Don’t adjust your set. The image above isn’t a broken link, but a very relevant part of this post. Stay with me.
Think back to something bad or embarassing that you did. Maybe you acted poorly with friends, maybe you did something silly that hurt someone, maybe you just feel like you looked foolish. Now imagine if that bad behaviour was memorialised forever, put up on a pedestal like an obscene museum piece that you could go back and gaze upon from time to time.
That happened to me. And likely it’s happened to many of us. The internet has given us this dubious opportunity – to exist online in a way that leaves a trace. A trace that can be followed back by your future self and endlessly picked over. Commentators have for years now focused on the obvious – ‘what if your employer or future partner sees some fuzzy photo on Facebook?’. But you can visit your own museum too.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back in time to the year 2000.
Do the Time Warp
The year is 2000. The game is EverQuest. I had been with my guild since the game launched in March 1999 and now, over a year later, I was about to leave. I had outgrown my guild, as many have done and still do. People want to do endgame content and the levelling guild they had so loved now no longer cuts it. Some leave gracefully, others leave with the grace of an ice-skating elephant greased in butter.
Suffice to say, I was the latter. But if we’re going back in time, then you have to know I wasn’t the person I am now. I was 14, barely in my teens and – as you’ll see – a bit of an unaware jerk. So here I was, on the cusp of leaving my guild that I had helped create before EverQuest had even been released, in search of greener pastures.
Of course, young Quin decided to do it with a forum post. Nothing too strange about that in those days. But not just a forum post, but also an ‘oh so in-era’ Geocities page with scrolling words and a MIDI track. All of that would have been cheesy, sure. But to make matters horrendously worse, I came across as self-important and condescending to my now former guildmates. The forum blew up.
My once-friendly guildmates rushed to criticise and berate, and looking back I absolutely deserved it. Moreover, I was actually gifted the high level character I now wanted to take elsewhere, which compounded my colleagues’ disdain and anger. Furthermore, I had not long before my departure actually lambasted another guild member who left for similar reasons. And that guy actually earned his levels!! My careless condescension was not only from a position that was entirely unearned, but also highly hypocritical. As I said – an utter jerk.
That’s the relevant part. Time went on, of course. In true three-part melodrama, the gifted character was banned several months later due to ‘account sharing’ and I was bumped back to my own account, humbled and chastened. I quit EverQuest for the first time a few months after that and fell out of touch with the guild. The End.
Back to the Future
Well, it would be ‘The End’, except for why this story is relevant to the present day. Because the internet gives me the chance to go back and read this excruciatingly embarassing part of my adolescent life right now. The forum is still active and my thread is still there. Some deity needs to be thanked for the small mercy that the Geocities page is lost to the ages. Even the various Geocities archive sites can’t find it (phew). But the thread remains. If you cared enough, you could likely put two and two together and find it. Go for it, I’ll be here.
Occasionally, when I happen over something that reminds me of this chapter, I’ll navigate back to the site. It’s a bit like torture or masochism, but I find once I start I end up reading the whole sorry thing. It’s a salutary lesson of how a person can change, and what twenty years of experience and self-awareness can do. The embarassment I feel when I read the thread is hopefully a mark that I have moved on as a person.
But it’s also a reminder that no matter how self-assured you are at any one time, you can still change and improve. 14-year-old Quin was so sure he was justified and had no clue how he might be perceived. 34-year-old Quin might be doing something similar at times, especially online when we are so ready to adopt personas.
Over the years I have tried mostly unsuccessfully to reach out to some of the key guild members I angered and offended. I’m sure for them my indiscretion was a mere footnote in a long life of their own successes and mistakes. I’ve never been able to deliver a sincere apology though, some twenty years removed. I suppose this article will have to serve as my catharsis.
I will likely keep reading that thread from time to time. But hopefully by writing about it the intervals between ‘time to time’ get longer.
From solo to social
Video gaming, especially online video gaming, has changed so much since I created a cringy Geocities page to farewell my guildmates. Just look at the main place people go to buy games – it is social to the core with friends lists, recommended games, gifts, broadcasts from the developers, built-in reviews with up- and down-voting. People now spend hours watching other people play games, and not just from over the shoulder.
We have so many opportunities now to act good and bad in our gaming lives. The seismic shift from the mid- to late-1990s, when people started to venture online via 56k modems or early DSL, cannot be understated but is often underappreciated.
We all change, we all make mistakes. This has been true for millenia. But from the late 1990s, we have all been filling out a museum of good – and bad – behaviour. Perhaps some of your exhibits have disappeared – like my Geocities page (thankfully) – and perhaps others remain as a testament to the person you once were, or possibly still are.
Either way, one day in the future you, like me, may want to take a stroll down it and rediscover your old self. For better or worse.
Today is the first day Blaugust 2019. I’ll be posting every few days in August as part of this month-log festival of blogging. Find out more at Tales of the Aggronaut.