This is a story from the early days of the internet. Circa 2001-2004ish. A time of Geocities and AIM and and ICQ and from before Gmail even launched.
At that time, I was a big Final Fantasy fan (okay, I still am, more or less). My first real experience with online fan communities was a Yahoo Groups mailing list called the “Final Fantasy Forum”. It was a fun, tight-knit group that loved to discuss the FF series and other JRPGs of that era. The group was small, maybe 20-30 active members at peak, but it was also very active; it was not uncommon to have dozens of messages in a day, or even an hour. This was back in the days of dial-up internet here in the PH, so it was a bit challenging to keep up.
But I did keep up, and was quite active with the group, and eventually even became a moderator. I got to know some of the other active list members quite well, such that I considered them friends (in as much as people you’ve never met IRL can be friends in those days, at least). But as you all know, all good things must come to an end.
The bane of all good discussion groups is drama. First, the original list creator and owner came back from hibernation. Most of us mods had been second generation list members, we never really knew the original creator since he had gone inactive. At first we were all like “Hey, welcome back!” but then we quickly got into disagreements over how the group should be run. Over a tumultuous few days, he started kicking out and banning people who disagreed with him. I asked him for a dialogue and promptly got kicked out as well. Such was the fate of the FFF.
Over the next couple of months, the old mods and members tried to re-establish the same community elsewhere. First, they set up an alternative Yahoo Groups list called “The AntiFFF” (I told them this was a terrible name), which appears to be the currently listed “Final Fantasy Forum” on Yahoo Groups. It had a burst of activity for a month or two, and I was there for a short while as well, but there was some disagreement on who should or should not be allowed into the new group, and there was no strong moderation so at some point there was a long debate about religion (another bane of discussion groups) which caused a lot of members to leave and group petered out shortly after.
One of the other ex-FFF mods who was made unwelcome at the AntiFFF messaged me and proposed we create a new group with a more general RPG topic, and we did get the old mod team together and did that, but that group didn’t last very long either before activity petered out.
Around that time, Yahoo Groups itself started to wane in popular usage and everyone kind of drifted apart. I seem to have unsubbed from the last group about a year after it was formed. I only recently started looking into all of this again when I dug up some old emails that referenced the FFF. I don’t even have copies of old emails from either the original group or the successor groups. Most of my recollection of events comes from what I remember and the fact that I can still go through the archives of the AntiFFF at the YG site.
I was struck with a wave of nostalgia when I remembered all of this, and a little bit of regret that I didn’t keep in touch with these folks that I interacted with regularly for the better part of 4-5 years. I tried to see if I could track down some of the members I could remember, but back then most of the list members went by aliases which are now defunct. I did manage to find Twitter accounts for a couple of the old members, but couldn’t track down the old mod team that I worked closely with. For the rest, all I could find were now-defunct websites and domains and emails and handles for chat networks that aren’t even around anymore. It was a completely different internet back then.
It feels kind of weird to miss those guys, since I never really knew them in person. These days virtually all of the people I interact with online are people I know IRL. (“Virtually all” because I do have some Twitter mutuals that I’ve never met in person but interact with regularly enough that we are aware of each other.) After the FFF and the derivative groups, I was never again actively a member of a community of “strangers on the internet” as it were.
This was all of fifteen-ish years ago, so I can only imagine that many of those peeps have vastly different lives now. Maybe they’re no longer active online. Maybe they’ve outgrown video games. Maybe they’re teaching their own kids now about Final Fantasy. Maybe they’re all in different places now with different jobs and different hobbies, and none of them even remember the little mail group we had all that time ago. Or maybe someday some of them might stumble upon this post and say “Hey the Final Fantasy Forum! I remember that group! Good times”