Message board users can change your life without ever meeting face to face. Find out how.
|A message board changed my life.
I know how melodramatic that sounds, but it’s true. I had just finished college and was holed up in a tiny studio apartment, with furniture culled from yard sales (I never did get that funky smell out of the couch) and a crummy dialup connection, when I discovered the Mighty Comics website. Specifically, the forums on that website.
I bummed around a bit, posted a little in the boards for my favorite characters -- Nighthawk, Elastica, and the Blur -- and then I found the General Topics forum.
Every message board has a General forum, where the members shoot the shit about whatever’s going on in their lives: sports, popular TV programs, politics, whatever. MC’s GenTop board -- known alternately as Gemcut (General MC Universe Topics was the official name) -- was full of threads on everything ranging from what everyone had for breakfast to why superheroes shouldn’t have sex.
Our longest ever thread was entitled “Who took my pants?” The first post was, “Well? Who took ‘em?” That’s it. It went for fifty-nine pages before the moderator, Rob, finally shut it down. I don’t have it saved or anything, although I have heard of some people on the boards who saved their favorite threads once they were locked down, before they were deleted. I just never saw the sense.
The boards were a lot different in the beginning than they later became. For one thing, Rob was very relaxed as a moderator. He would let a thread run for a while, come in and warn the participants that it was getting a little long and perhaps they should start a Part 2, and finally lock it down when it got out of control. He gave three warnings before he banned anyone. I’ve been on boards since where the moderators/admins went on a banning spree at the first sign of trouble, and others where you could (metaphorically) take a crap all over the page and not get any worse than a warning. Rob was cool.
The main thing about the boards is that they were fun.
As far as I know, it wasn’t actually required that the board members be possessed of one, a sense of humor; and two, intelligence. Most of them had at least one of the two. Some of them could actually make me laugh out loud while reading their posts. I remember a few specifically by name because, believe it or not, we’re still friends over a decade later. (Online friends, of course.)
MrMxyspltk was the head of what came to be known as the Lifeless Losers Brigade, because most of them had post counts in at least triple digits. Some were in four digits. His avatar, the image under his name next to his posts, was a drawing he had done of an obscure character whose name I can’t remember. I only learned who this character was a few years ago, when I finally got up the courage to ask him. I didn’t want to ask on the board while I was still getting to know people; I thought it might make me seem uncool if I didn’t know who this character was supposed to be. Turned out no one else knew who it was either, and none of them ever had the guts to ask.
Mxy’s posts were full of pop culture references, and his signature line changed on a monthly basis. His usual foil was a caustic wit with the screen name of Kallell. (Spelling intentional -- on a comic-based message board, the usual suspects are taken pretty quickly, and in order to get something at least similar to what you want, you have to either stick numbers on the end or vary the spelling.) Kall was a master of the sarcastic one-liner. Once he and Mxy got started trading barbs in any particular thread, the rest of us got out of the way and watched the fireworks.
You have to understand, nothing ever got nasty or personal. The one thing everyone understood was that on the Internet, everyone is reduced to words on a screen. Don’t take those words too seriously, or the only one who ends up getting hurt is you.
Don Sancho learned that the hard way.
He joined the MC boards about three months after I did, but he didn’t survive the hazing process that Mxy and Kall unleashed on each noob who dared to join our ranks. It wasn’t real nasty hazing or anything. They just liked to (figuratively) poke noobs with a stick.
This is why, before registering for any message board like MC, it’s best to lurk around the boards for a few weeks before attempting to sign up. And then, once you’re a registered member, lurk some more before you post. Three to four weeks is usually enough time to get a feel for board politics, for who the nice people are and who you need to steer clear of. If you’re not too obvious about being a newbie, you might even find that some of the older posters are willing to help you out a bit.
Don Sancho did not lurk before he noob-posted. He also did not know how to turn off his Caps Lock key.
Typing in all caps, LIKE THIS, is considered shouting. The odd capitalized word here and there, for emphasis (for those who have not yet learned where the Bold key is), is tolerated, but entire posts in all caps get on people’s nerves. All-caps posts that are half a page long and full of spelling errors make any sane poster want to throw a brick through their monitor.
