Was there a less cool social apparatus in our ever-more-not-so-recent online past than The Palace? A square box of a cafe or a castle or a hundred other backgrounds I can only vaguely render, populated by a dozen or more cartoon avatars loaded down with woefully considered accessories, of the sparkling or faux-3D variety — unless you were a smiley face, a CCFF33 tennis ball of defaultitude, the Palace’s equivalent of a Twitter egg, a decade before they were hatched.

I don’t remember when or how I fell into the Palace—I think it was in 1998, through an official South Park chat (I hope it wasn’t the Korn one but I’m too afraid of what I might find if I probe deeper????)—but I quickly evolved from a tennis ball to an abnormally tall sprite, all glowing hair and flowing black denim, and landed in the room I’d live in every day after school and too late into the night. I don’t remember what the room was called, or the screenames we all used—they changed so often back then, before Facebook pinned real names on us all—only that for two years, it was the only place with the only people that mattered to me. And then I grew up.

Matt Buchanan is an editor, mostly.