- Apr 3, 2020
Martintox Presents: Disorder Reviews
Launch Date: 19 January 2008
Genre: science fiction, horror, urban fantasy
In the previous review, I had discussed the Internet's potential as a tool for research and learning, as well as its dangerous influence on new, impressionable writers. However, for the sake of brevity, I had intentionally neglected another property that makes the Web appealing for many artists-to-be: its ability to host large collaborative circlejerks. The aforementioned TV Tropes and fan-made wikis illustrate this already, but those boil down to fanboys pedantically archiving the most menial of details on their favorite episode of the latest flavor-of-the-month children's cartoon -- in short, they are not particularly interesting creative ventures. (For that matter, neither are fanon wikis, the contributors of which have either the physical or mental age of a fifth-grader that really doesn't want to do his math homework.) This being said, there do exist original projects, some of which have even gained wider appeal through related media and adaptations. Nonetheless, it soon becomes obvious that the very format at the core of their popularity is also what dooms them to spiral into mediocrity when given enough time and manpower.
Before the fan art, the video games, and the "EXPLAINED!!!!" videos with Patreon links, the SCP Foundation boiled down to 4chan users sharing spooky ideas. The first SCP article appeared on the site's "Paranormal" (/x/) board in 2007, at a time where its user base could still come up with good creepypastas instead of asking how they can summon a succubus. Although it would have been hard to imagine its scale today, it's not surprising that the idea would catch on with a premise this irresistible. To put things simply, the SCP Foundation is a fictional organization that apprehends and contains entities that break the laws of nature and pose a threat to humanity. Consequently, each "article" describes one of these entities (known as "SCP objects") as well as the procedure for keeping it contained. However, to prevent the social fabric from unraveling, it's paramount that their existence remain a secret; documents will black out, redact, or hide information behind a security clearance so as to prevent unwanted information leaks. While there would be subsequent additions to the formula, this is the general principle, and it's nothing short of a fucking brilliant premise. First, the need for the Foundation and its workings to be left ambiguous allows for articles to be very free-form in terms of objects and containment procedures; second, the secrecy of the documents adds to the mystique of the individual SCPs, as well as the organization as a whole: what matters is not only what the text tells you, but what it leaves out.
Not every entry was a hit in the early days, far from it, but I'll be damned if there wasn't some worthwhile stuff. As unassuming as its page looks now, the simplicity of the original SCP is precisely why it has persisted as a classic beyond its mere status as the first article. Once again, the ambiguity of the format has led to the inclusion of some genuinely clever concepts, namely the machine that can refine other objects and the SCP that can only be described in terms of what it is not. My favorite has to be SCP-1981, not only for the batshit concept, but because it builds up the tension while remaining solidly in the confines of the format. Mind you, all of these are among the highest-rated pages on the website out of thousands of other entries, but it's only fair that the most distinctive pieces of writing are the ones that reach the top, right? Absolutely, but consider this: if your average Internet user knows about the SCP Foundation, it'll be for an article like this. What about the remaining 5000+ pages?
An online collaborative project will generally go one of two ways: either the novelty wears off after a while and it dies out, or it keeps growing and doesn't stop. For a website like TV Tropes, where the intent is very much to accumulate superfluous information, there's absolutely no reason you'd want the former to happen, but when it comes to a creative venture with a theme as specific as the SCP Foundation, both outcomes have their fair share of problems. Roughly around the same time SCP got started, there was a similar website called The Holders, but it had pretty much died by the end of 2013 because no one knew what to do with the premise other than regurgitate vague prophetic talk about an apocalypse they can't specify with prose that wouldn't have been out of place in Dark Souls III. With such a large community, the SCP Foundation is not likely to experience the same fate any time soon, but therein lies the problem: the website became popular for articles that mostly reside in the first two series (between 0000 and 1999), at a point in time in which the project's /x/ roots were still in place. As the number of authors would increase, this would not be the case for long.
Today, the userbase spans a large amount of writers, many of which come from different communities with their own perspective of the SCP Foundation and what it means to write an article for it; with such a diverse array of styles, it's impossible for the core principles to hold beyond surface-level formalities, such as the inclusion of an object class, the formal writing style, or the obfuscation of information (the latter two aren't even a given, mind you). Minor "news" outlets have commended the website for maintaining a quality standard, since pages with a negative rating eventually get replaced, yet you can easily find people argue that any other SCP past the first 1999 doesn't fit the overall concept, and it's rarely an unfair assessment. The fact of the matter is that an article can get a lot of upvotes as a result of many factors: maybe it's pandering to a specific audience, maybe the author is popular enough that they have their own fanbase, or maybe, in rare cases, it's a genuinely good piece of writing for reasons outside the usual scope of the Foundation. In short, it's a complete fuckfest: one could say that the tone is inconsistent, but the average article has deviated so far from the original material that it would be a bit naïve to imply there is still a "tone" in the first place.
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