After Don’s first post turned a previously civil thread into a flame fest, someone (okay, me) sent him a PM (personal message, usually accessible through the member’s profile) informing him of the existence of spell check and asking him to click that button on the lower left of his keyboard once, please. I kept my tone very neutral and did not once use the word “jackass.”
This was his reply. I saved a copy in my Documents, as evidence, in case he came stalking me or something and I had to call the police. I mean the guy was scary.
FROM: Don Sancho
SUBJECT: WHAT THE FUCK?
WHO TEH FUCK AR YOU AND WHY DO YOU HATEE ME? I HAVENT DONE ANYTHENG TO YOU BICH! I WRITE WAT I WANT AND YOU CANT STOOP ME SO THEIR!
That was bad enough. He then followed me around the board, finding each of my most recent posts and replying to it with “I HAET YU B***!” (The board, at that time, had an auto-censor which converted any curse word into a line of asterisks. One of the more popular threads in Gemcut was devoted to finding ways around this system.)
After a few rounds of this, Rob stepped in and warned the good Don that if he didn’t knock it off, he would be suspended. Don stopped posting for a few days, and I thought that was the last of it.
Then, all of a sudden, in a Mxy/Kall thread about superheroines’ measurements, up popped this shit:
YOU AR ALLL PREVATES AND UYU SHUD BE SHOOT! DYE IN A FIER ASHLOES!
I can only assume that the last word was meant to be “assholes,” and that the auto-censor was as confused as the rest of us.
From that point, the thread turned from Mxy and Kall poking fun at each other to both of them ganging up on the noob, who became more and more enraged, and incoherent, with each post. At some point he must have found the thread about getting around the censor, because his last few posts were full of obscenities, and not just the usual fuck, shit, cunt type of thing. Don Sancho used words that would embarrass a longshoreman.
Finally, Rob showed up and banned Don’s ass.
Kall and Mxy gave each other a figurative high five, and things settled down for a while.
There were women on the boards, too. DyanaP was a regular on the Elastica boards, but popped up in Gemcut every once in a while. She was married to The Bobinator (who was really a nice guy), who drew web comics and was looking around to get them published. D, as we called her, loved to talk about ‘80’s music and John Hughes movies, and though Mxy teased her a bit, he respected her.
Sofi Star was another of our female posters, who didn’t contribute a lot -- I think she was a bit intimidated by the locker-room atmosphere in the GenTop board -- but she was known to smile and politely agree with some of the less-inflammatory arguments. She was more active on the Teen Force board, where I sometimes hung out with her and debated whether Blur Boy 1 was better than Blur Boy 2, or vice versa.
And then there was Tatianna.
Tia, as her close friends called her, had an encyclopedic knowledge of the lesser-known Silver Age team books that first came to light in a thread titled “Obscure Heroes of Yesteryear”. She seemed determined to put the lie to the common belief that women don’t like comics and don’t know anything about them. Tia knew stuff that even some of the current writing teams didn’t know. (There was a separate section of the boards, further down, for the creative teams.) This gave rise to a new thread, “Stump Tatianna,” which ran for forty-eight pages before Rob locked it off and started Part 2 himself. He admitted, in the last post on Part 1, that the stuff he was learning in this thread was fascinating, but for reasons of practicality (i.e. not wanting to break the forum), he had to close it down. He ended the post with a link to Part 2, a really classy move that I have never seen since. Like I said, Rob was a cool guy, especially for a moderator.
It was in the summer of 1999 that we, the posters of Gemcut, took our board participation to a new level. That was when the Lifeless Losers League took on a life of its own, and the first steps on a road which would lead us off the MC boards and into our own domain.
I’ve mentioned the Lifeless Losers League, or LLL, before. In the beginning, it was a gathering place for people with very high post counts. But gradually, the regulars began to drift in, and it became the hangout for the “cool” kids of Gemcut. Mxy and Kall were named co-presidents of the League, and they basically admitted anyone who wanted to join and wasn’t a total waste of posting space. (Most of the board posters were intelligent and articulate to begin with, so that wasn’t too much of a problem.)
