It started as a dumb joke. One of the users of the forum, 0xUNDEADBEEF, had gone to his local game store to get a copy of Phantasy Star Online for the Dreamcast, only to find that it was sold out. The clerk pointed to a huge guy in a long, black coat and a fleece jester hat who was on his way out and said that he’d bought the last one. Other users responded positively to the story, with the image of the titanic man in the comically out of place headwear grabbing the last copy of a game seeming to strike a chord.
But it likely wouldn’t have caught on if not for the name 0xUNDEADBEEF gave the man — he ended his tale of frustration with the line “Fucking Jormus. Hate that guy.” The name amused a number of people, who wondered whether 0xUNDEADBEEF might have perhaps been familiar with the man in question and misspelled “Jordan” or whether he’d seen the guy around before and had given him the nickname. He replied that no, he’d just thought that the idea of a nemesis named “Jormus” was amusing. The other users agreed, and posting about Jormus became part of the language of the place.
When someone’s computer crashed, that was Jormus at work. When a girl turned someone down, it was because Jormus had gotten to her first. The figure of Jormus grew into a cultural touchstone, such that new users would frequently ask who he was, only to be met with ridicule over their ignorance. It was one of those little in-jokes, those bits of not-quite humor that proliferated on forums and IRC channels in the days of early mass internet uptake. Sharing in and building on the lore of a place made people feel like they were a part of something, gave more meaning to the anonymous usernames and avatars they were interacting with.
The legend of Jormus became more and more complex over the months that followed, with new elements attaching to his story in a frenzy of distributed creative activity. Jormus was a wizard, owing to his continued virginity into his mid-30s. He wore his jester’s cap and black trenchcoat wherever he went, regardless of the weather. Nobody had ever seen what lay beneath the big coat — some suggested that he was a wriggling mass of worms taking the shape of a man, others than he was a rotting corpse. He was a dedicated gamer who, it was said, had played every title ever released and rarely left his basement dwelling except to acquire more games or interfere with men’s ambitions.
He was a sort of trickster character, a malicious being who delighted in causing mayhem and suffering — a creature of chaos. He cared nothing for he laws of man or God, and made his will felt through seemingly-random acts of misfortune. Various prohibitions and rules arose around him: one must never depict him visually (though the forum’s users frequently did, always in his huge black coat and hat); one should pour out a bit of a bottle of Mountain Dew before a gaming session to ensure victory (Jormus’s share); Jormus’s preferred means of dispatching his foes was strangling them with a controller cable; saying Jormus’s name three times in a bathroom with the lights off would allegedly summon him to cut off the invoker’s penis. Bits of pop culture and existing urban myth intermingled with fresh additions, developing into what seemed at times to be a fully-formed person.
Users began placing appeals to and warnings about Jormus in their forum signatures. A few even set drawings of him as their avatars, but the mods quickly made this practice forbidden. The mods, in fact, and especially the owner of the forum, came to resent the way that Jormus took over the place, even creating a special subforum solely for discussing him. There were private conversations about making any mention of him a bannable offense, but in the end the mods couldn’t deny the positive effects the bit had on the forum’s culture.
His status as a figure of simultaneous derision and fear made Jormus the perfect rallying point for the community. Whereas previously the forum had regularly broken out into flame wars over personal disagreements, opinions on the Star Wars films, and differing senses of humor, the advent of Jormus seemed to quell all of this. It was as if Jormus absorbed the collective hostility and negative feelings of the userbase. When arguments did get heated, it became easy to defuse tensions by invoking the Fleece Jester, the Crimebaron, the Web Wizard, He Who Japes — fucking Jormus.
Jormusposting reached its peak in the summer of 2001. In the fall, a combination of the bit beginning to wear thin and some of the more veteran users spending less time on the forum as they went off to college contributed to its decline. Invocations of Jormus began to be seen as old hat, somewhat embarrassing, and the community moved on to other things. A few stalwarts kept the Jormus references going, but the subforum quieted down and the upcoming release of Microsoft’s Xbox and Nintendo’s GameCube became the focus of most of the forum’s activity, along with the bitter arguments about the merits of each console that echoed the Nintendo/Sega wars of the early-90s which many of the users had participated in back on the playgrounds of their primary schools.
But one day, something strange happened: a user called Jedi_Kenshin mentioned that he’d heard someone talking about Jormus at a dorm party. At first, he assumed he’d inadvertently stumbled onto another forum user — a rare and delightful thing in those days — but when he asked, the other guy said he’d never been on it. He’d heard the name Jormus somewhere, he couldn’t remember where, but thought it was funny and had started using it.
