THE LOST HISTORY AND IMPORTANCE OF "ALL CAPS"
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THE LOST HISTORY AND IMPORTANCE OF "ALL CAPS"


I have written at length about the decline of the Internet and Web culture over the past 15 years due to the mass-influx of the invasive species alternatively known as the "NORP", the "normie", the "normalfag", and more recently the "normalcattle". A group that. if I may be permitted some crudity, would describe as a sort of boorish and ignorant peasant class that is very far removed from the culture and values of the old Web and Internet, but that nonetheless too often feels entitled to impose its own values on its denizens.

While I have previously touched on many of the lamentable changes that have occurred as a result of this, from mass-censorship to the decline of creativity and individuality, I thought I should also dedicate an article to the largely lost art of ALL CAPS - an important element of the old Internet culture whose use is too often maligned by NORPs that have no understanding of its importance.

When I speak of ALL CAPS in this article, I am entirely referring to the intentional use of it online to communicate certain sentiments. It is impossible to pinpoint when the first general use of ALL CAPS was, and it had to have occurred on a typewriter long before computers were anything more than a pipe dream. The modern phenomenon of ALL CAPS on the other hand, is something that emerged on the Internet some time in the 90s.

In spite of the modern perception of ALL CAPS being rude, obnoxious, and something best avoided, it is and has been a vital tool for communicating online for over two decades. While written/typed communication is objectively superior to verbal communication (at least to autistic folks such as myself), the utter lack of tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language can often lead to misunderstandings, such as in situations where a person is being sarcastic or saying something outrageous to be humourous.

Most people have heard the importance of punctuation and capitalisation promoted via showing the difference between the sentence "I helped my uncle Jack, off a horse." and "i helped my uncle jack off a horse". The apparent meaning of the first sentence is that the writer helped their uncle, a man named Jack, get off from their horse, while the second sentence seems to be implying that they helped their uncle bring the horse to orgasm.

Much the same, ALL CAPS, when used properly, is used to denote that the writer is excited and/or that they are being playful or outrageous. To provide a similiar example, "I will hunt you down and make a mask out of your face." is ostensibly a threat, while "I WILL HUNT YOU DOWN AND MAKE A MASK OUT OF YOUR FACE" is about as serious as menacingly pointing a banana at someone in real life and threatening to shoot them with it. Essentially, ALL CAPS grants the user a license to be as audacious as they please as it communicates to everyone else that nothing they are saying is meant to be taken remotely seriously. Not that anything on the Internet was ever serious business!

In addition to this meaning, suddenly switching to ALL CAPS can be used to express excitement or passion for the subject at hand. As an example, going from typing in lower case to typing "I LOVE THAT BAND" when someone mentions a band you adore in a text-based conversation is akin to smiling wildly and raising the volume and pitch of your voice while saying it in real life.

To the best of my knowledge, ALL CAPS originated a few years prior to the dawn of the millennium in the long-deceased community centered around the 1991 ANSI computer game known as ZZT. Although the game itself was not very memorable, it contained an impressively versatile and easy to use game creation system that allowed users to create their own rich fan games using the ZZT engine. This versatility drew in a large amount of young nerds and enthusiasts eager to express themselves, and sustained a vibrant BBS and IRC-based community throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s.

The ZZT community is probably best known these days for the vast library of excellent fan games that they churned out, but it also produced a rich culture with a number of memes that spread beyond the community and ultimately survive it. A number of famous memes such as "FAIL" and calling people *fags (oldfags, newfags, doomfags) very arguably were born in the primordial ZZT community before being claimed after the fact by more prominent communities after they spread across the Web.

If you ask an actual ZZTer where exactly the ALL CAPS trend originated, you will either be told that was it was started on IRC by the legendary ZZTer Drac0, or by Fishfood and Igsel in their famous ZZT game Hallucina, which they slapped together in a mere 24 hour period for the Autumn 1999 24 Hours of ZZT contest (24HoZZT). Although I had not yet been part of the ZZT community in those olden days, from everything I had heard second-hand, it was indeed Drac0 who invented and popuiarised the trend, with the latter two ZZTers only getting the credit because their bizarre game helped popularise a number of secondary ALL CAPS memes such as YAY SIRS and OHH DEAR (meaning "yes" and "no", respectively) that were widely used after the game's release.