From about September 1999 through April of 2000, the top five threads in Gemcut were always LLL-related. One was the Daily Report, a newsletter-style infodump originally posted as a way to bring new members up to speed. One was a roleplaying thread that eventually evolved into the Message Board League. (More about that later.) There was an introduction thread, for new LLL members to say hi to the rest of us. There were birthday party threads and holiday party threads.
Someone even started a Yahoo! Group (although I think they were still called Clubs then) for LLL, so we could have live chats. The MC boards didn’t have a chat room at that time, though they did get one later. Those Yahoo! chats were amazing. They had a drop-down menu of different actions you could add to your posts, and I did them all. My favorite was “crash” where you yelled “Hey Kool-Aid!” and smashed through the wall. There was also dancing, blushing, kissing . . . you get the picture.
In April of 2000, Rob brought us some bad news. The LLL was no longer welcome on the MC boards.
Hey, guys, I hate to be a party pooper, but my superiors have asked me to put an end to this business. The message I got was, and I quote, “These boards are not the place for a community.” Don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger.
I’m not saying you can’t continue this insanity, if you want. You just can’t do it here. They told me that you get one warning, and then if there’s any more LLL threads, they’ll be deleted and everyone in them will be banned. So I’m giving you a chance to bail out while you can. I really don’t want to have to ban anyone for this, but if I don’t, I’ll lose my job.
So let’s help each other, shall we? You move this LLL stuff off this board and find a new home, and I’ll let you stay on the rest of the board.
Good luck, and when you get the new board set up, give me a link, would you? I’d love to see it.
So we had a week. The Daily Report was the first thing to go. Mxy sent out e-mails to everyone instead, so he wouldn’t get us all in trouble. The birthday threads went next, buried under a sudden flood of posting on every other topic on Gemcut.
Then came the big announcement, just a day before the deadline.
Hey guys, I got together with a few other people, and we’ve purchased a site for our brand new boards!
Follow this link: - link
At last we had a home of our own. And what a lovely home it was, too. The link led directly to a paradise of rainbows and unicorns . . .
Okay, no unicorns. But the front page did have a rainbow effect, at least at first. The forums were red, unlike the blue MC forums, and they did so many more things than the old boards. The quotes were off-set on a pink background, which alternated with light green when we did one of our infamous quote pyramids (where a series of posters take turns quoting each other until either the page breaks or everyone runs out of things to say). The avatars were bigger, and sat to the right of posts instead of the left, which took some getting used to, but meant that we could concentrate on the words rather than getting distracted by the pretty pictures.
And the Message Board League had its own pretty subsection of the board, with separate boards for profiles, mission logs, and out-of-character (OOC) discussion. Once we got over the shock of “OMG board is different!”, we loved it.
Kall and Mxy even had their own little debate corner, where they could go at each other and the rest of us came to watch.
And best of all: no censor. We could swear all we liked.
And now the time has come to tell the tale of that famed team of heroes, the Message Board League!
The MBL started as a role-playing thread in Gemcut, entitled “Who would be in your Message Board League?” It gradually evolved into a full-fledged superhero RP, with everyone participating choosing a superhero identity and posting a character sheet. If you’ve never seen one, your basic character sheet just lists things like name, powers, origin, and weaknesses. Some people (I believe Mxy was one of them) made up incredibly detailed back stories for their characters, including nemeses, previous battles, and previous teams. Out of this came the Message Board Society, the precursor to the MBL, made up of older characters who became the mentors to the MBL members. Most of the MBL posters had at least one character in the MBS. My MBL character was Noriko, an assassin turned freedom fighter, and my MBS character was Samurai Shinzo. (Need I mention that I was watching a lot of anime at the time?)
At this time, I was posting a total of around twenty to thirty hours a week at the LLL boards, almost as long as I spent at my day job. I can hear you saying “addiction,” and maybe it was. My entire social life was conducted through a computer screen.
