The Pressure to Morally Justify One’s Fandom Tastes

When I first began to formulate this blog post in my head, the core of what I wanted to write about was something I observed in online fandom: the policing of preference and desire, and the seeming need to couch fandom debates in moral rhetoric. My desire was to focus on the absurd degree by which fans try to justify their tastes by presenting some greater benefit or boon to humankind.

However, I’m not the only one who’s been ruminating on the subject. A recent article about essentially weaponized anti-fandom had explored the subject in depth, the author tracing their observation of this disturbing trend through the pains of trying to transplant the islands of LiveJournal to the complex web of Tumblr. Anti-fandom goes from being passion with a negative bent to a cold and calculated scalpel designed to influence and threaten fans, critics, and creators alike. The article has forced me to approach this post a little differently than I had intended. To that end, I still want to think out loud about that concept of forced justification, but more as the other side of the coin compared to what is described by that author.

Critical analysis of preferences in storytelling and art, be they one’s own or the preferences of others, is an important part of the relationship between creative endeavors and their effects on people and society. It’s not wrong that a series like Tintin, which early on featured racist caricatures, would fall under rightful scrutiny, and that those decisions open up important conversations, or that superhero comics are having to confront the sexism and racism that has been entrenched in its veins on both content and creator levels. However, there has been a trend of fans who try very hard to prove that their particular fandoms are fundamentally superior (or indeed that others are inferior), as if fandom reflects wholly one’s dedication to the moral fiber of society. Perhaps it’s all an act, as the article implies, a feigning of outrage to achieve a selfish goal, but I believe there are also fans who feel that they cannot like something unless it gels 100% with how they view themselves on that moral level.

This is a potentially harmful philosophy to abide by, not just for those who are potentially attacked by this sort of fan, but directly dangerous to the fan themselves. When a  “problematic fave” enters the conversation, the situation descends to  whether or not liking something in fantasy reflects some moral or personal shortcoming. From there, it’s a short step to accusing each other of not believing in the greater good strongly enough.

When we still don’t have real answers as to how people’s relationship with fiction affects everyone (whether broadly or on an individual basis), it comes across as a desperate desire to not be on the wrong side of the barrel. Either that, or they risk ending up like the character Nishikinomiya Anna from the anime/light novel Shimoneta. Anna, who was raised from childhood to be the perfect representative of moral fastidiousness, turns out to be dangerous and depraved in certain ways. However, because she was brought up to believe that she is pure and just, she rationalizes her behavior as being inherently moral because she is inherently moral herself.

My concern is that in an environment where there is (rightful) social pressure to be more open and to not hold beliefs that demean other people, it can become all too easy to believe that every word you say carries deep significance to such an extent that people feel they cannot be frivolous. If one feels that their words must reflect their fundamental being, then it also becomes dangerous to think that every piece of entertainment you consume has to be morally justified, as if it fits into a greater picture of a consistent and righteous self. It makes me think that these fans feel disdain for the fact that humans are often contradictory, and rather than understand and accept that, they see admonishing their peers for their inconsistency as the better choice.

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Dearth vs. Abundance of Information and Fan Engagement

When I was young, I often wondered about the worlds of the video games I played. Given only sparse information and basic “defeat the bad guy” plots, games were semi-open canvases for me to speculate. This desire is what led me to my earliest internet communities—video game fanfiction sites. Over the years, I began to notice a general distinction for anyone looking to explore beyond what’s available in their favorite works, between those where a bit of exploration reveals mountains of supplementary canon information, and those where the details remain sparse.

I once attributed the difference in fan involvement for filling in the blanks to just a natural consequence of the works themselves. Video game plots were simpler in an age before RPGs and cut-scenes were everywhere, right? More recently, however, I’ve been considering how the two avenues—abundance vs. dearth of information—appeal to different types of fans, and how more and more creative works purposely aim for one or the other (and sometimes even both, if they can manage it).

The “abundance” examples are many, as seen in lore-dense properties such as the Type Moon universe, Star Trek, Star Wars, and Tolkien fantasy. My personal favorite example from yesteryear is the Street Fighter Plot Guide on GameFAQS by Tiamat, because it’s for a universe that is otherwise pretty simple (as fighting game narrative tend to be), and it involves a healthy amount of fan extrapolation by Tiamat. On the “dearth side,” there’s Touhou and Overwatch, which invite fans in to elaborate on characters and character relationships. Broadly speaking, the former appeals to “sculptor”-type fans, while the latter appeals to “builder”-type fans. Sculptor I would define as those who like to reshape what’s already there, while builders prefer raw materials to weave their own elaborate ideas. Both types can make fan stories, but their differences lead to the two classic modes of Star Trek fanfic: the “hard SF” technical explorations, and the “softer” character-building and relationship works. Not that I think of those distinctions as rigid and wholly separate, of course.

