1 min read

Invisible society? Love letter?

(making words up, trying to gesture at something)

There's a certain kind of Internet writing trope I notice. It's a trope of subject matter, or maybe of framing. I think of it as "the invisible society." It's like a secret society, but protected from awareness by obscurity rather than secrecy. Such writing works best if you know nothing about its subject, which is easy because the subject is obscure. It has to be obscure for this to work.

I'm thinking loosely of writing like Alice Maz's Minecraft essay and mcc's Cohost writeup of attempting to spend New Year's Eve in VR. (All great; read any/all of them before/instead of this.) nostalgebraist's novel (? it's the right length ?) "The Northern Caves feels like this invisible society from inside the moment, but in fiction form.

(The Alice Maz essay is supposed to be here but isn't. Unfortunately alicemaz.com seems to be in domain parking as of writing.)

(iffiest on The Northern Caves here; it's been a long time since I read it)

(also I feel like I should be able to come up with more examples, like I've read several more stories like this, but I'm blanking at the moment)

A lot of these are written as retrospectives. Sometimes they are written after the community has fallen apart, perhaps with a nostalgic or an analytic tone. They don't have to be; mcc's Cohost writeup is more an after-action report, or a down-the-rabbit-hole trip report.

Something these have in common, I think, is delight in the detailed texture of their specific subjects. In Alice Maz's essay, that's this specific Minecraft server's economic systems and the dynamics of the people playing with (and winning) them. In the Cohost writeup it's the mismatched, surreal communities-in-hiding – the secret furry villages and the labyrinths of references protecting them. (Okay, so that one actually is kind of about secret societies – just not the Elks.) In The Northern Caves, it's about this specific fanbase, the fans of Chesscourt, and the story they're digging into. There is a delight in nongenerality.

Maybe a better term for this kind of thing is "love letter."