That sounds pathetic, but it wasn’t. I was interacting with people from all over the world -- every corner of the U. S., parts of the UK, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, and one favorite poster from Argentina, known as La Chupacabra, or Chupy for short. The fact that I wouldn’t recognize any of them, in the unlikely event that I passed them on the street, didn’t matter. Those hours spent cyber-arguing with Mxy or Tia or Kall about whether or not Wonder Woman had a navel beat hell out of the hours I spent at work, dealing with actual assholes human beings.
If there is one piece of advice I have for anyone who asks, it is this: don’t work retail if you want to keep your self-respect, your enthusiasm, or your optimism. Those don’t survive more than a week on the job dealing with the most demanding, complaining, selfish, whiny, insane bastards on the face of the Earth. Also, say goodbye to your Christmas spirit after one season in retail hell. By December 23, you want to club someone with a Christmas tree. And the music! Don’t get me started on the music.
Anyway, after seven to eight hours as a retail slave, it was refreshing to come home and interact with people whose biggest concern was the latest episode of Dr. Who. It was actually fun to plot Noriko’s latest adventure, or insert her into a team thread (with approval, of course). So what if I stayed up till two in the morning waiting for someone else to post so that I could continue the role play? I didn’t need that much sleep anyway.
At its peak in 2002, I logged nineteen hours in a row during a massive RP marathon that effectively ended and restarted the MBL universe. It eliminated the MBS, but everyone agreed that only having one character to play was easier anyway, so no one really missed it. It was the equivalent of a Crisis, pushing the Reset button on the whole thing and starting fresh from the beginning. And it was a lot more fun that way.
Then it started creeping into the rest of my life.
You know how some people wear those WWJD bracelets, for “What would Jesus do?” I started thinking, “What would Noriko do?” I mean, all the time. When I was in line getting my morning coffee. (Noriko only drank tea.) When a customer was rude to me. (Noriko would so hit this bitch with a throwing star right now.) Even on the train home. (Noriko keeps her eyes open, noting the location of each exit and her proximity to each, as well as assessing the dangerousness -- is that even a word? -- of each fellow passenger. She keeps one hand on the dagger hidden in her boot at all times.)
One day I was working on the return desk (always a nightmare) when this woman pushed to the head of the line, dumped a bag out in front of me, and stood there with a defiant look on her face.
“Ma’am,” I said politely, “there are several people ahead of you. You’ll have to go to the back of the line.”
“I’m on my lunch hour,” she snapped, even though it was three o’clock in the afternoon. “Do it now.”
“Do you have your receipt?”
She shoved a wrinkled, stained slip of paper at me. I unfolded it and took a look.
“This is over sixty days,” I told her.
“So give me a store credit.”
“It’s way over sixty days.”
“I don’t care. I can’t use them, take them back.”
I was about to call my supervisor when my inner Noriko took over.
“Lady,” someone who sounded a lot like me said, “this receipt is from 1992. These clothes are not in our system anymore, and they’ve clearly been worn -- there’s a coffee stain on this blouse!”
“That was there when I bought it,” she insisted.
“No, I don’t think it was. We can’t take any of this back. Sorry.”
Her mouth dropped open so wide I could have driven a truck through it. “I want to speak to your manager!”
“She’ll just tell you the same thing.”
The man in line behind this interloper said, “Hey, lady, what kinda scam you tryin’ to pull?”
She turned on him. “You mind your own business! This doesn’t concern you!”
“It does when you cut in front of me.”
“Look,” I said to the woman. I shoved all her antique crap back into the bag and slid it across the counter to her. “You can wait for the manager if you want, or you can take these things somewhere else and quit wasting everyone’s time. Your call.”
She made that open-mouth face again, and then she snapped, “I’ll wait for the manager. And I hope you lose your job.”
“You know what? So do I. In fact, I hope I die, so I won’t have to deal with people like you anymore.”
That shut her up. The rest of the line cheered, though.
Long story short, the manager sent her packing, but I got yelled at. Doesn’t matter, though; it was worth it.
