Adventures in Creepersville #03: Reality Warp

I’ve done geeky things. I used to play role playing games (RPGs) once upon a time. When I first played it was the late end of the Satanic Panic, which in rural Australia seemed to lag on for longer behind the heyday of the source moral panic in the US.

You know how many Satanists, or witches, or delusional people I was exposed to in those early years, thanks to Dungeons and Dragons or Battletech? None. Not one. Nada.

In fact, the first person geek-adjacent that I encountered who could be categorized thusly was someone who deluded himself that he had psychic powers. He had a lot on his plate both socially and mental health wise, and I certainly don’t wish him ill if he’s still alive out there. He introduced me to the better side of anime – the non-creepy kind – but at any rate, he had nothing to do with RPGs.

Nope. The RPG crowd were all a bit bog-standard Stranger Things, really. Mundane.

Then the mid-90s came around, and I was introduced to some new acquaintances, and a new RPG that was published under the banner “White Wolf”. You’d be fair calling the me of this period a cranky pomophobe; I had prejudicially little tolerance for anything remotely post-truth, and the “White Wolf” games were very post-truth. Think “that’s just like, your opinion, man” in gothic fantasist mode, with added lashings of affected-scholarship.

The pretentious references to fetishized academics, and the insular caricatures of “technocrats” and rationalists; blech. You didn’t have to be any kind of rationalist to find this stuff bothersome, but boy did some pages wind me up more than I should have allowed them to. The source books would have been a whole lot more tolerable if the authors seemed a little less impressed with themselves. Cerebral narcissism is always ugly.

At any rate, it was a small mercy that at least the gamers in question didn’t emulate this pseudointellectualism in its full ugliness. No. Instead, some of them imagined that they had magic powers and/or the ability to alter reality through sheer will.

When it’s the middle of a deep recession, a lot of people your age are out of work, and you’re scraping together funds for living in a dingy flat, you can get the impression that you don’t get to be too picky about the company you keep. Never mind what this may do to your own mental health, or theirs, or what your state of mind may do to your employability or educational prospects – you don’t want to be a snob, right?

Sometimes a young, trollish, bored individual will want to break the monotony with a bit of thoughtless, impulsive, consequences-blind fun. Why not? (Well, because it’s childish, obviously).

So rather than confront people about their delusions, or do something otherwise productive, a sceptical friend and I egged them on. One time we exchanged sideways glances while one of them attempted psychic healing. Another time we watched, all the time trying not to giggle, while they attempted to increase their “mana” through an amplification loop. This other time one of my flatmate’s friends hid with me in the bushes of a local park while we giggled and watched a couple of the guys attempting to draw power from the “node” of a “leyline”.

What are the odds that the “node” was on public land, and not in one of the neighboring private yards of the very-much residential area? And only just around the corner from the flat, too. How convenient.

I’m sure if I asked, I would have been told something along the lines that the “node” affected the minds of council planners, causing them to allocate the space as a place of public wellbeing. You never have to be wrong when you can warp reality though sheer power of will!

Their theology for the most part was lifted from Mage: The Ascension, which gave them the idea of others simply being “un-awakened” individuals who collectively suppressed magic through the power of their consensus: Sheeple, albeit magically. You could see this manufactured special status in any number of “metaphysical” bookstores or crystal shops in the 1990s; “my life is drab, people don’t think I’m special, but I’ll show them! I have a special relationship with reality!”

Yes you do, Moonchild. Yes you do.

Despite this having been a bit stressful to tolerate near constantly, and despite it helping to speed up the fraying of my own sanity, I don’t want to piss on these guys. They could be fun to be around. They could be creative. They tolerated a good deal of my bullshit when they shouldn’t have. And some of them had serious personal problems leading into the reality warpage to begin with.

At any rate, this low standard for grasping at reality left the door open for other sorts of weird-and-creepy. Of course a friend of my magic-believing flatmate’s magic-believing friend, visiting at one point, would inform us that women enjoy being raped. My mouth flapped-wide-open at that. I wanted to say something, but it was one of those “so obviously wrong, but so hard to find where you went wrong” type scenarios; I didn’t know what to articulate.

Suffice to say that despite my shocked muteness, that guy never got to enter my home ever again, and I haven’t seen him again in over twenty years. Good riddance.

Fantasy was the over-arching theme with these guys: Having reality your own way. Sadly you get a lot of that around geek stuff, and it’s a good part of why I don’t really do geek conventions. It’d be nice if fantasy would more readily stop at its genre boundaries and stay out of everyday life.

It bears repeating, time and again: You may want to help them, but unless you have a reliable support network, and preferably some clinical qualifications, there’s a severe limit on what you’ll be able to accomplish. Back then mental health awareness wasn’t what it is today, but encouraging people to get help should have been the prescribed action. I still feel that I failed some of these guys in that respect, and of course failed myself.

And whatever you do if you find yourself in a similar situation, don’t do what I did, which was to fall into the trap of morbid curiosity: “What the hell is it with these guys? Why on Earth? I need more data!” You’ll just end up wallowing in an unhealthy, creepy environment. This is especially problematic if you already have mental health problems of your own.

Escape, and escape with anyone else you can get away with who needs to! Don’t let a feeling of disloyalty, a bleeding heart, or a post-truthy kind of inclusion born of a role-playing game tell you otherwise.


