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In 2022 the Oxford word of the year, or words, were Goblin Mode. Goblin Mode refers to  “a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations'', the post lockdown lifestyle of a tracksuit in bed and mindlessly scrolling eventually triumphed over the running app, sourdough aspirations of our former selves. Goblin mode gave the underachievers a tongue in cheek mantel under which to reject societal expectations and embrace a position of sedation and passive hedonism. The origin of the fantastical slang is attributed to Julia Fox, supposedly claiming that her characteristically unpredictable boyfriend at the time did not like it when she went ‘Goblin Mode’, she didn't expand on what the term meant, or actually even ever say anything like that at all. But it was too late, the fictional quote had gone mainstream, and from it a definition emerged, the imagined image of Julia Fox eating pringles on the floor in dirty pyjamas had entered the mainstream. 




Goblin Mode or Goblin-core joined the thousands of fresh and short lived microtrends that take place on social media, popular ones; Gorp-core, cottagecore and coquette-core are surrounded by a field of niche ‘aesthetics’, blokecore, cultcore, dark academia all the way to lobotomy chic. There are however two primary modes ascribed to goblin-core which intertwine in an especially resonant way. The mode of Goblin which struck the press back in 2022 was the one detailed above, hedonistic and lazy, the other pulls its themes and visual cues from fantasy/folk genre literature and film. These goblin identifiers see themselves in the desire to collect shiny trinkets and a draw to natures ‘ugly’ elements, slugs, mud, moss and fungi. The core is aligned closely to other aesthetics; naturecore, Fairiecore and cottagecore. Neither of these aesthetic alignments are supposed to echo the type of identification that takes place within Otherkin type communities, a subculture that identify as other-than-human, examples include faerie, vampires, elves and demons. The aesthetics can be applied to a human identifying person, a composition of images to a particular set of hobbies, colours or outfits. 

Fantasy aesthetics are the most numerous on aesthetic.fandoms lists. Fairycore, elfcore, pixiecore, fairy grunge, dragoncore and dungeoncore is not an exhaustive list. Dugeoncore revolves around a nostalgic appreciation of tabletop gaming and the liminal spaces of adventure gaming. The relationship between the internet, fantasy and dungeoneering is ingrained in the ways we form bonds, explore digital space, enact characters and break rules in web culture. 



There's a significant resonance between the way people interact and form themselves online and the history of adventure gaming. Tabletop gaming used to function primarily as a military exercise game, for example the wargame Gettysburg. However the creators of what would become Dungeons and Dragons years later became more interested with what could be found off the map of the trenches games. Expanding on the tactic based games, Dave Arneson and others found a more exciting, story-telling based game was to be found under the surface of their favourite games. Developing an alternative style of gaming more closely related to RPG adventuring, Dave and some friends produced Blackmoor in the  early 1970s, importantly adding a fantasy setting and folklore characters to the game. As an architecture, the dungeon encapsulated the expansive promise of the future, each game territory could expand as the game did, the dungeon was the perfect landscape to explore “ambiguity, interpretation, and potential”.

As Games transplanted themselves online and away from tabletops (mostly), the theme of fantasy adventure maintained itself. The first text based computer game was Colossal cave adventure in 1976, a game in which the player moves through a network of cave systems and through one or two word commands can navigate and collect hidden gold. The next year after its release the game was expanded beyond its cave system to include dungeons and more fantastical elements such as dragons and spells. The game had a significant influence on later MUDs. MUD1 was created by Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw at the university of Essex in 1976, taking direct inspiration from Colossal cave adventure and its varient Zork. MUD stands for Multi-user dungeon and was hosted on the University ARPANET, a precursor to the internet. Mud could host multiple players at one time, supporting a fantasy dungeon based roleplaying game. Through text the game describes the setting and allows players to explore different rooms and areas as well as facilitating action and chat between players. The fantasy MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game), Runescape was first conceived of as a MUD before graphics were added. Classes and Races of fantasy characters align in part to folkloric representations but the participatory nature of both folklore and gaming allows for deviation and development, with each game or film release the remits of folkloric characters are allowed to enlarge with new rules and subspecies.

MUD1 responded to the folkloric species outlines, the hero or player was expected to conduct themselves well and adhere to the rules of the game, the game responds to a frustrated player's swearing with watch it! or real adventures do not use such language. The Troll characters were implanted into the game to frustrate and impede the heroes, demanding attention before the hero is allowed to continue with their worthy quest.  A sign at a stone bridge warns, Stop! Pay troll! 