Aside from inventing ALL CAPS, Drac0 was a prominent ZZTer who produced a number of very high quality games, including Edible Vomit, an equally humourous and touching tale about addiction which many, including myself, believe stands as the greatest ZZT game of all time.

Drac0 is also notable for utilising the outrageous property of ALL CAPS to develop of a unique form of humour where one just screams out amusing things that often have little to nothing to do with the conversation at hand. These can often be out of context lyrics from a song the person is listening to or humourous puns or portmanteaus such as "(BLOW)JOB OPPORTUNITIES" or "NIGHTMARRIAGE".

Another possible origin for ALL CAPS is the long-standing webcomic Jerkcity (now named Bonequest). Running continuously since 1998, Jerkcity depicts a surreal yet irresistably comical world where characters from the Microsoft Comic Chat IRC client holler nonsensically at each other in ALL CAPS about gay sex, boners, "monster poos", and other intellectual topics, often imposed on a public bathroom.

Whether or not it is to the progenitor of ALL CAPS is difficult to determine, as the first Jerkcity strip (17th August 1998) predates Hallucina (25 September 1999), but not Drac0's first contributions to the ZZT community (some time in early 1997). Lamentably, any IRC logs showing the first instances of ALL CAPS being introduced on IRC have likely been lost to time long ago. It is worth noting however that the ALL CAPS format of Jerkcity stems from Microsoft Comic Chat automatically rendering text that way, and as such may not have been an intentional design choice by the authors.

Regardless of whether the creators of Jerkcity were ultimately the original inventors of ALL CAPS, the utter lunacy and outrageousness that pervades the comic is a shining example of the communication method being used just as it should be used.

Perhaps the best way to demonstrate the sublimity of ALL CAPS however, is to display an example of it being used by the creator and eternal master of the art Drac0 himself, from a 2000s AIM conversation. Although brief, the conversation snippet below perfectly conveys both the use of ALL CAPS to express excitement, and to express that one is being goofy. Both usernames in the conversation have been changed to reflect our most recently used monikers.

(9:33:48 PM) Koshka: i sleep better clothed
(9:33:50 PM) Koshka: oddly enough
(9:34:26 PM) Drac0: I SLEEP WITH MY CLOTHES ON.... FIRE
(9:34:37 PM) Drac0: MIGHTY CHARIOTS OF FIRE
(9:34:59 PM) Koshka: id only sleep naked if it was with a girl
(9:35:06 PM) Drac0: PSYCHIC VISION IS 20/20
(9:35:12 PM) Drac0: lol yeah thats the best
(9:35:14 PM) Drac0: spooning!
(9:35:20 PM) Drac0: AND FORKING AND KNIFING
(9:35:37 PM) Drac0: KICKING AND SCREAMING
(9:35:41 PM) Drac0: ICE CREAMING
(9:35:53 PM) Drac0: ... THE LONELY AGE

As can be seen in the conversation above, the prominent use of ALL CAPS in some places on IRC, AIM, and MSN Messenger in the late 1990s and early 2000s helped later usher in a trend of no longer using capitalisation or punctuation due to many people having grown used to casting them aside.

While ALL CAPS is no longer anywhere near as prominent as it was back in its golden age, it continues to enjoy usage on IRC and other text chat platforms primarily by old timers that still understand and appreciate the usage of this wonderful tool for self-expression.

Drac0 tragically passed away from a drug overdose in 2015, however, his legacy continues to live on in the hearts of the many people he touched with his incomparable creative and comedic talent, as well as through his impressive catalogue of ZZT games and the ALL CAPS phenomenon, even if his name is so rarely attached to the latter anymore.

Red-coloured cross. Red-coloured cross. A veritable Renaissance man, Drac0 was a talented musician, artist, writer, and comedian in addition to ZZT game maker. I had the treasured privilege of having many insightful and amusing conversations with over the years of our close friendship and never ceased to be amazed by his talent and wit. In spite of all of the differences that the many people who knew Drac0 had at the time of his death, I do not recall there being a single person who did not share the sentiment that he was the funniest person they had ever known.

I've been meaning to add a tribute to him somewhere on this website as a discussion the two of us had about the declining state of the Web many years ago provided the spark that ultimately ignited in me when I discovered Neocities and started working on this website, and figured an article dedicated to one of his most enduring creations was as good of a place to put it as any.