Next in Adventures in Creepersville, I think I’ll address an interest in the work of View Askew Productions, renting videos, reading comics, laughing about what terrified us, and bad habits acquired.

~ Bruce

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

Adventures in Creepersville #01

This could almost just as well be titled “Adventures in ‘90sland”, given that my tolerance for the appearance of creepiness begun a rapid atrophy around 2002. Beyond that, my stories of creepiness are a bit piecemeal, and a bit residual, the creepiness not holding near as much real estate in my social space. Which is not to say the aughts won’t feature.

Anyway, I thought I’d start this series off with a tale from back in the day, where we have a guy who took it for granted that “The Guys™” would always just like certain things, and moreso, those things in combination.

I have to confess I used to watch professional wrestling as a kid. Keep in mind that as a kid in rural South Australia in the ‘80s, unless it was a good day in summer and you had a decent antenna, there was a choice of two television stations; GTS-BKN and the ABC. When a few kids started watching something, it went viral in the schoolyard, and then the rest of us at least had our reference points even if we weren’t that interested.

Eventually you’d see some of this stuff at the video library in your teens, and it was a case of “okay, let’s hire some of this shit we’re familiar with in case the other stuff turns out to be terrible.” And if you’re like me, there’d also be a period of morbid curiosity in your late teens and early 20s as to why you ever watched this stuff – and so you watched even more to find out. But beyond that, eventually you’d realize you’d have been better off all along watching Care Bears or going for a bushwalk.

In my case I have other interests, some of them electronic. So when someone claims he’s got bootleg video footage caught via a homebrew satellite receiver a retired electronic engineer friend whipped up, it gets my attention. Until he mentions that the footage is professional wrestling. And mentions it again. And again. And again.

Eventually, being capable of feeling pity, and like some women who’ve been pestered for dates by guys with poor grasps of personal boundaries, I gave in and watched said bootlegged wrestling. So of course I liked this stuff, right? I must have. I mean, I remembered parts of wrestling from my youth, so there were cultural references that I got, and besides, I have a penis. I’m a guy. Why wouldn’t I love it? All the guys love wrestling. Well, actually, no.

I do however, also like the idea of the MIPS architecture. Yay RISC. I liked and still like the idea of SGI workstations like those used to render the graphics for Terminator II and a number of other blockbusters of the era. Costing tens of thousands of dollars though, I had to opt for time with a scaled-down version; The Nintendo 64.

You know what was a great test of this system’s capabilities, a real work of software engineering? Wrestling games of the late 1990s. My brothers bought some.

Here’s some advice from with someone with experience: When someone is obsessively interested in something that you are not, and when these people don’t readily respect personal boundaries, do not meet them half way. If you like MIPS, and they like wrestling waaay too much – don’t raise the issue of MIPS and wrestling in the same breath. If you do this, they’ll take that as full and unqualified affirmation and they’ll treat you like a liar when you back away later on.

“She finally went on the date with me after I asked her the 10th time! When I asked her in an awkward spot that made her vulnerable if it was a good date, she said “YES”! Now she says she doesn’t want to go on another date with me!!! She’s a liar! SHE LIKED THE DATE WE WENT ON!”

It’s like that guy, but with wrestling instead of a date, and The Guys™ instead of women. Imagine him getting shouty, and correcting you by telling you what you like. “DON’T LIE! YOU DO LIKE WRESTLING! REVISIONIST HISTORY!”

It’s probably not surprising then that guy assumed that other guys just liked a lot of other shit without them saying so. What was really novel was this one time I paid a visit to said guy, and he endorsed a product I’d never heard of and am doing a good job forgetting the name of. (Do not inform me of the answer if you just happen to know).

Basically, we’re talking a case of “Nuts and Gum” being spruiked to someone with bad teeth and nut allergies, albeit in magazine form; a wrestling news magazine that was also a pornography news magazine.

For crying out loud. I’d already indicated to this guy that I found parts of anime disturbing – i.e. the dubious sexual politics. Why he thought I’d be interested in pornography news I have no idea, other than to suggest that it was just because I have a penis. Why he thought he could even be this candid in the first place should have been a mystery, but I guess I was just in denial about how clueless he was and still is – call it supererogatory charity.

Ever since, I’ve wondered if he just needs to come out to himself. I don’t expect him to out himself to others, but the thought of him perusing a hetero spank bank interleaved with homoerotic machismo just so he can lie to himself about what arouses him, is sad beyond words (which is to say nothing of what working for the publishers must be like for the women involved).

People like these are a good part of why personal barriers exist, and why you need to be extra-observant of your own around some folks. If you’re not careful, and you allow your standards to be eroded by them, you can at least superficially start becoming like them. If you’re afflicted with a mental illness at the time, this can be a very unpleasant experience, so a bit of social hygiene is indicated – don’t let anyone tell you you’re being snobbish.

Even if you can’t articulate why this kind of stuff makes you uncomfortable, be confident that taking the next exit out of Creepersville is the right choice. That and yes, wrestling fans can be icky. No surprises there, really.


Next in Adventures in Creepersville, I think I’ll address some BBS-related creepiness from the early 90s, where as a teenager I intended to do something trollishly stupid, only for it to backfire in a massively creepy fashion before it even began. Call it a cautionary tale.

~ Bruce