Jedi_Kenshin was a little surprised by this and a few users joked about Jormus having “broken containment,” but people mostly brushed it off as being just one of those odd coincidences. Who knows how these things travel? Enough users had begun invoking Jormus in their day-to-day life that it was eminently possible that the guy at the party had heard it from one of them in passing.
Other mentions, here and there, proved to the forum’s users that their community wasn’t as isolated as they’d believed it to be. One guy described a game of CounterStrike where he’d overheard the sound of liquid spilling over a teammate’s microphone. When someone asked if the guy was pissing, he said that no, he was pouring out Jormus’s share. Didn’t everyone do that? He’d never been on the forum or even heard of it. He thought it was just something that all gamers did.
Jormus wasn’t the only little slice of subculture that was getting shared online back then. The legend of John Titor, the time traveler, started to gain traction in late 2000, and the “random” humor associated with animutations — Flash music videos featuring recurring imagery like Canadian comedian Colin Mochrie — became popular examples of how wacky the internet could be. Later on, these would be called “memes,” but the term didn’t exist at the time. They were “internet fads” or simply “funny sites.” Jormus, the consensus seemed to be, had simply become another fad. Some users felt a sense of pride that they’d been involved in the creation of such a trend, and some even tried to claim ownership of certain depictions of the character.
Then, come Halloween, another user called vVTheDarkOneVv reported another sighting. He’d opened the door to give some trick or treaters their candy, and among the group consisting of a Harry Potter, classic blanket ghost, Shrek, and a generic demon mask, there was a kid wearing a huge black trenchcoat and a fuzzy, multi-color jester hat. vVTheDarkOneVv asked who he was supposed to be, and all of the kids laughed at him. “You don’t know who Jormus is, mister? What are you, 100 years old?”
He was stunned. It was one thing for a few internet users to have maybe heard about their little forum invention, but how could these kids have known who Jormus was, much less what he looked like? A lot of people didn’t believe him, claiming that he was making it up to try to resurrect what had become a dead joke, or else believing that it must have been another forum user wrangling a younger brother and his friends into carrying out a prank. Someone got the idea to ask the guy who’d started it all what he thought, but it turned out that 0xUNDEADBEEF hadn’t posted in a couple of months. A few users sent him messages asking what he was up to, but they didn’t get any replies. Most assumed he’d just gotten bored of the forum or was busy with college, but vVTheDarkOneVv couldn’t let it go. From the way he posted about it, the Halloween episode really seemed to have rattled him.
So he set about trying to track down OxUNDEADBEEF and get in touch with him. He asked around to see if anyone knew his real name or where he lived and eventually got a phone number. He didn’t have the guy’s name, so when he called and an older woman picked up, he asked if her son was home. She choked up and answered that her son had passed away a couple of months ago. He apologized, said he was a friend from the internet trying to get in touch with him, and offered his condolences.
The forum was shocked, and vVTheDarkOneVv started a thread where people shared their memories of the guy. It was the first time anyone from the board had died that they’d known of, and for a lot of them it was their first time processing the death of an internet acquaintance. It was a sad and strange experience, mourning someone you’d never met — someone whose real name you hadn’t even known. It left a few users so shaken that they couldn’t let it go. The fact that 0xUNDEADBEEF had died right around the time that people started reporting mentions of Jormus in person was too big a coincidence to ignore.
They started doing research, looking into deaths in the county 0xUNDEADBEEF had lived in. The mods shut it down pretty quick, claiming that it was all in bad taste, but it continued over private messages. It was a lot harder to look this kind of thing up at the time, given that the guy had lived in a small town in the middle of nowhere. A lot of smaller papers hadn’t fully gotten online yet, so vVTheDarkOneVv had to call up local outlets and try to track down any deaths fitting the vague details the forum had been able to piece together.
Finally, they found what appeared to be a match — a man named Tim Berkeley, 20 years old, had been killed in a seemingly-random attack in a strip mall parking lot. He’d been found draped over the hood of his car with strangulation marks. It didn’t appear that the killer had used his bare hands — the marks, according to the article, indicated that something had been wrapped around the victim’s neck. The police had no leads.
It was unbelievable. People started to panic, thinking that maybe the guy who Jormus had been based on in the first place had found out about it, cracked, and tracked down 0xUNDEADBEEF, who’d started it all that day at the game store. After all, nobody knew anything about the guy — not even his real name. He probably didn’t even wear the coat and hat all the time. A few users wanted to tell the police, but the authorities didn’t really understand the internet — this was even before a US senator famously referred to it as a “series of tubes.” Trying to explain that someone might have killed a stranger because he inadvertently spawned a sprawling mythos based on his having bought the last copy of a video game would be nearly impossible.
