Adventures in Creepersville #02: Text-based Hell

If you allow yourself to be lax around creepiness, especially when you’re young and impulsive, the odds are high that you’re going adopt at least a little of the creepiness yourself. I don’t want to implicate mental illness in any of this, but I do want to confess to my own contribution to the culture of Creepersville – one where I was fully cognizant and culpable rather than just going balmy.

Cast your mind back to the early-to-mid nineties, and a couple of teenagers have just got their hands on a modem and the opportunity to use it without parental supervision. And they’ve got a list of local bulletin board services (BBSs).

Even back then, friend and I didn’t like creationism or puritanism. Science! Atheism! Secularism! Plus a gurning trollishness subbing in for a lack of a matured jocularity.

Creationists don’t like tits-out-of-wedlock, right?

The idea of breasts may seem a bit mild in terms of today’s deepfaked or photoshopped trolling, especially given the element of social media pile-ons. But the invasiveness of what we had planned was creepy, and the technological vulnerability we had in mind, while basic, was something we viewed opportunistically. Yucko.

So. The plan. We find a pornographic image – softcore preferably. We rename the file to make it read as if religious content (hard with the eight character limit of FAT16). Then we upload it to either a religious BBS if we can, or the religious sub-section of a more general BBS, along with a suitably religious descriptor.

Hurr-hurr. Brilliant! Right? As if we were the first to think of doing this. Well, we weren’t. Someone had beaten us to it. Hell, people had been doing this on BBSs through the 1980s.

See, we didn’t have thumbnails. These BBSs; text based. Hell, we didn’t even use Windows 3.11 to dial-in from. It was DOS 5.0 all the way. That was the beauty of the ploy (hurr-hurr); no graphical previews. No warnings.

So we set to downloading a VGA picture of some boobies over a max 14.4k connection – possibly with fallback to 12k or slower. Despite only being 320×240 with 256 colours, it took time. We went to get a snack.

Our BBS client had no capacity for displaying graphics once downloaded, and we didn’t want to waste a phone call disconnecting just so we could pop back out into the DOS prompt. We milled around on the BBS for another hour or so before disconnecting to plan the next stage.

So we fired up SEA by Photodex, who as of writing are finally closing up shop. (I used to love SEA. That *plink *sound it’d make when it’d finished rendering a picture to the screen? Loved it. All those SVGA demo pictures? Magic.

Farewell Photodex.

SEA, it turned out, got a little bit tainted that day. We expected to see PGR-12 to MA-15 rated breasts. Instead we found that we had downloaded was a picture of what appeared to be a woman attempting to copulate with a pig. I expect the woman’s horror was worse than anything we experienced of course, and it raises issues of human trafficking and so on. Horrible.

More immediate to our teenage selves was the fact that a BBS run by an adult, had had someone – presumably an adult – upload a bestiality picture with a misleading filename, only for it to be downloaded by a pair of teenagers. Yeah, disclaimers were signed and all that, but still.

Suffice to say, our plan of trolling Christians with boobs went out the window immediately, and no plan resembling it was ever considered by either of us ever again. In a sense, we got a taste of our own medicine, albeit preemptively and in a much more vile manner.

Sure, we still gurned through more of the 1990s; we were still a bit adolescent. But we certainly had our limits, and we knew explicitly what some of them were.

“If this is what it’s like for us, then maybe we shouldn’t do it to someone else, yeah?”

Context-devoid, misleading text descriptions were still an issue later on, even when we’d moved to FAT32, Windows and HTTP. There were still misleading links. Even the thumbnails would mislead on occasion.

Right click, “save link as”; get all those Star Trek: Voyager pictures for your friend, right?

“Hey, where’d you save the Star Trek pictures?”
”In your documents folder.”
”Um, that’s not Star Trek. That’s anal sex. What’s anal sex doing on my computer?”
”I… I… …”

But text seemed pretty good at misleading, especially when people used filenames to identify content over P2P without the ready availability of file-hash block lists. Viruses. Surprise pornography. Worse.

At a friend’s place in 2004 I tried downloading something over a P2P network that these days you’d look for on YouTube. Instead, and without warning, I wound up with graphic footage of the 1987 suicide of Bud Dwyer. Yay for surprises.

I’ve heard of people witnessing worse just as a result of trying to download music video clips over P2P. Certainly, P2P networks have been apt to become cesspits best avoided.

Stewing in a culture of creepiness, despite knowing your own values; you have to wonder to what extent it erodes you. Friend and I never took to 4chan and never would have, but we were relatively comfortable with Something Awful in the early aughts (yes I know, a lot less extreme). Still, if we hadn’t been unwillingly embalmed in Internet creepiness as much as we had been, would we have even been comfortable with Something Awful?

Would we, free of these experiences, be different people? Would our aesthetics and our ethics have been less disjointed?

Both friend and I experienced similar mental health issues over much the same period later in the 1990s, so you have to wonder how much that was exacerbated too. Sure, you can brush off the discrete events as having impact, but in a culture that facilitates this kind of thing there’s climate to consider. A climate which while you may not notice, affects you all the same.


Next in Adventures in Creepersville, I think I’ll address RPG fantacism, where as a young adult I collided inescapably with dissociative fantasies you literally wouldn’t believe. Oh the joy.

~ Bruce

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