A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture

Attaining the Ninth Square: Cybertextuality, Gamification, and Institutional Memory on 4chan

Vyshali Manivannan, Rutgers University

Enculturation: http://www.enculturation.net/attaining-the-ninth-square
(Published: October 10, 2012)

On August 11, 2007, an Anonymous user on the imageboard 4chan’s Random - /b/ board role-played the collective avatar Epic Fail Guy (“EFG”) by uploading images of the stick-figure alongside dialogic text. As this was hardly a novel occurrence on /b/, 4channers greeted EFG by exhorting him to kill himself. Consequently, EFG attempted suicide and predictably failed, firing into the air on his second try. Meanwhile, in another thread, in a post ten seconds after EFG fired skyward, the collective mascot Pedobear1 was shot. Perusers of the Pedobear thread were elated by the unexpected occurrence and attendant relief from boredom but also expressed confusion as to the inexplicable nature of the murder. This confusion was mitigated only when perusers of the EFG thread announced, “EFG KILLED PEDOBEAR,” linking back to the EFG thread as proof (“EFG kills Pedobear”).

Similarly demonstrating the complexity of reading, archive, and memory on 4chan, a user on the Anime - /a/ board began a thread in 2008 with a screencap from the 2006 anime Code Geass in a post numbering 15061604. The accompanying comment made an obvious observation with astonishment: “Holy shit CC has been watching Lelouch from the very beginning” (“Thread 15061604”). Ensuing replies such as “wow Anon you’re pretty slow,” and “welcome to 2 years ago” denigrated the user’s ignorance (“Thread 15061604”). One 4channer declared, “I don’t have a slowpoke2 slow enough for this. I’m going to mark your post number down, wait two years, then reply with slowpoke. See you in two years, sir” (“Thread 15061604”). Three other Anons3 proclaimed this potentially epic, demanding that he deliver on his promise and stating that they were screen-capturing the thread as proof. However, most 4channers ignored this post, so the thread was quickly deleted. Exactly two years later, an Anon—presumably the same one from the 2008 thread—replied to the now-dead post number with a Photoshopped Slowpoke containing the Geass symbol inscribed in its left eye and the comment:

Photoshopped Slowpoke

Figure 1: Slowpoke-Geass

Most present users were confused and mocked the original poster (OP) for a “fail reply” to a dead link, but one recognized: “He’s trying to link a post literally 25 million posts ago […] how could anyone possibly know what post he’s referring to?” (“2 Year Reply”). However, others in this thread proved they knew, posting their screencaps of the 2008 thread and praising OP for delivering on his promise. After this instance of shared knowledge construction, users ignorant of the 2008 thread declared themselves fortunate to have stumbled on this “slice of history in the making” (“2 Year Reply”).

These particular instances are exceptionally illustrative of the arduousness of transforming information into knowledge on 4chan. The intertextual “EFG shoots Pedobear” threads suggest that 4chan’s unique interface and culture necessitate discursive practices dependent on its synchronicity, anonymity, and ephemerality. These aspects compel and facilitate attempts to transcend the limitations of 4chan’s structure through original content (OC) and gamified narrative. Simultaneously, the Slowpoke-Geass instantiation attests to a return to orality as a mode of memory preservation in a transient digital environment without an archive. Taken together, these case studies illustrate the destabilizing ontological encounters typical to 4chan and the cybertextual practices required to productively engage with the site. When confronted with cryptic information, users must continually refresh that thread and rapidly search the whole board for relevant content before it disappears. They ask others within the thread for reference points and seek explanations on paratexts and meta-archives like 4chanarchive, Encyclopedia Dramatica, or Know Your Meme. They screencap the post in question and repost it on other boards, hoping that users will recognize it and supply context. These discursive practices must be enacted simultaneously through use of multiple tabs, frequent refreshing, and individual conservation in order to sustain an archive and manufacture institutional memory.

Within this discourse community, users who disseminate institutional memory and translate information into cultural capital are considered valuable. These users, like the rest of 4chan’s population, are anonymous and fluctuating but were present at key moments in 4chan’s history. To become a valuable user, Anons must maintain a consistent presence, peruse vast amounts of content, and develop a discerning eye for valuable cultural capital representative of 4chan’s history, politics of duplicity, and implicit social rules. Where relevant information is lacking, 4channers must seek out paratextual evidence, link to other boards, or delve into their personal archives to make information institutionally significant. These properties, intrinsic to 4chan’s discourse, suggest that 4chan is best read as what Aarseth termed a cybertext, where active engagement is pivotal to literary exchange and the manufacture of meaning4 (1). This interaction transpires largely around trolling and memetic activity. It also occurs around the negotiation between ludus—rule-governed systems with a predesigned goal, ending with a clear triumph or defeat—and paidia, objectiveless, freeform, explorative play founded on the pleasure of the player’s mental and physical exertions (Frasca). This lusory behavior galvanizes permutative, combinatorial, and transformative discursive play. 4chan’s cybertextual and lusory qualities are thus imbricated in its production and preservation of institutional memory in a uniquely transient setting. Users’ ontological encounters with synchronicity, anonymity, and ephemerality engender distinct discursive processes that lay down principles for future communal practices and archive maintenance.

This discussion will progress linearly: through 4chan, archive, institutional memory, and cybertext. However, narratives may also be extracted from images, footnotes, and subheadings in addition to the meat of the document and, as in any cybertext, the sequence of exploration is the peruser’s decision alone. Like Cortázar’s Oliveira, who spends his life reaching towards Square 9 in a physical and spiritual hopscotch, readers’ discursive paths will inevitably open their eyes to what they are being offered.

At first it had been like a bloodletting, being here.5

As the gap between social media and 4chan continues to widen, it becomes increasingly important to interrogate modes of being online as experiences. Knuttila suggests that Heidegger’s ontological and ontical inquiry, being-as-such and beings-in-the-world, is an apt framework for the experience of 4chan as discrete from its content and population. For Heidegger, being-in-the-world hinges on involvement rather than spatial location; furthermore, it stresses totality, a crucial notion for unpacking 4chan as an experience instead of a setting.

4channers are embedded in the interface to the point of incorporating hardware and software protocols in written discourse, such as the narrativizing of reCaptcha codes, slang terms such as F5, reappropriation of green text to connote implications, and so on. In reading 4chan as an experience of anonymity, transience, and duplicity, the user is positioned as “‘a being with ontological attitude,’ dwelling in a complex set of social, political and technological positions that should be understood in total and that being reveals itself through engagement with 4chan’s particular mode of virtual contact” (Knuttila). As this mode of being-online is duplicitous, fast-paced, anonymous, and impermanent, users’ ontological encounters with the site are unstable at best. This tacitly requires that 4channers engage in total in order to appropriately orient themselves towards the community and acquire the skills and materials necessary to further the preservation of institutional memory.