From that day on, Noriko came out whenever I needed her. It wasn’t like having a split personality; it was like taking on a character, playing a part. If I needed to be tough, strong, assertive, etc., I pretended to be Noriko, and let her deal with it.
Eventually I realized that I wasn’t pretending anymore. I had become a lot more assertive than I used to be. Now, this didn’t happen overnight -- it took about a year and a half -- but when I realized it, it was like the scales falling from my eyes.
I had always been Noriko.
I was just afraid to express it. For whatever reason, fear of failure, desire to fit in, whatever, I had suppressed my Noriko-ness for most of my life, and it was only when I let her come out and play, so to speak, that I became the person I was meant to be.
So all that role-playing was good for something after all. Who knew?
I don’t remember the exact moment I left the LLL. It wasn’t a conscious decision; I didn’t leave a big, teary goodbye message for all to read. It was just that . . . other things gradually took over my life, and I didn’t have the time to spend checking a message board again and again.
The first thing that happened was that I got a better job.
It happened by pure serendipity. A woman I was waiting on happened to mention that there was an opening at her office. When I told her that I had originally trained for her field, she told me to come by and fill out an application. The next day, that’s just what I did. I just walked in, gave them her name, and filled out the form.
My interview was the following week. I was so nervous that I knew I’d never pass it as myself, so I turned it over to Noriko, who knocked it out of the park, so to speak. Turned out I was exactly what they were looking for.
Two weeks later, I bid goodbye to Retail Hell, and good riddance, too.
The next step was to save up to find a bigger apartment. Or, ideally, a house, but I wasn’t going to set my expectations too high. Not just yet, anyway.
I scoured the Want Ads for months, scouted different buildings in the area, and even considered moving out of state, if I had to. Sure, it would be a longer commute, but if I had to do it, then so be it.
And then Mrs. Flaherty moved to a retirement community.
Doreen Flaherty was a friend of my parents, and her kids had been within a year or two of me in school. She lived in a nice apartment on the West Side, in a fairly new building, and I had been up to see it once or twice (someone’s birthday, I think).
Long story short, I moved in about a week after she moved out. The first thing I did was get my computer hooked up, in a corner of the living room so I could watch television while I surfed, and posted the good news to the gang. They threw me a virtual party. It was one of our last good times, just us.
Before paradise came crashing down.
In 2004, Rob left the MC boards. New management had laid down the law: everything on the message board had to be comic-related. No more long, rambling threads about pants or Dr. Who. There was a roleplaying section, but the guidelines were so strict that no one wanted to bother. And attempts to circumvent the auto-censor would be met with automatic banning.
Needless to say, a lot of former posters, disgusted with the way things were being run now, fled the board en masse. They came to us, partly because we had been infamous on the MC boards for a long time, but also because Rob had dropped the link in his last-ever post on the boards:
Hey, guys, it’s been fun, but I gotta tell you . . . I’ve had it. I can’t do my job under these conditions, so I gave my notice. Please be nice to the new mod; I hear they’ve gone ban-happy, and I don’t want to see anyone kicked out for something stupid.
Do not despair, boys and girls! I have not disappeared into the Ethernet! I’m saving up for my own message board, but until then, you can come join the party at (link to our boards). Come by and say hi to some familiar faces!
In closing, I want to say thanks to you all for not being total @$$hats, and to the current management of MC comics . . . bite me.
You can imagine what happened next.
The LLL boards suddenly got a shitstorm of new posters overnight, most of whom were total strangers. There were one or two familiar user names in the bunch, but most of them were completely unfamiliar.
After they started about a hundred “Hello” threads in the main forum, Mxy combined them all into one big “Just joining us? Post your greeting here!” thread, so we wouldn’t have to follow a bunch of separate smaller ones. Mxy let each thread run to seventy-five pages, since more and more of us had broadband connections now, but still, we ended up with a Part 2, Part 3, and a Part 4.