An entire character profile and running joke was based on the Touhou character Cirno being labeled “baka” in an instruction manual.

While I am admittedly no expert on The iDOLM@STER, I’ve noticed that both researchers and builders exist within that fandom, possibly stemming from a generation divide of sorts. The original iDOLM@STER games were very involved experiences, where players interacted heavily with their idols. Roughly equivalent to a more animated visual novel format with some RPG elements, players could learn extensively about the characters’ histories, likes and dislikes, and generally explore the idols as fleshed-out individuals. At some point, however, The iDOLM@STER also became prominent as a series of mobile games where that active RPG aspect takes a backseat to more simplified story modes. Here, the visual impact of character designs can matter much more. For fans, especially those who have limited access to all The iDOLM@STER media, “headcanon” expression is a somewhat common Twitter activity.

Take for example the character of Tokiko Zaizen. Based on her appearance alone, one gets the idea of Tokiko being a sadist/dominatrix type, but the fans take that a step further.

Not all fans fall into either the “dearth” or “abundance”-favoring categories. Some prefer to take the story as-is, and then aim for criticism over speculation. Others might dip their toes into both of those worlds. Whatever the fan approach, the ability for fans to thrive in whatever space is left for them speaks to a kind of flexibility in what it means to be enthusiastic about the creative media we consume.

Darling in the Franxx: Thoughts on a Divisive Anime

WARNING: Spoilers for Darling in the Franxx, Gurren-Lagann, Evangelion, and Daitarn 3 (yes, you read that right)

When I first wrote about Darling in the Franxx and its sexual dystopia, the series had just presented some major revelations, among them how Hiro and Zero Two first met, and the true identity of the Klaxosaurs. Seven concluding episodes later, it turns out those “bombshells” were only the tip of the iceberg.

But this show has been full of surprises, and fan reactions to all of these twists and turns has been just as fascinating to follow as the show itself. Darling in the Franxx is, in a word, divisive—perhaps more than any other anime I’ve seen in a long time. I believe the reason for this boils down to one thing: the show attracted a wider range of fan types than most anything else, and the conflicting takes are a product of these differences. My own take is tha the series only got better as it went along, but I’m well aware that many do not share my view to the extent that it seems as if we were all watching different anime. When I give my opinion and analysis of Darling in the Franxx, it’s with this caveat in mind.

Eye of the Beholder

Let’s get into some of the major reveals in the last quarter of the series.

  • Magma energy is revealed to be the energy source that has allowed humanity to achieve immortality.
  • The Klaxosaurs don’t consider humans their true enemy, because the actual problem is a non-corporeal alien race of conquerors called the VIRM, who all but destroyed Klaxosaur civilization both directly and indirectly thousands of years ago.
  • “Papa” is actually one of the VIRM. They infiltrated the human race and purposely pointed them towards magma energy as a way to weaken the Klaxosaurs. This is because the planet’s magma is actually made up of Klaxosaurs who purposely sacrificed themselves to become an energy source for the monster-form Klaxosaurs to fight off the VIRM.
  • The VIRM basically takes the minds of all of the adults because their goal is to integrate all species in the universe within themselves. This leaves only the non-adults (namely the Franxx pilots!) left to fight. The remaining humans join forces with the Klaxosaurs and go into space to fight the VIRM.
  • Ultimately, through the power of love and friendship, Hiro and Zero Two manage to truly become one (more on that later) and defeat the VIRM. Humanity has to rebuild without the use of magma energy, fully aware of the price they paid for draining the planet of such an important resource, and out of respect for the Klaxosaurs.

That’s quite a lot for a series where the initial main debate was “which girl is better, Zero Two or Ichigo?”, and for every fan who fell in love with the show from episode 1 only to be disappointed by where it went by episode 24, there seems to be another fan who thinks the opposite. Moreover, unlike series such as Dragon Ball Z, where the things that fans love about it are the very same things the haters scoff at, no one can actually seem to agree what Darling in the Franxx is about or what it’s saying, let alone which parts are good or bad.