In D&D irl the dungeon master acts as a medium or host for the players, to create the space and story themselves, online this is replaced by the creators/code of the game or the platforms that host, limit and moderate our presence online. the network of caves and dungeons stands in for the network of pages and groups we navigate on the internet, 

If we are to be like RPGamers online, exploring a network of caves, rooms and other adventurers, which character do you choose? The obvious fantasy character making waves in the online lexicon is the Troll. The Troll or Trolling takes place on any discussion or messaging board, often cloaked by anonymity, where a user intentionally posts inflammatory or fabricated messaging with the intention of producing a response from other users. Though some may be quick to praise the self creation encouraged by D&D and other RPGs, that they allow for imaginative creation of new worlds, the Troll flies in the face of an imagined positive frontier of the internet. The Troll allows people to be their fantasised worst selves, ditching expected customs in favour of social disruption. Dungeons can become, based on the input from its players, a space to indulge in underground disruption, revolt and  perversity. 


One of the early examples of online disrupters came strikingly in LambdaMoo. LambdaMoo is a Multi-player forum, MOOs directly followed MUDs, they are multiplayer text based systems that are not always games. LambdaMoo is a text based mansion, a network of rooms and meeting spaces described to the participant, and through a set of rules and interactions allowed the LambdaMOOer to chat and create. One participant, Mr Bungle, used the system and a tool of the platform ‘‘Voodoo Doll’ to force other LambdaMOOers to perform sex acts upon his character. After a lengthy public ‘court’ case involving many  LambdaMOOers the decision was made that the wizards would Toad Mr Bungle and the unrestricted world making and freeform Moo was changed forever. Restrictions had to be introduced by the council of effective Dungeon masters and attempts were made to oust trolls in every form. 

This is not a new relationship, between the promise of new societal organisation and people who choose an alternative route, the promise of societal disruption. Nor are the classic, old arguments for online policing versus wild west liberty. Trolls are not an aesthetic but an action, a Troll is not something you just are, it's something you do, without the comments and reactions there are no Trolls. 

One of the earliest references to Trolling online comes from Alt.Folklore.urban. The Newsgroup sprung up around 1992, dedicated to the discussion and debunking of urban legends and folklore, as time passed becoming ever more political in tone. September was known as the black month on AFU, September brought swathes of new college students online, who hadn't read the FAQs and didn't understand the logic and unwritten rules of communication within the group. The post below is from 9 Oct 1992, 20:03:16, and references the groups inside game of ‘trolling for newbies’:And this one from the following year,There's some confusion that the term trolling came from trawling, a fishing term that involves dragging a weighted net through the water to see what might get caught up in it. But in fact Trolling is itself a fishing term, which means dangling multiple baited lines behind a boat to attract fish swimming in the upper layers of the water column, which is more accurately reflective of the online practice. Dangling multiple hooks, jokes, waiting and bating responses from naive fishies. 

In the environment of AFU trolling was essentially an accepted, even encouraged practice that signalled to other users that you do indeed understand the rules of the social group. If your Troll references previous trolls or iconic posts in the history of the group your contribution is recognised as coming from an entrenched and knowledgeable user. Deliberately baiting someone to expose their naivety and gain respect from others is a frowned upon although not uncommon practice IRL, what gave Trolling a boost was the anonymity that was granted to the newsgroup users. There's another example from the early days of Usenet groups, as people began flooding online it didn't take long for the practice of trolling to leave the niche groups, and into the hands of more disruptive users. In 1992 Alt.tasteless, a Newsgroup for gross out humour and stories invaded rec.pets.cats a group sincerely dedicated to discussions and recommendations on pet keeping. At some point a student teased the idea of an undercover attack, posting a baiting, knowing post to rec.pets.cats detailing his bad luck with his disgusting stinky cats, Sooti and Choad. Some of the users of the pets channel innocently offered advice, but the doors had been opened to the floods of tasteless posters now inviting themselves into the newsgroup, leaving recommendations gross, sexual or violent in nature. Some of the posts were ‘sneaky’ or suggestive but some others were designed directly to infuriate the pets users, suggesting shooting or microwaving cats. In this case the Trolling was looking to catch an intense reaction rather than a naive newbie. 




Trolls like their fantasy counterparts are overwhelmingly unwelcome and despised characters to everyone except maybe other trolls. Trolls are sociable creatures within small groups of their own kind, but they cannot isolate themselves away from society as they see travellers as easy prey. Trolls will prey on the naive travellers that stumble into their lairs (AFU) but will also invade villages they see as weak (Rec.pets). They thrive in dark areas, dungeons and overnight, waiting to pick off prey, an almost perfect alignment with the stereotype of tollers as lurking in their parents' basement, living out their malicious fantasies online. 