Created in October 2003, the imageboard 4chan is the largest English-language imageboard and the flagship of the Western *chans, all of which are characterized by their unique ephemerality and anonymity. 4chan’s primary purpose is for image sharing and discussion, and posts typically consist of an image and accompanying text comment, often exhibiting ludic qualities related to the interface (Bernstein et al 3). *chan imageboards lack even the option of registration and the default username, “Anonymous,” is a multiple-use, shared identity. This identity is used by over 90% of users, and users who assume distinct identities are derided for eliding the fundamental experience of anonymity (6). Content automatically refreshes, and expired content is irrevocably deleted since the site lacks an archive. The majority of the site’s content is permanently removed and paratextual archiving is not guaranteed, hence the importance of the personal archives compiled by valuable users and transmitted through group sharing of institutional memory (Stryker 159).

4chan houses over fifty boards, each of which is titled according to theme and assigned a letter within backslashes, such as Anime - /a/ or Random - /b/, the two earliest boards on the site (Dibbell 85). Members of each board use these letters with orthographic playfulness in fashioning communal identities for themselves, such as /a/llies or /b/tards. Content is organized into pages of discrete threads. Posting in a given thread “bumps” it towards page 0, resulting in increased visibility and likelihood of user participation, while lack of participation or marking a thread “sage”6 pushes the thread down so it disappears more rapidly. Activities such as role-play narratives and trolling may transcend threads and even boards. Thus, active engagement—not just lurking—is vital to the longevity of 4chan’s discourse as “participation is a matter of presence, being part of the exchange, as participant or lurker” (Herwig 46). 4chan’s discourse may qualify as repertoire, a supposedly unfixable, irreproducible corpus of embodied practice (Herwig 44). The repertoire may include orality, gestures ranging from physical to ASCII, and other actions that must be remembered, reinterpreted, and retold from the perspective of the encounter in order to be perpetuated. As all encounters with 4chan are defined by ephemerality and anonymity, 4channers must fully embed themselves on entry as a being-in-the-world to contain the site’s repertoire and memory and thereby become a valuable user.

Threads disappear especially rapidly on Random - /b/, which receives approximately 30% of 4chan’s total daily traffic of over seven million users (Stryker 42; Bernstein et al 3). Content lasts longer on slower boards like Anime - /a/, Paranormal - /x/, Video Games - /v/, or Yaoi7 - /y/, which demonstrate cybertextual aspects and often share overlapping discourse.8,9 Regardless, 4chan’s rapid pace makes it improbable that the majority will witness a given thread at the same time, or that they will share the ontological experiences generated by the arbitrary, whimsical changes instated by moderators or 4chan’s founder, Christopher “moot” Poole. The unpredictable implementation of wordfilters, wallpaper and “Post Successful” alterations, and looping background music10 constantly unsettles users’ ontological encounters with 4chan as an experience of embedment. Knuttila summarizes this experience as one of “being in” contingency, a condition of epistemic uncertainty that “rebuffs and denies fixed meanings, systems of hierarchy and regiments of pattern” (Knuttila).

4chan’s continual and anti-systematic contingency is unpredictable and destabilizing. According to Knuttila, contingency is created through moderators’ site modifications and additionally self-generated by 4channers, who respond subversively through ludic memetic incorporation—“gaming the system”—using hacks or unofficial script alterations to reclaim 4chan’s interfaces, including ASCII modifications to usernames,11 :stopmusic: and similar functions, and digital steganography (Knuttila). Even accountability measures such as the recently instated ID tags on /b/,12 intended to undermine 4chan’s intrinsic subjectivity, actually further cybertextual reading processes. The tags are only useful when users expend effort to correlate tags to posts, usually to identify trolls using the multiple-use, shared Anonymous identity for deceptive, sock-puppet purposes. The politics of contingency and gamification on 4chan thus (re)organize 4channers’ discursive experiences, resulting in and subsuming ludic dynamics like trolling, or disruptive behavior resulting in pleasure at another’s expense (Schwartz). Knuttila determines that the convergence of contingency and alterity radicalizes 4chan’s culture as one of automatic subversion and dissent via flaming, trolling, or mimetic attack. Because of this, he suggests that contingency is an embedded element of automatic dissent and that, within this culture, nothing is sacred, everything may be criticized, and anything remotely hierarchical or authoritative will be subverted (Knuttila).

Auerbach divides this culture, “A-culture,” into the economy of suspicion, the economy of offense, and the economy of unreality. This economy of suspicion derives from the ubiquitous trolling phenomena that obligate independent verification of discourse and images. Notably, this suspicion does not extend to 4chan’s anti-civility norms among longtime 4channers. 4chan claims a direct genealogy to the transgressive cultures of Ayashii World, 2channel, Futaba Channel, and Something Awful, where civility, as per the economy of offense, is often an anti-value (Auerbach; Stryker 126-136). This offensive impulse, evidenced by the widespread use of “fag,” seemingly misogynistic phrases such as “tits or GTFO,” gore, and deviant pornography, is a twofold proscriptive designed as an alternate barrier to entry. First, it identifies new users as those expressing offense and excludes them because they are unable to perceive the self-awareness and irony inherent in the use of slurs like “fag” and “nigger,” likely chosen due to the extreme sensitivity surrounding the epithets.13 It is impossible to truly discern posters’ views due to their anonymity and the saturation of 4chan’s discourse with self-referential irony and a refusal to accept anything at face-value.

Accordingly, users who automatically accept such discourse as testament to genuine belief expose themselves as “newfags” who fail to understand both A-culture and the necessity of lurking and embedment to achieve understanding. Users must immerse themselves and peruse 4chan like a cybertext to extract and embody this portion of its repertoire. Second, the economy of offense discourages using 4chan as a social networking site by dovetailing with its economy of unreality, which pertains to gamification and masquerade. Whereas social networking platforms possess easily locatable indicators of users’ everyday reality, this context is notably absent on 4chan (Auerbach). Users are actively discouraged from relinquishing anonymity in favor of “real-world” context, and those who do are derided. The emphasis on the separation of “real-world” and onsite identity facilitates the economy of suspicion in that, without verifiable context, everything is treated as false and responded to as fiction (Auerbach). Long-term 4channers regularly experience and enact the detachment engendered by these economies. Thus, they embody self-aware irony and skepticism on entering 4chan, and unlike new users, recognize that successful trolling is a marker of status and bigotry is a means of preserving communal boundaries.