The anime appears to have drawn in a larger variety of anime fans to it than is typical, combining a multitude of genre signals (mecha, science fiction, romance, love triangle) with provocative, often sexual imagery. As a result, the disparate values (both in terms of personal values and ideas as to what makes a show good) of the viewers meant that people came to the show with wildly different expectations from one another. In this environment, I’m not certain I can change anyone’s minds, but I can at least put my thoughts out there.

Defying and Affirming Conventional Humanity Through Romance

Take the subject of my previous post: whether or not the anime reinforced heteronormative values, extending to the rule of man and woman as father and mother. While Darling in the Franxx indeed ends with multiple characters having children in heterosexual relationships, it’s still notable that the main couple of the story cannot have children together. The ultimate expression of their union and happiness instead involves Zero Two becoming a literal giant robot version of herself, in a cross between a wedding dress and Mechagodzilla, while Hiro pilots her from within, carrying connotations of both penis and womb but also referencing the series’s own world. Hiro, in a way, acts like the magma energy that powers the Klaxosaurs, moving away from “conventional humanity” in order to be with the one he loves.

On a less dramatic scale, Ikuno (the only lesbian in the series) ultimately does not have children, but instead devotes her life to science and medicine. Without having any offspring of her own, she makes for herself a position that can help ensure humanity’s future. Hiro, Zero Two, and Ikuno all found ways to help humanity without having to be directly involved in pregnancy. And while not entirely clear, it might just be the case that Ikuno found someone who reciprocated her feelings as well. So I can’t see Darling in the Franxx as being all gung-ho about baby-making at the expense of other people’s life choices, though those more sensitive to the topic might see the degree to which the core cast decides to have children to be the stronger message.

Through the Lens of a Long-Time Mecha Fan

Another criticism of this series is that it’s shallow, schlock entertainment more interested in M. Night Shyamalan-esque swerves than any actual substance. What exactly this has meant in the context of Darling in the Franxx has changed over the course of the series, but one of the big sticking points is the VIRM reveal. Online discussion revolved around whether this was an unnecessary twist that betrayed the feel and purpose of the series, or if the show had cleverly set it up all along, and that it made perfect sense for Darling in the Franxx. I personally lean towards the latter, but I think this comes partly from being a long-time fan of the mecha.

Long before Gurren-Lagann took “go big or go home” to the most lovingly ridiculous degrees, sudden shifts to space or to larger-scale stakes were part and parcel of an anime genre founded in kids’ entertainment. The series Daitarn 3 (1978) literally goes immediately from Earth to space for the first time (barring flashbacks) in the final episode. In time, more creative and ambitious shows tried to incorporate that dramatic build-up more effectively, and I see the heavy emphasis on personal relationships and sexual tension of early Darling in the Franxx as an effective low-key cornerstone that sets up the eventual ramp-up in the long-term. Even the rapid pace of the last few episodes bothered me little for similar reasons, but fans who did not come into anime on shows that preferred such abrupt shifts could very well see it as clunky, headless-chicken writing. I understand, yet I still feel the progression to be appropriate and maybe even nostalgic.

Final Thoughts on the VIRM, and the Ending

It’s not uncommon to see Darling in the Franxx compared to either Evangelion or Gurren-Lagann for aesthetic and thematic reasons, but there’s another factor all three shows share: the idea that they in some way or form betrayed their audiences. Evangelion is probably the most famous example of an unexpected ending, with its compete stylistic departure and its abstract, introspection-heavy final episodes. Famously, the staff of Evangelion actually received death threats for it. Gurren-Lagann pulled the brakes on its do-anything, push-the-envelope mentality for its conclusion, which stung fans who watched it precisely to revel in that feeling of “doing the impossible.” Darling in the Franxx is capable of “betraying” large swathes of its diverse viewership, but I do not think the series actually crumbles when looked at with greater scrutiny.

While the opinion that the VIRM twist comes “out of nowhere” isn’t shared by all—some even accurately predicted the show’s move into space—I think an essential difference between detractors and supporters of the final episodes is that the finale comes with a tonal shift from being an anime that was focused heavily, at least on the surface, on the personal, intimate, and erotic. If that’s what you came to the show for, then it might feel like the two pieces don’t connect.

As mentioned previously, however, I don’t mind this change one bit. The reason? Because Darling in the Franxx has emphasized that something is terribly wrong with its world all along, and not just in terms of the Klaxosaur attacks. Whether it’s meeting other Franxx pilots and realizing how emotionally stunted they are, to the adult/child divide, to the sheer sterility of their cities, something has felt amiss from the start. Perhaps the VIRM being “the real enemy” can feel contrived, but taking a wide view of the series means seeing the depiction of a false Utopia that humankind bought into and that the children had to eventually make up for. Not enough people questioned the gradual consolidation of power around Papa and his organization, APE, or the exact nature of magma energy. Theirs was a society of ignorance, and it led to children like Hiro being punished for trying to fight that ignorance.

