and a secretive organization known as the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC). Sounds promising for our purposes.
Aside from its amazing gameplay and narrative, there’s a lot we learn about the
organization and its goals. The Federal Bureau of Control was founded before the 1950s and is tasked with “the containment, study, and control of paranatural phenomena.” (Sound familiar?) They’re a clandestine organization under the United States Government and appear to operate not just within the U.S but also outside of its jurisdiction, such as Canada, Korea, and Cuba referenced in its former investigations.
Throughout the game, we are shown documents of anomalies and a ton of story exposition
about the organization and the character Jesse, who is “designated” as the next Director of the FBC. An interesting, or unusual, take is that the Director of the FBC is not appointed by the President, but rather by a paranatural entity known as the Board, who is connected with the Director through the wielding of an anomalous object called the Service Weapon.
This Federal Bureau of Control quite easily and immediately ticks off all the traits of a confic organization as it rightly shows us documentation, containment, and, in a paranormal twist, bureaucracy. In other words, this is textbook and has paid proper homage to the SCP Foundation.
Containment fiction is a writing style that is made up of many voices, directions, and permutations. Like any genre, it is less defined by sure boundaries, and more suggested by them; as if inscriptions in the sand rinsed by the next wave. We have done our best to here contain containment organizations, but have left implied the similar, larger, and perhaps more beckoning task of applying the definition of containment fiction itself.
For example, is collaboration a prerequisite to containment fiction? Do newer WikiDot-based, confic-aware projects such as Backrooms and Liminal Archives count as containment fiction; projects that, like Control, strongly take notes from SCP Foundation, yet who, like Twin Peaks, don't technically meet the criteria of housing a confic organization?
These two projects, referred to by some in the Society for Containment Fiction as "second-generation containment fiction", seem less interested in establishing themselves as confic, or answering the question, and more in taking the premises for granted, and running in a new direction with them. (For example, the Backrooms Wiki tags pages by emotion.) They are certainly spiritual descendants of classical containment fiction, and may represent a leap not dissimilar to that observed between something like The Holders and SCP. It's almost what would happen if you recombined the genes of confic, held the containment aspect constant, and blew up what variables remained by 1000x magnification, leaving the genre a sort of background radiation.
I think it's just the genre evolving, the containment can be implied now moreso than how it had to be handheld. Now it can be assumed that the reader has a basic understanding of the basic building blocks going in. It's changing the ratio of the chemicals to see what you can make. —pixelatedHarmony
What is sure is that containment fiction is an exciting place where questions are exact, answers are best-fit, and there is no clandestine force or organization that can truly keep it contained.
© Dr "Blake" Pierson
© Lack of Lepers