From 11:29 Eastern Time on June 26, when Rob posted his farewell, to midnight on the 28th, we had one thousand, two hundred and forty-one new members. Most of them, as you can imagine, didn’t stick around. A lot lurked most of the time but popped up to post once in a while. Only about two dozen or so became regular posters. Only one of those was a troll. That’s pretty good, actually; I was worried that board was going to be flooded with “HURR DURR” type posts and sink like the Titanic.
A month or so later, when things were settling down, there came word from on high:
Hey, guys, guess what? The Rob boards are officially on-line now, and you’re all welcome to come over and hang out. We have cake!*
*The cake is a lie. ;)
Most of the new people took off for the greener pastures of the Rob boards, but the ones who had been posting regularly on our board stayed. I went over to check the new boards out, and I was pleasantly surprised.
It looked just like the MC boards. Except for the avatar being on the wrong side, which wasn’t a big deal, but took a lot of getting used to. Yeah, I signed up. What can I say, Rob was a cool guy. I missed his laid-back moderatorial style, and his brilliant comments at the end of a thread. A whole board, owned and operated by Rob, had to be something really cool.
So for a while I was going back and forth between the two boards, trying to give them both equal time.
Then the Digipets invaded.
It started with Tia. She put two of her four pets in her board signature, and everyone wanted to know what those cute little things were. She dropped the link, and suddenly everyone had Digipets. I had four, myself. Still do, probably, but I haven’t checked on them in years.
So now I had another site making demands on my time. And there were only so many hours in a day, so something had to go.
I decided to check LLL once a day, in the morning, right after I checked my e-mail. And that seemed to work for a while.
Then NaNoWriMo happened.
Around the middle of October, someone on the Rob boards posted “Who’s doing NaNo this year?”
I had never heard of it, so I followed the link.
And it changed my life forever.
This was in the fall of 2005, and it was the first time I had written quickly to a deadline. If you don’t already know, the goal of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is to write fifty thousand words in thirty days. In November. Boy, was I glad I didn’t work in retail anymore.
Yeah, it’s a lot of work. But if you sit down and figure it out, it’s less than 1700 words a day, about a page and a half single-spaced, or three pages double-spaced. It’s doable.
So I did it.
I wrote like a maniac for thirty consecutive days, and when I finally poked my head into LLL, it was December third, and no one had seen me for six weeks. Six weeks!
I posted numerous apologies, but I needn’t have bothered. No one had missed me. They’d had another influx of new people, and in the excitement, no one had noticed I hadn’t been around in a while.
And I realized that I was thinking “they” instead of “we.” The Rob boards were now my “we,” and LLL was a “they.” It gave me a sad feeling, remembering all the good times we’d had. I was going to post a goodbye message, but then I figured what’s the point, and I just left quietly, without calling attention to myself. It took me three years, though, to bring myself to finally delete the link in my Favorites, and that only because I was switching all my files over to my new computer, and deleting old files.
I also deleted my old link to the MC boards, although I have been back. Someone on my new message board linked something, and the link led back to the MC boards.
I didn’t even recognize the place.
At some point, the new owners changed everything: the theme colors, the fonts, the icons, everything. It looked like a completely different board. And there weren’t any screen names I recognized.
Just for fun, though, I tried to sign in with my old user name and password. Just to see if I could.
And it actually worked.
Once I was signed in, though, I realized that I had nothing to say. I didn’t know these people. The rules had changed. So I signed out again, and closed the window.
I am not the person I was over a decade ago, when I first found the Lifeless Losers League. I’ve moved on to bigger and better things. Mostly writing. I’m working to turn the product of that first NaNoWriMo into a publishable novel, and right now, I hang out at a lot of writing-related boards.
The LLL were there when I needed them, and I’m grateful to them for sharing their screen time with me for so long. I am a better person for having participated in all those crazy chats, one-word stories, and debates about tight costumes. But I couldn’t go back. I’m a different person now, and I imagine they are, too.
It was fun to pretend to be someone else. Until I realized that the someone I wanted to be was myself, and I made myself over into that person. I think that was the moment I left the LLL, because I didn’t need them anymore.
But I still miss them.