Even though Hiro and Zero Two manage to deal a crippling blow to the VIRM, the real challenge is trying to survive as a species without any magic bullets like magma energy. The libidinous energy that was once literally redirected into warfare goes to expressing love, whether that’s through making children, helping children, or just creating happiness. While personal perspective plays a significant role in how one interprets the series’s message, is it strange to see the main cast, poised to change the world since the first episode, end up doing so?

Being “True to Oneself” and the Necessity of Criticism

Ever since my teenage years, I’ve believed it important for nerds and geeks, otaku and gamers, to be proud of who they are. Back then, from seeing my own experience as well as that of others both online and off, it hurt me to witness people continuously talk about how they have to hide their hobbies. You’d find posts on forums of people talking about how they had to abandon their nerdy interests in order to make friends and get a significant other. And while I’m sure there are more than a few who found greater happiness this way, I could also see plenty who basically lived as frail shadows. As frivolous something like a love of RPGs or an attraction to anime girls could be, I saw it doing subtle psychological damage to those who forced themselves to abandon their passions, and I didn’t want to see people like me be hurt.

A lot of things have changed in the years since. Gaming is undoubtedly mainstream. Shows like The Big Bang Theory have, for better or worse, made the lives of nerds “hip” to watch. People needlessly worry about “fake geek girls.” One of the consequences of the prominence of geek culture is that, where once the main issue for many nerds was trying to get their voices out there, now the latent misogyny of gamer culture has become a real problem. Given this current environment, is it okay to just say, “Be confident and declare to the world that you’re proud to be who you are!” if it means that people are incentivized to harass others?

I understand that there are some generalizations I’m putting forward that are inevitably full of exceptions. Geek culture and fandoms are many-armed and camaraderie across different interests can be fractured. One does not even need to be a “social outcast” anymore to be considered an avid player of video games. Perhaps most importantly, it’s not like asking people to have confidence automatically leads to influencing people to attack others. Nevertheless, I think there is a potential path from self confidence and pride to anger towards and mistreatment of others, one that is dimly lit yet still visible upon closer observation.

To some extent, I think this wraps into the idea of variety of expression as a strength, be it in fiction or in, say, speech and dialogue. Much like freedom of speech, the difficult thing about supporting and celebrating it is that you have to accept that you can’t agree with every opinion or belief, even if you swear that it’s wrong with every fiber of your being. It is the constant potential for change that gives both art and speech strength, and for every poorly conceived anime that might exist there can also exist a work of endless wonder, broadly speaking.

That being said, criticism is necessary, and dissent towards ideas believed to be harmful should not be silenced just for the sake of variety. And I think this is where I find myself when it comes to people found in fandoms who continue to espouse racist, misogynistic ideas. I disagree vehemently with those ideas, but they are beliefs legitimately held by people, and to silence them is to build resentment. At the same time, giving them license to run their mouths and spread hate and harassment isn’t the right thing to do either. Ideally, conversations on matters such as the portrayal of male and female characters in games should happen in the open, rather than as rocks volleyed from across a chasm, but that might be wishful thinking.

I’ve increasingly thought about how wanting to make the world a better place and embracing all the beauty and ugliness of the world requires living a contradiction. However, I don’t believe that this is inherently a problem. Perhaps we try too hard to make every aspect of our life consistent, or to expect our thoughts and beliefs to line up perfectly with each other. If that’s the case, then I can continue to cheer for those who are able to express themselves, while putting more effort to guide those who I believe need it.

Approaching “Isle of Dogs” as an Asian-American Anime Fan

Wes Anderson’s Japanese cinema-inspired stop-motion film Isle of Dogs has been the subject of controversy. Accused of racism (or at the very least racial insensitivity) towards Japan and Asian cultures in general, the movie comes at a time when Hollywood has made numerous missteps in their handling of Asian-themed works, such as the casting of non-Asian Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell. As an Asian-American, I initially came out of the film without feeling offended or bothered by its contents and dressing. I still do not believe it to be a nasty film, but as I’ve reflected on my experience with Isle of Dogs by way of my long history as an Asian amd an anime fan, as well as the criticisms others have written, I find that the core issue isn’t so much racism in the “hatred or marginalization of a people” variety. Instead, it’s that the exoticization of Japan in the film can leave Asian viewers feeling we’re being othered, that we’re not the “intended audience.”