These aspects distinguish A-culture from other elitist boards and, on 4chan, are a direct result of minimal barriers to entry and shared, anonymous group identity, which necessitate extreme policing measures to sustain the site’s exclusivity. Arguably, the extranoematic and ergodic qualities of its discourse satisfy a similar role. To preserve exclusivity, 4chan relies on its culture of offense and its institutional memory, which is arguably intertwined with the former as clever trolling and offensive material increase the likelihood of communal preservation. As Auerbach states, “What occurs in A-culture is a minimization of memories particular to the individual or subgroup and a maximization of the larger collective memory, thus enabling and encouraging the meta-awareness of that collective memory. This meta-awareness fuels the three main economies of A-culture” (Auerbach).

It follows that the playfulness, offensiveness, and irony intrinsic to A-culture and the creation and adoption of memes affect 4channers’ archival impulses and thereby impact 4chan’s institutional memory as a whole.

In that crazy hopscotch…I recognized myself, and called myself by name.14

In her research on the role of narrative within institutions, Linde (2009) construes narration as a means of connecting self-(re)presentation and history to the institution’s future. She defines “institutions” as social groups with enduring existence, while “narrative” consisted of texts employed internally to transmit social history, thereby establishing authority, claiming ownership, and creating stability within the group. These narratives establish communal identity by addressing ontological and epistemological issues15 and serve as the link between the institution’s representation of its history and the ways that group members use, alter, or contest that history to understand their social position. The narration’s assumed form depends on the social resources and tacit norms to which the institution subscribes, forming texts whose coherence is not absolute but contingent on these relations. Accordingly, the production and reception of these texts is a “social obligation which must be fulfilled in order for the participants to appear as competent members of their culture” (Linde 4). These competent members are the institution’s valuable users who retain knowledge of the institution’s history and appropriately deploy that awareness to influence its future.

This diffusion of institutional discourse directly builds on Blackmore’s criteria for memetic replication in digital media, the primary means of historical preservation in ephemeral environments like 4chan. Blackmore articulates three criteria that ensure quality replication of digital memes: fidelity to the original; fecundity; and longevity, or the ability to endure (58). These memes contribute to and define institutional memory developing around information-based economies, where shared knowledge construction aims at “the mutual recognition and enrichment of individuals rather than the cult of fetishized or hypostatized communities” (Lévy 13). These information communities are fluid, perpetually negotiating the order of things, language, and (re)interpretations of collective memory and history and the individual’s role in the institution. The resulting knowledge spaces, wherein all individuals are perceived as potential contributors to the information pool, become the guiding value for humanity’s development. As the boundaries between individual and collective blur or are unsettled, individuals band into “collective intelligences”: economies based on the free exchange of information, life experiences, and knowledge (Lévy 139-68).

These values ultimately guide institutions in perpetual flux, like 4chan, whose collective intelligence may be characterized as a noosphere, a “supposed global brain formed by the sum of all the human brains connected through the Internet” (Lanier 45). Just as 4chan’s interface requires individual archives to maintain community history, its hivemind nature encourages self-reliance on the community’s memory, the sole form of group identity within a zero-identity transient environment. Normative society emphasizes identity as a mechanism for accountability and creditability, but the experience of anonymity, synchronicity, and ephemerality in 4chan’s environment constantly unsettle identity, linear discourse, and institutional memory—which is, necessarily, the attempt to narrativize and stabilize communal identity aspects such as history, self-presentation, and social protocols.

The things you need: a sidewalk, a pebble, a toe.16

Preserving institutional memory in online communities is largely a concern of the past since permanent archival became the norm. Mayer-Schönberger notes that the “perfect memory” catalyzed by Web 2.0 capabilities has led to the preservation and easy accessibility of personal details, records, narratives, and histories (4). In an early article, Bush envisioned perfect memory in the form of a “memex,” a mechanized filing system constituting “an enlarged intimate supplement to [the individual’s] memory” (Bush). The device would not only permanently archive books, records, communications, and other forms of human knowledge but also imitate human mental processes through associative indexing. Knowledge-seeking could be likened to trail-blazing, wherein items can be joined along a highway of associations pertaining to found knowledge, user comments, tangents, longhand analyses, and “side excursions” (Bush). The explorative, ludic elements of this cybertextual knowledge-seeking are bolstered by the memex’s potential for instant, total recall. As such, the memex conceptually prefigured both digital collective intelligences and the discursive practices necessary in ephemeral environments, whose memory can be likened to that of orality. The associative indexing described by Bush evolved into Nelson’s notions of fantic space and collateration, respectively the space and relationships intuited by users of a given medium and the process of linking selections from two collateral structures (323, 331). These concepts mimicked human association by allowing two items to be displayed at once, connected—linearly or nonlinearly, sideways across screens, backwards or forwards—in the same crazy hopscotch forecasted in Cortázar’s proto-hypertext novel Hopscotch.

Preceding Hopscotch, Borges posited the Library of Babel, an institution predicated on perfect, all-encompassing data permanence. The Library contains all books, but although seekers are plentiful, “no one expects to discover anything” (55) and many die in search of a specific tome. The institution itself is characterized as a cyclical book like unto God, “a sphere whose exact center is any one of its hexagons and whose circumference is inaccessible” (52). One would fall endlessly if toppled over its railing. Through these descriptions, Borges destabilizes the primacy of perfect memory, stressing instead process over product—the act of searching over the discovery of the original manuscript, which, anyway, cannot be found. Findability seemingly poses more of a problem in a permanent archive, where obtaining all memory or transforming all information to knowledge is neither possible nor impossible. Information seeking is a process of rippling exploration, as the user enters the Library in search of one item but is fated from the start to search through volumes of undesired information, interesting but tangential information, and nonsense that cannot be parsed given millennia to do so. This trail-blazing constitutes both cybertext and paidia, and anticipates the ludic components of cooperative policing via the collective marshaling of bits of shared memory that ultimately allow 4channers to construct and maintain institutional knowledge.

Against the trend towards perfect memory, 4chan occupies an oddly forgetful space. Its print discourse mimics orality as it possesses an expiration date for remembrance (Mayer-Schönberger 189-92). It is driven to efface its own history while simultaneously preserving and replicating it, bestowing archontic and nomizing authority on those who are able to recognize valuable material and save it in the most appropriate format: for instance, screencapping a few posts, zipping the whole thread, or collecting one or more images from the discussion. The archontic power unifies, identifies, and classifies within a system of consignation, “a single corpus, in a system or synchrony in which all the elements articulate the unity of an ideal configuration” (Derrida 3). The status of users who demonstrate this power through reposting valuable material, organized within the parameters tacitly agreed on by the collective and made explicit nowhere, largely propels the sharing of institutional memory. 4channers are seemingly motivated by the desire for authority in future onsite trolling and gaming events. Thus, their conservation impulse speaks primarily to 4channers’ desire for authority, albeit temporary, within the collective. To obtain that authority, users must be consistently present and well-versed in reading cybertextual discourse. To that end, long-term immersion and cybertextual participation allow 4channers to absorb important evaluation and classification criteria regarding material worthy of being archived.

