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Interview: Meet the Mysterious Geniuses Behind 8-bit Fiction

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One post shows the cover of a thick book, rendered in choppy pixels; the kind of image you’d rip from sprite sets in days of Internet past. But the text on the cover is anything but retro: We Finally Found The Courage To Try Dirty Talk but It Turned Into A Conversation About Which Dinosaur Is Best (or how the sex stopped that day). Other images toe the same line between ironic counterpoint and bored, “over it” teen sentiment, but many more touch upon sweetness, sadness, and the human condition.

Started in 2010, 8-bit Fiction is a single-topic Tumblr that posts screenshots from old NES games, doctored to include short, oftentimes poignant, captions. At the nexus of old nerd nostalgia, sad affectations, and image appropriation/remix, it’s a modern Tumbler’s dream, but who runs the project and creates its wistful, immensely popular images? We reached out to the team behind the site for some answers.

Who is behind 8-bit Fiction?

8-bit Fiction: Today, 8-bit Fiction is comprised of three people: a tech wizard guy who designed our Tumblr theme and keeps all the internet stuff running, a clever lady who helps out with the writing, and I do everything else.

What does the 8BF team do when you’re not working on the site?
One works with computers, the other is a psychologist, and I write stories for a living (or have been trying to. Haha!).

What inspired you to start the site?
I had been writing short stories then, and decided to add silly flash fiction to screenshots from old NES games. Three of my friends joined me, and we posted for a few months until we moved on to other things.

How do you keep a single topic website like 8BF fresh for over five years?
It was only around the end of 2014 that I decided to post everyday, around the time we were getting a lot of new followers, so we’re just getting around one year of continuous posting.

We take everything from everything, and we write everything down. Lovers past, lovers lost, lovers found. Old poems and stories. Inappropriate crushes. Questions of existence. Our why’s and what’s to the universe. Observations of evil in the world, and the inability to do anything about it. The maudlin and the silly. The mushy and the prurient. The little idiosyncrasies of our lives that are not solely ours after all. 8-bit Fiction is just years of bottled-up thoughts and feelings served as fine wine for all.

Do you think 8BF would’ve gotten as big as it did if it’d started off on a different social media platform?

Probably not. Tumblr is a roiling ball of art, ideas, fantasies and insanities. It’s the only place we would have fit perfectly.

How have you seen the Tumblr community evolve as 8BF grew?

My favorite is seeing other people use our text for their own medium of art. People sometimes send us photos of their work or I see them on my dashboard, and they are fantastic. One person painted [the image and text of] one of our posts on a rock by a river in Saskatoon, and another follower happened upon it and sent us a photo. I love you, wayward river vandal, whoever you are!

What are your favorite games to pull images from?

I pick the less popular ones. I want to share the images they wouldn’t be able to see if they hadn’t played the NES when they were young—I, myself, hadn’t seen most of what I’ve been using if I hadn’t started the project. Also, it’s fun when people recognize which games I take them out of.

Why do you think your images are so popular across social networks?

The most common reason our followers tell us is that we’ve written down what they’ve been feeling but could not express. The world can be a sad, silly, lonely place to live in, and they feel less lonely knowing that there are other people feeling what they’re feeling, too. And I think that’s true, because I feel less alone, too.

How do you come up with text/image pairings?

Sometimes the image comes first, but mostly we write down drafts of the texts on our notebooks, phones, little strips of stray paper, other people’s notebooks in-between drunken conversations, or while on public transport, or after jumping out of bed mid-cuddle, then edit them later before looking for an appropriate image.

What do you think about the rise of nostalgic Internet imagery?

The first thought that comes to mind, perhaps, is that I am getting old!

I think it’s evidence that absolutely anything can be turned into art. Another generation grows older, and they begin to express themselves using what they grew up with. Now I’m thinking about what the kids will get up to in a decade or two, with their hologram widgets and virtual reality thingamabobs.

Has it been hard to establish ownership of your images, as copycat accounts and styles pop up?

To them, I say, please use a different font! I already chose the worst one!

Why don’t the members of the 8BF team publicly “claim” your work?

We’ve been talking about this, among us and with friends. Anonymity is great—I think people accept our sort of thing better when it is coming from a kindly 126-year old wizard, than say, a normal person— but it’ll be fun to meet some of our followers, too. Perhaps not just yet. Also, I am a 126-year old wizard.

On the Internet, irony often rules. Is 8BF from a purely sentimental place, or do you play up and into the Internet’s irony?

Perhaps a little bit? We aren’t purely maudlin and sappy, we like laughing, too, and the things the Internet come up with are hilarious. We’ve probably been influenced by the internet as much as the books, films, music and other things we like.

Do you think sincerity and sentimentality are transmittable over and sustainable on the Internet? 

Give a man a mask, and he will tell the truth. I think the Internet is both veil and stage, and as long as people feel, there will be a place for sad tweets, unclaimed confessions, and sappy, silly proclamations of love.

Do you have a favorite piece of 8-bit Fiction?

The post that says, “You will regret your inactions the most.” I’ll be telling myself that until the day I die. Also, the short story I wrote about a djinn and immortality. I wrote that for a lover who did not think immortality was a good idea. I think I’ve swayed her just a little bit.

Lilian Min is a contributing editor at HelloGiggles and has written for The Atlantic, Nylon Magazine, BuzzFeed, and others. Read her other work here and tweet her here.

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