As an anime fan for the past two decades, I’ve seen both the anime being produced and my own experience with them change. When I first got into it, anime was something very foreign, very different, very exotic. Compared to the cartoons I was familiar with, it did seem like a new world, made all the better by the fact that I, as an American living in the US, was not its assumed audience. While the anime industry is increasingly aware of the global market (see the whole “Cool Japan” push by the country’s government), some of that “otherness” persists, reflecting the 99% ethnically Japanese population of Japan.

For example, in many anime set outside of Japan, the main character is often still Japanese, or at least half-Japanese—as if to assure the target audience that there is a relatable point. The spacefaring Macross franchise, now decades old, reflects this tendency in its many protagonists’ names—Ichijou Hikaru, Isamu Alva Dyson, Nekki Basara, Kudou Shin, Saotome Alto, and Hayate Immelman. So when the American exchange student Tracy Walker showed up, I saw her in the same light as those Macross characters, even if she isn’t the protagonist. While I don’t agree with the notion that she’s a “white savior” character, but rather an awkward yet well-meaning character with a bit of a self-righteous savior complex, I registered her in my mind as that American audience stand-in character. However, thinking about that moment was when it clicked for me: if she’s supposed to stand in for the American viewer who’s stepping into this film ostensibly about Japan, what does her presentation say to Asian-Americans watching it? One potential interpretation: Asian-Americans are second-class Americans in the theater.

That’s not the message that Isle of Dogs communicated to me, and I think that the lack of Asian actors playing the dogs themselves isn’t too big a deal, but I can definitely see why the film’s presentation can make Asians like myself feel like strangers in our own home. By extension, I can see why non-Asians could be sensitive to what they’re seeing as affronts of cultural appropriation. The film’s decision to leave the Japanese untranslated (outside of a literal interpreter character summarizing what some of the characters say on occasion) didn’t affect me too greatly; I’m fluent in Japanese. But the decision to not subtitle them means that direct engagement with those characters is lost for the assumed audience, and for non-Japanese-fluent Asian viewers, it can potentially create a greater sense of alienation. Again, for me as an anime fan, something like “Megasaki City” isn’t offensive because it doesn’t sound too far off from “Tokyo-3” (the 3’s pronounced “three” like in English) from Neon Genesis Evangelion, but the film is rife with imagery and symbols that might end up feeling less like loving homages and more like snarky plundering if the Asian-American audience already feels like they’re being told to “stand over there.”

I’m not familiar with Wes Anderson films, so I can’t speak to his auteur style. I’m also not an expert on Kurosawa Akira, so I have only a vague sense of how Anderson references him and other Japanese filmmakers. At most I’m very familiar with Miyazaki Hayao. Within this limited personal context, my feeling is that Anderson through Isle of Dogs tries to exoticize not Japan, Japanese culture, or Japanese people, but rather the feeling of wonder and difference that he got from Japanese film and filmmakers. One of his core staff members, Nomura Kunichi, was apparently brought on specifically to help with authenticity and treating Japanese culture with respect.

Because those films are so associated with foreign interpretations and expectations of Japan, however, drawing from those sources so readily while unabashedly acknowledging them through the Japanese setting of Isle of Dogs can make audiences, such as Asian-Americans who have to deal with the challenges of being Asian-American, bristle with suspicion. Bringing up the question of cultural appropriation is important, and I think the film itself has enough teeth (no pun intended) to stand up to the doubts and concerns, but those questions should not be ignored or assumed to “not really matter.”

 

Canon vs. Fanon vs. Headcanon

“Headcanon” is an interesting term to unpack. It’s essentially an oxymoron that says, “I want to believe in how I interpret a given story over whatever the official narrative says,” making it a contradiction with a strongly postmodern bent. Headcanon, by meaning, lies outside of “canon,” but it’s also a different beast from “fanon,” which often carries a communal element.

As it has gained traction, headcanon increasingly butts heads with the other two. But while the battle of headcanon vs. canon might appear to be the more prominent fight for fans, I think what really defines much of the fandom divisions of the current age is the struggle of headcanon vs. fanon, and how this conflict plays out contributes to the extreme reactions seen in fandom online.