However, as there is no central, complete repository for material worthy of remembrance, users often compare notes on classification systems and critique others’ archives based on their reposted material. In threads themed “You laugh, you lose,” for instance, users who post “unfunny” images or screencaps are denigrated for their inability to gauge valuable material. Possession and sharing of valuable material—clever, offensive, unexpected, and playful—grants archontic authority to posters, who are acknowledged as guardians of history and, if present at the first instantiation of their repost, who possess the hermeneutic right (Derrida 2-3). The caveat remains that anonymity reduces accountability and, without the need for social credit, users may lack investment in the larger community for whom they are uploading information and may do so only capriciously.17 Valuable users are identifiable only from their declarations and (pic + timestamp) evidence of institutional knowledge. Their identity may be later assumed by less valuable users memetically spreading their declarations in an attempt to attain praise. Unexpectedly, however, this ontological experience of anonymity and ephemerality hones the noosphere’s alertness towards true valuable users. Thus, there exists a heightened wariness concerning misinformation, falsified evidence, and users who claim institutional memory without evidence, thereby preserving 4chan’s economy of suspicion.

In such transgressive spaces, normative issues such as fixed identity, accountability, and reputation systems and conventional perusal or remembrance processes hardly apply. Information seeking is constructed as a cybertextual process regardless of permanence. In the absence of permanent archives, cybertextual knowledge-seeking must be supplemented by user recall. 4chan may be a decentralized hivemind collective lacking permanence of identity and memory, but it has architected itself around the centralized exchange of information, which is predicated on 4channers’ ability to tell truth from trolls, a game presupposing paidia and emphasizing savviness and discursive agility. This game consequently generates material worthy of memory, which is collected by valuable users and disseminated onsite to promote and police identity. In this forgetful space, digital memory has thus returned to orality, wherein community members relied on shared memory systems to carry forward their past and invent their future. Recollection based on findability or chronological linearity may not be the best means of recollection, as suggested by Nelson’s hyperlinked, collaterated structures mimicking nonlinear intuitive processes and the fact that the human brain constantly reconfigures memory, rendering memory itself a malleable, evolving construct that resists rigid categorical structuration (Nelson 323; Mayer-Schönberger 20).

Digital technologies have restructured not only writing space but also knowledge production itself. Although typically characterized as a linear, structured, argument-driven process, in actuality knowledge production “always has been a deeply intuitive, affectively driven process of recombination and reorganization. Practices like blogging make this DJ process of ‘remixing’ even more apparent” (Nicotra 262). This intuitive process and its tendencies towards remixing manifest in archival practices in communities like 4chan, which frustrate focused information seeking. It could be argued that permanent archives diminish the richness of our collective history, whereas these spaces enrich our institutional memory. This is a serendipitous choreography of simultaneous participation, engagement, and exchange around the cultural artifacts that constitute 4chan’s social capital (Herwig 45-8).

4chan’s institutional knowledge is, thus, produced and perpetuated.

One foot in three, one foot in six, the (cumulative) possibility of meeting after all.18

According to Aarseth, cybertexts hinge on the mechanical organization of the text and the user’s consumption of it via ergodic and extranoematic processes. Ergodic literature encompasses texts with high barriers to entry, requiring nontrivial effort on the part of the reader: for instance, nonlinear traversal, intertextuality, transmedia usage, and other barriers to entry. Similarly, extranoematic components require physical effort that exceeds simple, linear eye-tracking or page-turning, such as collateration-based, simultaneous perusal of diverse texts, rhythmic refreshing, hyperlinking, actively searching for paratexts, and so on. The medium is integral to the user’s ontological experience of the cybertext, rendering narrative unstable, uncertain, and aporetic. As such, the cybertext is a “game-world-labyrinth […] an imaginary world, in which the reader can explore at will, get lost, discover secret paths, play around, follow the rules, and so on” (Aarseth 4).

The primary tension in this game-world-labyrinth is a struggle for narrative control among manifold narratives competing for dominance, determined by the paths of user perusal and the architecture of the medium. The chief aporia of the cybertext is the absence of possibility, especially on imageboards like 4chan. The choice to open a link in the same tab as opposed to a new one, or forgo refreshing an interesting thread every few seconds, leads to radically different ontological experiences and exposure to institutional memory. 4channers, perhaps more so than other cybertext readers, are “constantly reminded of inaccessible strategies and paths not taken, voices not heard. Each decision will make some parts of the text more, and others less, accessible, and you may never know the exact results of your choices; that is, exactly what you missed” (Aarseth 3). 4channers must therefore utilize distinct strategies to maximize their thread and content intake, increase their exposure to institutional memory, and, through archival conservation, acquire cultural capital to become valuable users. In collecting and evaluating material for this purpose, users must become savvy at discerning “win threads” from “shit threads” concerning trolling in particular, as trickster behavior and deceptive practices comprise the bulk of user interactions onsite. Cleverness and originality are imperative to creating material worthy of the archive.

The Game

Figure 2: The Game. (You just lost it.)

Trolling on 4chan is an ontological consequence of anonymity, ephemerality, and contingency and factors into the evaluation criteria for individual archival practices. The minimal governance of Random - /b/, coupled with 4chan’s deindividuating anonymity and dehistoricizing ephemerality, facilitates identity deception and disrupter culture in the form of trolls. Trolling has been used by trolls as both discourse and online eugenics, a form of rhetoric and means of morally adjudicating online behavior. On 4chan, it is chiefly concerned with achieving a sense of intellectual superiority over fellow interactants. Onsite trolling demonstrates trickster properties due to the indefinite and variable agendas of its perpetrators and emphasis on wordplay and paratextual and ergodic elements inherent to imageboard discourse. That said, it is generally perpetrated by one user seeking to outwit his fellow /b/tards and is always committed for the lulz, which may range from “lighthearted and amusing jokes, images, and pranks” to “ultra-coordinated motherfuckary [sic]” (Coleman).

