The chat room is an interesting medium for storytelling. First, the audience is (in this case) anonymous, which means it can have any sort of absurd, vulgar, or irrelevant response to the story being told. Secondly, the audience is largely idle; many people sit in the chat room and treat it as a passive form of communication with other’s that share a similar interest. Third, the audience isn’t captive, it responds to elements of the story as it’s being told.
All of these things affect the pace, tone, and content of the story being told.
Since nothing too out of the ordinary happened to me this week, I decided to recount a paranormal experience that I had as a child, using a fairly populated World of Warcraft chatroom as my audience. After browsing dozens of sparsely populated IRC chats, the WoW chat was the first that I came across that had over twenty users present.
When I joined the chat, there was no activity. I decided to start telling my story, sentence by sentence over the course of the next twenty minutes.
I told the story of seeing a dead man in my bedroom as a small child. The man was decaying and had tattered clothes; he hung suspended from my blue metal bunk bed, a noose around his neck. His lower torso was missing and he dangled just a few inches clear of the carpeted floor. I mention the gory details because they stand out vividly in my memory, and the thing that puzzles me about this experience is that as a five year old child, I had no frame of reference for this kind of visual. The memory prompts me to ponder the nature of memories, their mutability and ultimately their trustworthiness. If I had no visual reference for this type of experience, is it possible that I have been retroactively augmenting this memory as I’ve grown older; adding acquired visuals to the mental scene? Or did I actual see a ghost?
After a few minutes of reciting my story, I got a response, one related to hentai manga (porn). A joke, it served as a segue into an actual response to my story. This threw me off a bit, and as I continued my story I considered my audience member and began to engage them as I told the remainder of the story. The responder, recounted the phenomena of physically visiting a place that they had seen in a dream and encouraged me to research paranormal activities.
The actual exchange was quite slow, a minute or so would pass between each exchange. This is likely because IRC is a passive type of live communication; users are doing other things while being engaged in the chatroom. Because of this lack of immediacy, I was able to craft my story a little more thoughtfully than I would have been able to if I was speaking in person; a kind of self editing and authorial image management.