The creation of fanons requires two elements. First, much like headcanon, fans need to prefer some aspect of their own interpretations over something that is unsatisfying in canon by way of quality or omission. If Pokemon fanfic writers prefer a grittier world, it’s because the franchise is geared towards a kinder vision and they want something else. Second, there needs to be some kind of consensus. Not every fan needs to agree about a pairing, but enough fans must exist for a romantic coupling to gain traction, especially if it’s a dominant part of the fan discourse.

Headcanon, however, obviates the need for mutual agreement. The use of the term, though not inherently confrontational, carries with it a notion of the individual over the group. While fans might cross-pollinate ideas, it comes down to each and every fan, instead of what a community thinks.

This potentially leads not just to differing views of a work’s value, but also a disparity between what it means to be a fan and what it means to be in a fandom. Speaking from personal experience, over the years, I’ve gradually moved away from large, online communities to a closer circle of friends. Now, when I encounter “the fandom” of something, it can be like stepping into a foreign country, even down to being exposed to unfamiliar lingo. I wonder how my interpretations, headcanon or not, can differ so much from the dominant ideas in a given fandom collective.

In hindsight, this is rarely surprising. It’s uncommon for a single person to arrive at the same conclusion as a group, and even one group’s ideas will not align with another’s. A person who is truly alone, in the sense of not having others to talk to, would only have themselves to debate with. Moreover, when people form communities around a hobby, they have a high chance of bringing in like-minded peers; all the more so when fandom is a catered experience via Twitter or Tumblr.

Fanon isn’t some monolithic creature. There are multiple fanons, much like how it’s impossible to have every headcanon be exactly the same. One can even argue that a single property can have multiple canons, as long as it never fully defines which version is “official.” But the conflict between fanon and canon is generally old and fairly easy to understand. There’s what the creators say, there’s what the fans say, and even the most tightly controlled work will have moments left to interpretation. Moreover, because the Word of God, so to speak, carries a kind of authority, fanon is positioned as a kind of rebel entity.

But when the fight is headcanon vs. fanon, it’s the fanon that turns into the empire. If a lone fan wants to be accepted, they’ll have to take on enough of the assumed truths of the group, or be willing to encourage debate and disagreement. Because of how fans are so capable of tying their fandom to their personal identity and values, disagreements can hit close to home, or be seen as an affront to one’s beliefs. This is why a focus on social consciousness and progress, even though those concepts aren’t bad ones, can lead to a kind of zealousness that can create a negative image. The way a fandom thinks, even if it’s ultimately in a positive and beneficial direction, can become very hostile to outsiders, i.e. those who have not been baptized in the fires of fanon.

I think one of the major factors contributing to the ways in which headcanon, canon, and fanon clash is, likely to no one’s surprise, social media. It simultaneously allows people to connect while also in a sense isolating them from each other, while the internet itself has long been a space where beliefs, no matter how big or small, are defended seemingly to the death; one set of words vs. another. There’s no sign of it stopping any time soon, but I hope to see a greater awareness of the value of both individual and group mindsets in fandom.

AOL Instant Messenger: In Memoriam

December 15, 2017 will be marked in history as the day AOL Instant Messenger finally died, and with it, a chapter of my online fandom lays to rest.

Long before AIM came on the scene, I was a kid in elementary school who got to try America Online thanks to my family. While the signature “You’ve got mail” chime and the constant refrain of “A/S/L?” weren’t major parts of my childhood, they eventually paved the way for the chat program that would be my go-to form of internet communication for close to two decades.

What began as a way to simply talk to fellow fans in various circles, be it NiGHTS into dreams fanfiction, Pokemon multiplayer strategy, anime, or more. Like so many awkward nerds out there, I had a hard time making friends online, but somehow was able to pour my heart out to those on the other side of my keyboard. I was young, dumb, and full of overwrought emotion, but so were the people on the other side. I remember those early days of my internet life fondly, and lament that the internet as a full-on escape all but died with Web 2.0, let alone the social media landscape we have now.

Out of all my memories using AIM, what probably stands out to me most are the genuinely heartfelt conversations I had with people I truly considered to be my friends, whether we eventually met IRL or not. It felt good to listen to others, and it felt good to have others listen to me, as we shared the things that we found difficult to express to others in person. This might apply more generally to the internet, but at times I felt AIM saved me.

Truth be told, I had still been using it pretty regularly up until the announcement that it was finally going away for good. I know we live in a newfangled world where supercharged messaging programs are a dime-a-dozen, but AOL Instant Messenger will always be my #1.

To Khara, Sonuis, Fish151PKMN, OGT, and all the others out there: thanks for the memories.