Frequent trolling tactics include posting in the guise of an attractive woman describing her sexual exploits, “bait-and-switch” stories whereby readers’ expectations are thwarted, or wordplay concerning puns or literality. As per irony and the economy of offense, /b/ users champion criminals such as Hitler or Joseph Fritzl, who raped and fathered seven children by his daughter and to whom 4channers mailed Christmas presents. At the same time, they mail birthday cards to the seemingly lonely 90-year-old William Lashua.19 Users have killed themselves or threatened to do so on /b/; they have planned or bragged about authentic school shootings;20 they have authored hoax bomb threats that the police misconstrued as legitimate threats. They profess to masturbate to child pornography but use social engineering to entrap potential pedophiles. They participate in offline activist movements such as Project Chanology and Occupy Wall Street and support WikiLeaks. These inconsistent and contradictory activities sustain the experience of contingency within the community and also provide ample opportunity for 4channers to learn to discern between “shit threads” and “epic posts.” Furthermore, these memes and moments immortalize model participation on 4chan. In addition to demonstrating how to properly read 4chan, Slowpoke-Geass and EFG’s inadvertent killing of Pedobear were unexpected and hailed as original and creative in an environment prone to oversaturation.

Such community-defining memes are those that are institutionally valuable and chiefly generated during episodes of trolling, valorizing creativity, cleverness, and originality. These incidents are preserved in institutional memory through memetic phrases that mean little or are easily misread by outsiders, such as “you better love chocolate milk,” or the ubiquitous “OP is a fag.” Most of these rules encode the obverse of their literal meaning, making it impossible for outsiders to distinguish between the literal and the implicit without consistent lurking and absorption of institutional memory. It is through lurking that 4channers are exposed to institutional memory and acquire collective knowledge and cultural capital for themselves. Immersive engagement permits the translation of information like the chocolate milk meme, personally archived and shared by valuable users, to 4channers’ fickleness: in a thread about loving chocolate milk, a poster who preferred regular was randomly banned. “OP is a fag,” seemingly bigoted for the sake of bigotry, embodies 4chan's culture of offense and automatic dissent, particularly towards perceived authority (Auerbach; Knuttila). By virtue of starting a thread, regardless of the topic, OP is positioning himself as authoritative and identifiable, and therefore will always be a subject of ridicule.

These rules and the overall habitus of the site are sustained by valuable users who possess and distribute institutional memory. Given the site’s architecture, the first instantiation of valuable knowledge as well as the valuable user authoring it are unpredictable. The number of users who witness the valuable thread is also unpredictable. Neither can we predict how many of those users will deem the thread a worthy addition to their personal archive, nor how many will be present in future threads when the information is again salient, nor whether or not these users will later spread institutional memory through memetic diffusion. Within a decentralized collective premised on perfect forgetting, valuable 4channers are those who have both witnessed and personally archived historical or culturally useful moments21 and then reposted them to facilitate the survival of 4chan’s history. However, within the governing principles of 4chan, made explicit nowhere, these valuable users’ voices must be heard only in moderation, as oversaturation of a meme renders it mainstream, insignificant, and worthless, and requires diligent effort and vigilance to expel it from circulation. The archontic principle of legitimization, of both historical events and culture, rests on users’ discernment of what is essential to the archive and to institutional memory (Derrida 40-1).

Human Centipede for Memes

Figure 3: The Human Centipede Model for Memetic Oversaturation

The unexpected moments of humor, playfulness, and trickster-triumph preserved in 4chan’s institutional memory illustrate the importance and means of being clever, creative, deceptive, and above all victorious in this discourse community. These moments tend to diffuse through memetic spread, indicating that the two cultures commingle to ultimately perpetuate shared knowledge that improves the quality of 4chan’s discourse. Doing so entails policing oversaturated memes that no longer suffice as cultural capital, distinguishing valuable users from newcomers, and ensuring that 4channers are well-versed in necessary cybertextual, paratextual, and intertextual perusal. Understanding Slowpoke-Geass, for instance, required multiple stores of institutional memory and cultural capital. The signifiers in Anonymous’s (2010) post consisted of the timestamp—two years to the day after both the original thread—and the Geass symbol inscribed in the Slowpoke’s eye. Role-playing as EFG requires the tacit knowledge that “correct” versions consist of a 400x400 GIF file, among other aspects.

This knowledge spreads memetically, but through limited vectors to preserve 4chan’s boundaries. If the meme serves as the replicator of memory on 4chan, it is contravened by the culture’s exclusivity (Coleman and Brunton). Oversaturation22 of memes through memetic diffusion, where the meme is reproduced with particularly high fecundity and met23 with special disgust, neatly separates new users from long-term users. New users are those who are delighted by old memes that have long since become so oversaturated that they have lost their subversive, exclusive meaning.24 Due to high fecundity, memes like lolcats and Rickrolling have become the face of 4chan, when valuable users are actually identifiable by their possession of less prominent, more exclusive memes like “Itty bitty baby, itty bitty boat,"25 once used to identify other /b/tards offsite during raids. Memes like multi-track drifting26 or the turtle,27 however, have evaded memetic diffusion and remain impenetrable to outsiders; those who understand and repost such memes thus prove themselves valuable users with viable cultural capital.28 This is especially true regarding “slice of history” threads ranging from Slowpoke-Geass to activist activity surrounding nonlinear, multi-authored erotica about Julian Assange to defacement of the Government of Tunisia’s webpage to read “All your base are belong to us,” which are screen-captured for preservation in collective memory.

Discourse on 4chan is the intersection of image, orthography, and code. An entire lexicon has erupted around methods of reading and writing on 4chan that reference hardware and software interfaces, such as “F5ing” to indicate frantic refreshing or “>greentexting,” the use of a right chevron and sentence fragments in green-colored text as shorthand for implied sarcasm.29 Other references occur around communal identifiers, such as /b/tards, ASCII modifications to the Anonymous username, and chanspeak argot such as “partyv&” or grammatical spam like “DESU DESU DESU.” Other epistemological vocabularies that reference the posting mechanism speak to institutional knowledge, such as filenames in lieu of specific images embedded in the culture, like “youmustbenewhere.jpg"30 or references to orthographic play, like “triforcing,” “greentanking” or other ASCII images requiring correct use of non-breaking space characters. The use of collectively approved filenames also indicates archontic power, as the poster has lurked long enough to preserve files within the tacit conventions of 4chan’s system of consignation.

These linguistic forms rely on memetic diffusion for fecundity and longevity as well as institutional memory to be transformed from information to knowledge. “DESU” spam,31 even when recognized as the Japanese verb for “to be” (??), remains meaningless until ascribed cultural and historical context. Here, it is associated with the Rozen Maiden character Suiseiseki; in a historical context, the DESU spam was part of a 2006 retaliatory raid on /b/ perpetrated by Anime - /a/, and the word and image macros of Suiseiseki often disparage obsessive anime fans. Most importantly, this institutional knowledge is required to ensure that 4channers utilize these image and linguistic forms correctly, as even incorrect grammar—by normative standards—may be used incorrectly. The "pretty cool guy"32 meme, adopted and touted prior to its oversaturation by new users, was originally witnessed by a handful of users and disseminated due to the humor of OP’s grammatical incompetence. Users who incorrectly apply the formula are flamed as new users and ordered to “GTFO.”