Meanwhile, Jormus continued to spread throughout IRL. Someone posted about having seen a “Jormus meal” at a rural Jack in the Box restaurant. Another user said there had been a news report on his local station about a dangerous new trend that teens were taking part in, sort of an updated version of the old “Bloody Mary” routine, centered around a mythical character named — what else — Jormus.
Someone had the idea that they should try to track down the guy from the game store who had started all of this. Maybe they could try to get a confession out of him. But they didn’t have much to go on beyond the strip mall where the attack had taken place, and where — it turned out — there was a game store that might have been the one that 0xUNDEADBEEF had had his fateful first sighting of Jormus. It turned out that Jedi_Kenshin’s college campus wasn’t too far away, so he offered to drive down and scope out the store to see if the guy showed up. As luck would have it, the Japanese PlayStation 2 title Fatal Frame was slated for release that week. Given that all anyone really knew about Jormus — the man — was that he’d purchased a copy of the Japanese game Phantasy Star Online, it seemed like their best bet for finding him.
All day, people waited for Jedi_Kenshin to report back. He didn’t have a laptop, so he would have to return to his dorm to update them on what had happened. When he finally did, it was disappointing — he hadn’t seen anyone like the guy 0xUNDEADBEEF had described back in his original post. But there was something else.
After hours of waiting around in the parking lot, he went in and asked the clerk if there was a regular who wore the coat and hat that Jormus was known for, and the guy just laughed at him. He couldn’t figure out why until the clerk pointed across the store, behind some shelves. Jedi_Kenshin went over and saw a man-sized cardboard cutout of Jormus advertising a game called Jormus Kart 2 which the store was taking pre-orders for.
Some people saw the story as a tasteless joke and pointed out that there was no way to know if Jedi_Kenshin had even really gone to the place. He said that if they didn’t believe him, they could call their local stores themselves. One by one, they did, and one by one, they heard the same thing — Jormus Kart 2 was real, and pre-orders for it were sold out everywhere.
Discussion spilled back into the main forums, with people noticing reviews of Jormus Kart and a series of Jormus’s Quest games on sites like IGN from over the past few years. Someone’s niece was asking for a Tickle Me Jormus for her birthday. Another user said he’d seen a “Jormus for Congress” sign on a neighbor’s lawn. Another still had spotted a sign on a recent drive indicating that a theme park called Jormusland was off the next exit. He didn’t dare take it.
The subforums dedicated to other subjects started to quiet down, as tracking the spread of Jormus became the main topic of conversation. The forum broke records for new threads and replies. And one by one, Jedi_Kenshin, vVTheDarkOneVv, and everyone else who’d been involved in trying to piece together the details of 0xUNDEADBEEF stopped posting. Everyone knew what had happened to them, but the mods instituted a new policy banning public inquiries into users’ private lives. The old rituals and warnings were dredged up — people wanted to know how to protect themselves from Jormus, who had gone from being an amusing scapegoat to a figure that kept the forum’s users up at night. Threads were dedicated to extolling Jormus’s glory, to recounting his exploits. New users now showed up already knowing who he was, ready to sing his praises.
And then, without any advance warning, the forums went down one day. Nobody was really sure of what happened. Some thought that the owner got scared and deleted the site, others that the FBI had gotten involved, and others still that some intrepid user had hacked the servers and brought the site offline. Aside from a few people who’d added each other on AIM or ICQ, everyone lost touch.
It was like that, back then — you didn’t have people’s real names or contact information, so if the little piece of the internet you were hanging out on disappeared, then all of those strangers disappeared from your life too. People went back to their lives, and some of them noticed that Jormus seemed to disappear from public consciousness almost overnight. Nobody played Jormus Kart 2, there were no pictures of kids dressed up as Jormus for Halloween, and Jack in the Box had no record of ever having had anything called a “Jormus meal” on their menu. Most users didn’t notice this at all, simply forgetting about Jormus and setting up MySpace pages or moving on to bigger, more stable forums.
Years later, on Reddit, someone made a post asking if anyone had been on the forum back in the day — and if so, did they remember a weird little in-joke they’d shared? He couldn’t remember the name, but it was this funny character that everyone blamed whenever something went wrong. He’d tried to look up the forum but it had been dead for years and had never been archived. What was the guy called? Jorkis? Jormus? Nobody knew what he was talking about, and the post quickly disappeared into the depths of the sub. And if his account never posted again, nobody seemed to notice — the internet having since gotten much too big, too populous, to keep track of the disappearance of any given anonymous poster.