Reddit hosts many different web communities, some more wholesome than others. (Image via Digital Trends)
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It might be the last pure place on the internet, so be careful not to break it.

As someone who spends a lot of time on the internet, I know how monotonous and toxic it can be. Outrage begets outrage, drama begets drama, all of it begets increased cortisol levels and a deep desire to throw my phone into the ocean (but not before one last refresh of the timeline).

But, every once in a while, in my Adobe Flash-enabled wanderings, I come across an oasis, a little Eden of collaboration and silliness where strangers come together to make something beautiful. A secluded, trampoline-filled place of peace that I am scared to talk too much about, lest it disappear.

One of these places is a subreddit called r/HaveWeMet, one of the weirdest and most delightful places on the internet. HaveWeMet is essentially a large-scale role playing forum on which users all pretend to live in the same small town and interact with each other as they would on a local Facebook group, where everyone is either family or friends.

Most users add flair (or “nametags”) to their Reddit username with titles like “Mike, Travel Guide,” “Bethann – County Clerk” and “Jamie (mr. Nolan’s son) – high school student,” creating complex, interwoven relationships with the other denizens of the unnamed town. Story lines and relationships emerge through these comment sections, and resulting in an experimental, tongue-in-cheek form of fiction.

HaveWeMet was started by Reddit user Devuluh, who posted on r/FindAReddit (a subreddit for finding subreddits) in mid-2017 about trying to find an online community “where people act like they know everyone personallyfor example you make a post to discuss something, and everyone in the comments pretends like they know you, and respond referencing past events you experienced together that didn’t actually happen.”

Users started playing along in the comments of this original post, and Devuluh started r/HaveWeMet soon after. The page’s mission statement remains simple: “to more or less start discussions with Reddit strangers; users act like they’ve known each other personally for a long time, referencing past events they’ve experienced together that didn’t actually happen.” Since its inception, however, the community has grown into something far larger — a virtual town complete with shops, mayoral elections and scandals.

Starting with the concept of talking to everyone on the forum as if they are friends or family, the sub developed its own expansive, strange lore and history. Eventually, a discussion forum, aptly named r/HaveWeMeta, formed for out-of-character discussion and organization purposes.

The commenters engage in a digital form of “yes-and”-ing, the concept taught in improv comedy classes that encourages actors to take in the information their scene partner gives them and add to it. Though not done on stage, HaveWeMet commenters accept the information offered to them and add to it, doing their best not to contradict or deny each other’s work.

A year’s worth of comments, callbacks and inside jokes all add up to remarkably detailed setting complete with drama, developed relationships and established local hotspots. For an idea of the scale of the endeavor, here is a list of named locations in the town and the characters that are most related to them.

HaveWeMet
The town’s current mayor is an alpaca named Ulysses. (Image via Alpaca Company)

Posts usually begin with a photo or an anecdote from a citizen of the unnamed town. One of my all-time favorite posts is “Who remembers when terry ate that poisonous leaf back in ’06,” where the comment section cascades into various strains of gossip, events and well-wishes between townsfolk.

One user, the “Town Superhero,” responded by saying “My cousin mike (sic) was in town then. I have the fondest memories of terry back in ‘06, he was such a goofball sometimes. Hope his cancer hasn’t come back,” starting a discussion about Terry’s cancer. Another user (“Kathy Nystrom – Camp Registrar”) then asks if he was treated by Doctor Stevens, and if Jeannie is still working reception at Stevens’ office.

Yet another townsperson says that Jeannie was fired because she gave someone else in town genital warts, and the conversation continues. In another thread, characters discuss why Terry owes all of them money and analyze his performance in a recent softball game.

In just this one post, a few dozen threads of narrative are brought up, referencing previous posts or moments in the town’s history. In a few days, another post might show up and reference Terry’s cancer remission or Jeannie’s diagnosis, and commenters will add more detail to that.

Many of the characters are middle-aged or elderly, and their voices are clearly modeled after the stereotypical baby boomer on the internet — lots of exclamation points, misused acronyms and zealous avoidance of swear words. The HaveWeMet conversation style seems to be an amalgamation of the Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary comment section, the chain emails you get from your grandparents and Welcome to Night Vale.

Most of the time, the subreddit pokes fun at small town drama, but occasionally commenters will mention things that are strange or even horrifying as if they are entirely normal, and the whole town accepts it. For example, they frequently refer to “Hot Dog Water” as a local delicacy, and posts about neighborhood barbecues and book club meetings are always accompanied by discussion of who is bringing the hot dog water.

Pets in the HaveWeMet town are also strange — a crudely-drawn cartoon cat and a herd of elk are treated as if they are normal pets. The unquestioning acceptance of the town’s quirky traits, combined with the complicated web of relationships and secrets that the characters have, give the whole town a subtle “Twin Peaks” vibe that makes it even more compelling.

The fact that such a fun and supportive community exists on Reddit feels surprising; the platform is not exactly known for its civility, especially on large forums like r/politics. But the site’s design, based on anonymous usernames and interest-based message boards, does allow niche communities to develop faster than they do on sites like Twitter or Instagram, where every interest is mashed together into profiles and newsfeeds.

These traits can lead to vitriol and polarization, but they can also allow communities like HaveWeMet, which reward collaboration and obsessive commitment to goofy premises, to flourish. It’s a breath of fresh, hot dog water-scented air.

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