When performed with discretion and limitation, memetic diffusion spreads institutional knowledge to ensure its place in collective memory. Its counterpart may as well be memetic curtailment, or the process by which 4channers police oversaturated memes that are bereft of cultural capital due to their ubiquity and accessibility to outsiders. Tellingly, Knuttila concludes that contingency and its attendant sociality preclude the accretion of creditability alongside greater obstacles, such as 4chan’s anti-celebrity, anti-leader ethic (Coleman). Similarly, one 4channer noted in a thread full of legit oldfags, “you post anonymous…so who cares if you post old stuff to pretend to be oldfag, it doesn't remember you…you don't join an unanonymous club. fag” (personal archive, 2011). However, the elusive, zero identity of Anonymous does not preclude self-satisfaction at others’ reactions or at the knowledge that one’s contribution will be immortalized in personal archives and future reposts. It also does not stop other 4channers from noting and praising a user for disseminating material worthy of memory.

The implicit personal reward is akin to gameplay, as it suggests a lusory attitude based on overcoming obstacles such as 4chan’s culture of offense and dissent. These disparate strands—memetic culture, trolling, and elements of play—collude in 4chan’s cybertextual properties, which sharpen 4channers’ ability and desire to distinguish between worthless content and content that may elevate them to the status of valuable users in future threads requiring repetition or translation of institutional memory.

Searching is the motive of a destroyer of compasses.33

The playfulness inherent to memetic and trolling references facilitates both cybertextual perusal and the kinds of trolling and gaming that continually increase the levels of cleverness and creativity required for a cultural unit to be judged valuable. For instance, new iterations of old memes, such as “Friday” bait-and-switches, are considered valuable as they are relatively unknown and therefore still able to surprise and unsettle. Trolling with gore or scat, also oversaturated, is often replaced by unexpected forms of deviance, such as two jet planes copulating or eroticized sinks. Trolling is itself a game, one steeped in riddles, deceptions, and misleading other users; other games played on 4chan, often to break the boredom, involve asking questions, guessing answers, “gaming” the medium itself by predicting post numbers, incorporating reCAPTCHA phrases into discourse, or relating narratives, as in >greentexting or bait-and-switch stories. These are games based in informational power and cultural capital obtained or verifiable through stores of institutional memory; “players” participate to obtain that capital for themselves or prove that they already possess that knowledge and, by extension, archontic authority. Users nearly always engage in triforce threads, even knowing they are troll threads meant to rile new users, because doing so provides an opportunity to confirm one’s status in the community.34 Similarly, contributing colorboxes to fingerbox-style troll threads or proposing to repost the Slowpoke-Geass in another two years to commemorate the original thread also contributes to institutional memory.

The culture of automatic dissent and trolling delineated above may be read against a larger framework of aporetic discourse. Huizinga stated that, although humans compete for superiority in professional life, all competition can be likened to gameplay. These trials are always play and always possess cultural functions. According to Huizinga, games are steeped in discursive practice, especially because oral traditions have heavily influenced the social order and perceptions of the universe and of the unknown. Word games comprise an essential part of ritual and often assume the form of riddles, enigmatic statements, and childish inquiries that are actually cosmogenic in nature (105-107). In ritual contexts, riddles and puzzles that possess “secret power” place the player’s life at stake, as evident in Vedic parables and Greek myths. Significantly, these riddles are not solved through logical reasoning but through abrupt insight, a solution that can only be discovered if one is aware of the rules of the game. Of equal importance is the notion that finding the solution—identifying the riddler,35 answering his question with unexpected cleverness or creativity,36 or adopting an unexpected approach that bends the rules almost to breaking37—renders the other player powerless (110).

This trickster behavior is a corollary of contingency as it unsettles the ontological experience of engaging with the site. On 4chan, the player’s goal is to be the best riddler—to be the most enigmatic—to bend the rules the farthest—to unsettle the experience of engagement by being unexpectedly clever, creative, and original. Even if creditability is compromised due to anonymity, games allow for a sense of triumph, especially if one’s post is archived and screen-captured by other users as proof of a historical moment. 4chan “players,” then, create the esoteric and exclusive knowledge that other users deem cultural capital, and both players and spectators deploy the resultant history to prove their standing as valuable users.

4chan’s culture of automatic dissent and contingency provide these players with the prelusory goals and constitutive rules outlined by Suits. Suits analogizes gameplay to life, construed as a balancing act between work and leisure, which is itself work, as it exchanges the labor of performing tasks for fulfillment of a goal for the labor of surmounting unnecessary obstacles to achieve a goal. More specifically, “To play a game is to engage in activity directed towards bringing about a specific state of affairs, using only means permitted by rules, where the rules prohibit more efficient in favour of less efficient means, and where such rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity” (Suits 34). In the prelusory stage of gameplay, the goal can be described independently of the game itself, such as crossing a line on the ground. Constitutive rules then function to preclude the most efficient means of achieving the prelusory goal. Together, they create a lusory attitude, wherein the player willingly accepts the constitutive rules in order to attain the prelusory goal. Suits suggests that good games must exceed their potential difficulty (within reason). This is aptly analogized to the aporetic discourse of 4chan’s trolls, who utilize flames, wordplay, and identity deception as their chief means of trickery.

Make-believe or role-playing games, which can be likened to deceptive practices or at the very least identity play, occur frequently in 4chan’s history as well. Each “move” is intended to evoke a dramatic response from other players. The players are thus authoring a script as they are enacting it (Suits 110). Due to 4chan’s ephemerality, however, this script is ultimately nonlinear and cybertextual, as new participants link to initial posts, participants link to replies in other threads or to new threads continuing the role-play, and tangential, “real-world” discussions are embedded within the fantasy narrative. In 4chan role-play, identity deception generates new scenarios and genuine dramatic responses, as users both reply and attempt to figure out whether or not they are being trolled. If performed well—that is, if users are unable to identify the user as deceiver or truth-teller—the audience will “rate” the troll 10/10, post laudatory images, and request that users archive the thread for preservation in institutional memory.

4chan’s discursive gameplay ascribes to what Frasca terms ludus and paidia as substitutions for game and play. Digital cybertexts organically incorporate paidia by demanding unconstrained exploration. Interestingly, 4chan adopts the pleasures of paidia by virtue of its architecture and resultant discursive processes but also adapts elements of ludus to trolling, an activity weighted with values of triumph or defeat (Frasca). Similarly, Wark describes games that, like memexes and collateral structures, radiate out from the text in an attempt to call the world to order. Games, particularly open-ended paidia games, can be read as a fundamental escape from boredom, or “what refuses not to happen”: the consequence of “freedom to,” which is itself a consequence of “freedom from” (154-156). The paidia intrinsic to navigating 4chan’s discourse serves a critical role in dispelling the boredom of “freedom to” (Wark 156), wherein so few rules and goals present themselves that ascertaining the next step becomes work. Instead, users build the conceptual space as they create narratives, a voluntary system of self-enclosure steered by authors who, through cybertextual mechanisms like intertextual references and cross-thread or cross-board involvement, can establish aspects of ludus, while deceptive behaviors encourage aspects of paidia.

4channers often vocalize their boredom, and this boredom is combated through gamification. OPs often propose games based on 4chan’s architecture, as in users’ lusory predictions of their own post numbers; “fap roulette” and other mutual masturbation games based on a chart and the last two digits of one’s post; Anonymous promising to deliver a particular action if other users perform a specific task;38 Anonymous randomly choosing a post number that does not yet exist and proposing that, once it is generated, all users reply to that post with a given declaration;39 or role-playing characters like EFG or Woody, Dark Lord of the Internet, who maxed out multiple threads as users discursively role-played and battled well into the night (personal archive, 2011). These discursive games thus facilitate institutional memory, preserving and valorizing the habitus presented in these threads and imbuing their images and text comments with a certain cultural capital. The emphasis lies on creativity, originality, and contingency. The players want to be unsettled to obtain relief from boredom; thus, what breaks boredom is more instantly attractive; and, having appealed to the attention of a notoriously fickle group, pleads to be taken as valuable, as worthy of historical archival.

Learning Heaven was on the same level as Earth on the dirty sidewalk where you played.40

It seems remiss to conclude without mentioning that the literary cybertext that most closely mirrors 4chan perusal is Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch, which contains one linear narrative, one nonlinear narrative dictated by the author’s sequencing, and innumerable narratives created by the reader’s own organization of the material. Nelson practically translated its format verbatim into digital discursive practices, predicting reading and writing on 4chan with regards to hypermedia, branching narratives, and so on. On 4chan, Nelson’s fantic space has evolved from being a nominal construct to the organizing principle of reading, writing, and valuation of information as potential institutional knowledge (323). It is crucial to 4channers’ attempts to create memes that, through artful effect and cleverness, survive the constant onslaught of information. These memes then become part of institutional memory and contribute to the site’s anti-civil habitus by illustrating valuable forms of creative appropriation and trolling and thereby helping to police unacceptable behavior.

For Nelson, as for Cortázar, “everything is deeply intertwingled,” where intertwingularity suggests that there are no “subjects,” only knowledge, which is myriad, inextricably overlapping, and nonhierarchical (329). Like Pascal’s fearful spheres and Borges’s infinite Library of Babel, information cannot be neatly categorized or sequenced, and the (digital) Gestalt closure anticipated by Nelson unifies these disparate discursive components into cohesive narratives that, ultimately, formulate collective intelligence, institutional memory, and noospheric history. Digital discourse, of course, does not end with Nelson’s vision or 4chan’s realization of it. The ludic and narrative possibilities of visual vernacular, hypermedia, and collateration are evident on 4chan paratexts, social media platforms, blogs and micro-blogs, and virtual worlds. But what is uniquely proposed by 4chan’s architecture and discourse is that paidia is essential to successful reading and writing due to its synchronicity, anonymity, and ephemerality. There is a narrative and history to be cybertextually parsed in all arrangements, in the footnotes and subheadings and the order in which they are consumed.41

If writing has always been about making connections, cybertextual spaces like 4chan have merely altered the ways in which we craft and perceive those connections (Nicotra 259). 4chan’s discourse is most obviously illustrative of reading, writing, and archival practices as they occur at an extreme point on the continuum, but its reliance on the spatial and architectural speaks to a general shift in writing metaphors: that is, away from process and towards an embodied thinking and acting vis-à-vis writing. Rhetorical production as a whole is spurred by such economies, which prompt recursive, collective forms of invention and suggest that building conceptual writing spaces like this may be linked to improving literacy (Nicotra 264, 274).

Users’ need to configure these spaces results in an architecting of narrative that is recursive, collective, and network-based. Individual authorship is less a concern than the quality of post content, resulting in a meritocracy divorced from visible seniority. In the end, the fertility of a meme depends on its quality, and in such a jaded, transient discourse community it is hardly surprising that cultural capital emerges out of the most clever, surprising, and outrageous content. Institutional memory is formed when one or more users reposts this content, and when other users discover it through cybertextual reading. The discursive practices developed by 4channers, however, suggest that this is not purely a matter of chance, but that users recognize that the reward in reading 4chan lies not in locating a single elusive volume but in unhurried browsing, absorption of esoterica discovered along the way, and eternal F5ing and collaterating, as valued bits filter up and it becomes increasingly apparent that, as in Cortázar’s cybertext, heaven and earth occupy the same plane, separated only by the field of hopscotch and the way we throw the stones.


1 “Oh, my Lolita, I have only words to play with!” (Nabokov, 1955, p.32).

2 A Pokémon-based old-meme-is-old meme representing old or oversaturated information.

3 4channers frequently refer to each other as “Anon,” the informal abbreviation of the default username Anonymous.

4 “Literature is a combinatorial game that pursues the possibilities implicit in its own material […] but it is a game that at a certain point is invested with an unexpected meaning” (Calvino 20).

5 Cortázar, Julio. Hopscotch. New York: Pantheon Books, 1987. p. 11.

6 Sage, from “sageru”: Japanese term meaning to move back, or lower.

7 Yaoi (???): Japanese term referring to homosexual male relationships between anime characters.

8 Consider: a “shit thread” begun on /y/ with an opening image of a package of Ramen noodles (d)evolved into a [Editors' Note: The following link contains sexually explicit images] “win thread” fostering multiple erotic stories about various types of Ramen positioned in intercourse, ultimately serving as a metaphor for interracial (Oriental x Pork) relationships before (seemingly related) images of Ramen noodles began appearing on /b/. Meanwhile /x/ is always embroiled in a search for “creepypasta,” or scary stories that are memetically spread through copy-and-paste (copypasta).

9 One of /x/’s creepypasta paratexts is the “Holders” series, a semi-formulaic hypertext archive of amateur, second-person stories about supernatural entities who possess one out of 538 objects that must never come together. In each, the character, “you,” undergoes the onerous task of meeting the Holder and obtaining his/her Object. The stories frequently reference and build on one another, intimating that the authors familiarize themselves with the archive before adding a new one.

10 Site modifications range from “Rainbow Yaranaika” wallpaper and Erasure’s “Always” on /v/ to “Occupied /b/” with a stationary layered image cluttering the layout and simulating the movement to the May 24, 2010, Law & Order-themed “Post Successful” page commemorating both the series’ end and the final episode’s fictional blogger moot. Wordfilters range from humorous to socially shaming, such as 7 > over 9000, wapanese > weeaboo, is a meme > is fucking stupid, femanon > cumdumpster, ftw/for the win > sucks, and came > swallowed semen. Users may reclaim the interface by writing scripts to alter or perpetuate a given modification.

11 ? ???)?

12 Implemented earlier this year, /b/’s posting mechanism now displays a hashtag unique to the poster’s IP address within a given thread: e.g., “Anonymous (ID: Mm/0lylV).” In theory, the tag reduces contingency and possibilities of alterity through fixing subjectivity. However, OP’s tag changes after the opening post and varies across threads.

13 While these are the most frequently used, offensive discourse is not limited to these two words. “Americans” becomes “Americunts,” male users who post photographs of themselves are met with “dick or GTFO,” and so on, as offensive discourse is tailored to the presumed sensitivities of specific targets. A demand for verification, as in “timestamp plus X body part,” satisfies both the economy of suspicion and the economy of offense in a culture that is often trolled by users pretending to be women, that rejects indicators of everyday reality, and ridicules users who are fooled and who don’t understand that this isn’t the place for those indicators.

14 Cortázar 95.

15 Who are we? What is our purpose? Where do our boundaries begin and end? What did we emerge from; what do we want to become? (Linde 3-4).

16 Cortázar 214.

17 4channers, trained by lurking and institutional memory dissemination to be less trusting than the average Wikipedia reader, doubt all information on sight. This is part and parcel of 4chan’s culture of automatic dissent and feeds into the assertion that “pics/timestamp/EXIF data or it didn’t happen.” What follows after the posting of said images are collaborative paratextual searches to ensure that the community is not being duped. On a basic level, this illustrates the lusory attitude taken by 4channers towards onsite trolling, where trolls strive to deceive and audiences strive to outwit their would-be deceivers.

18 The worst part of it is that precisely at that moment, when practically no one has learned how to make the pebble climb up into Heaven, childhood is over all of a sudden and you’re into novels, into the anguish of the senseless divine trajectory, into the speculation about another Heaven that you have to learn to reach too (Cortázar 21, 348-9).

19 Operation Merry Fritzmas and Operation Birthday Boy threads stored in personal archive.

20 The Virginia Tech Massacre; the Pflugerville High School bombing (thwarted); Dearborn High School shooting (thwarted); “don’t mess with football” copypasta hoax; etc.

21 A historically significant moment might consist of successful trolling or alterations to 4chan’s medium, such as the plotting of raids on Habbo Hotel, or the looping of “ROW ROW FIGHT THE POWAH” from the anime Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann on the day the Large Hadron Collider was to be initiated. Culturally significant moments might consist of paradigmatic behavior or successful trolling, such as a thread full of contrary, dissenting behavior or life-ruining activity. Incidentally, Slowpoke-Geass is both a historically and culturally significant moment in that OP was finally not a fag and Anonymous delivered on his promise.

22 Milhouse is not a meme. Milhouse is not a meme is not a meme. Milhouse is not a meme is not a meme is not a meme. And so on to infinity.

23 EPIN = EPIC AND WIN. Fail meme was fail.

24 In January 2012, newfags fell for the John Cash copypasta and treated it as though “the Internet is srs business” (Dibbell, 2008), causing oldfags to mourn, “this is older than the internet and people still fall for it,” “NEWFAGS NEWFAGS EVERYWHERE,” and “Will the following Newfags GTFO: >>371733675, >>371736895, >>371737477, >>371737859, >>371738379, >>371738820, >>371740305, >>371740816, >>371741285” where each hyperlink nonlinearly pulled the reader to various demonstrations of newfaggotry.


Itty Bitty Baby

Footnote Figure 1: Itty Bitty Baby, Itty Bitty Boat

26 A conceptual meme from doujinshi comic Densha de D (??D): essentially Initial D with trains. In terms of valuable-user identification, this meme requires knowledge of the Initial D anime series, premised on Japanese street racing and where drifting features prominently; and the doujinshi, where a train’s rear wheel jumps the tracks and “drifts” using the adjacent track.


Suitcase Turtle

Footnote Figure 2: Suitcase Turtle

28 As Anonymous noted in a 2011 thread shockingly full of “legit oldfags” contributing old, obscure, exclusive memes: “Safe [sic] all pictures from this thread and everyone will think you are a legit oldfag in future threads similar to this one.” Cited from personal archive.

29 In comment form, as in > implying anyone on 4chan isn’t sarcastic; or, in story form taken from Paranormal - /x/:

> Late at night
> Hear a noise
> See a figure in my room
> Worry this person is going to hurt my son
> Break a lamp over its head.
> It was my son
(“>Greentext Paranoia”).

30 A reference to an image of Gene Wilder from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971). (But you already knew that, or else you would be new here.)



Footnote Figure 3: DESU DESU DESU

32 The original “pretty cool guy” meme is as follows: “I think Halo is a pretty cool guy. Eh kills aleins and doesnt afraid of anything.” OP tried to remedy his mistake but replicated his error-filled post. Replies flamed OP for his grammatical failures, after which the thread (d)evolved into permutations of the formula, such as “I think holocaust is a pretty cool guy. Eh kills Jews and doesnt afraid of anything.” Incorrect use of the incorrect metonymy in these permutations was harshly criticized, suggesting that the formula was considered valuable to the community’s shared knowledge.

33 Cortázar, 1986, p. 7.


How to Triforce

Footnote Figure 4: How to Triforce

35 Rumpelstiltskin, who gives the miller’s daughter three days to guess his name, after which she loses her son. When she guesses correctly—having obtained the answer through spying on him—he is rendered powerless and disappears.

36 The Sphinx, who famously asked, “Which creature walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?,” killing all who could not answer. Oedipus solved the riddle, and the Sphinx promptly killed herself.

37 The Phrygian legend of Alexander the Great and the Gordian Knot. It was so intricate it could not be untied to produce two separate ends. Failing to unbind it, Alexander the Great “cheated”—permissible in gameplay according to Suits (2005)—and cut the knot in half, producing the two ends.

38 Such as the provision of child pornography if /b/ can count to 10 in consecutive order, notoriously difficult for the hivemind.

39 Anonymous was hailed as original and clever for just such a proposition, and the post in question, “I am 18 and I use Facebook,” was trolled with a series of iterations of “CALM THE FUCK DOWN,” as decided in the original thread.

40 Cortázar 216.

41 Think Hopscotch, or the footnotes in Nabokov’s Pale Fire. Even the experience of consuming this paper will change depending on whether this footnote or the lines above are the last set of words you read.

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