Trolls are the posts, the user chooses their character through their actions. In a new vast labyrinth of underground rooms, some choose to play the Troll, a large, often green, often repulsive character. So who are the people who choose to play the Goblins? 



Its not too difficult to produce a generalisation of a Troll, informed by Harry Potter, LOTR and D&D, however as games, books and films continue to come out they become more diverse and divergent, Goblins are the same. Goblins in both folklore and cultural media are diverse, but there tend to be a few similarities. Goblins are short and live in large societies, they tend to be described as either greedy or self-interested, they are not commonly described as benevolent or helpful creatures. Goblin heroes are not a common occurrence although possible, most Goblins follow a typical arc of protecting their stash, hoarding their fortune and exacting sadistic revenge on those who cross them. “They favour ambushes, overwhelming odds, dirty tricks, and any other edge they can devise. Goblins prefer to fight battles where the odds are in their favor and often flee or surrender when outmatched.” A somewhat predictable narrative for the Goblin, is that they exist in large but weak groups, they overpopulate dungeons and basements, seemingly waiting for the hero adventurer to stumble upon and kill them without putting up much of a resistance. These unnamed Goblins are struck down with fervour in many D&D campaigns without much moral pause, being one of the weaker ‘threats’ in the games. Goblins are killed in hoards in fantasy, in the Lord of the Rings films and books, a list is included below of just some of the deaths during The Battle of Goblin Town in the Hobbit film trilogy that took place during the Quest of Erebor.



Goblins, unlike Trolls, are not motivated by malice but by a desire to survive in the most effortless way, to sit on their hoards without being disturbed. The Goblins portrayal in Harry Potter and other fantasy novels has come under scrutiny recently for being suggestively anti-simetic, employing traditional anti-semitic tropes to drive the Goblin characters. Not that J.K Rowling is responsible for this conflation of Goblins and Anti-semetic propaganda but has wittingly or unwittingly tapped into ingrained stereotyping. Jewish comedian David Biddeal notes that “Jews were routinely painted and sculpted as gargoyles and devils. Our artistic tradition — look at Punch & Judy, look at witches, look at pantomime, look at Bond villains — depicts evil as swarthy and hook-nosed.” Much like the Swastika and Pepe the Frog, the Goblin has been co-opted by anti-semitc and neo-naxi groups as a hate symbol. This is not of course all the Goblin is, it also exists and is created in european folklore and endless games of D&D. 


So who are the Goblin moded players? Goblins in their pervasive and disposable presence in the dungeons are seemingly a part of the furniture, used by the heroes to enable their adventure, plot and personal growth. They are the footmen of the Dungeon master to slow the adventure's travel and cut their fighting teeth on. The Goblins populate the social media sites passively, footmen of the platforms, their presence is neither contributory or destructive. The extra 1000 followers who neither comment, criticise or create, the Goblins are passive consumers, they collect content without having any meaningful effect on it, watching the heroes of the Internet age build their following. They populate the otherwise empty rooms, making heroes see a bountiful dungeon full of possibilities, money making and career enhancing opportunities, an empty dungeon is not a game. 



‘Lurking’ as it is characterised entails engaging with social media, group chats or online communities to the extent of being present and nothing more. A lot of the initial information on lurking is aimed towards harnessing the power of the silent following, how to engage with your quiet supporters and potential customers. A lurker doesn't actively post, repost or comment, the opposite of the Troll whose focus is on engagement, however negative. Lurking may be related to lack of technical knowledge, a fear of social rejection or a cautious attitude to personal information/security. Goblins and Trolls lurk in the dark corners of the technological dungeon waiting and watching, for Trolls this is a lurking designed to catch the unexpecting passersby, for Goblins this involves a complicated mesh of apathy, self preservation and insecurity. 

In recent years social media has become less a place to connect one on one, or reconnect with old friends and its features have turned more steadily towards consumption rather than connection. Stories, tutorials and influencers have begun shouting into a void, a void which comprises all of us who don't use the sites and apps to create. The 1% rule states that in general within online communities only 1% will be active contributors, 9% may change, update or moderate content, leaving 90% of users as lurkers, Lurking is not a new phenomena within communities in general, but lurking as a form of selfish indulgent may be.



Covid-19 and the lockdown of 2020 encouraged us to engage with our creative selves and unfulfilled productivity. Waves of breadmakers and small business traders emerged from between the cracks of social media, usage went up by around 20% during the start of the pandemic, as we stepped into our community focused, dream achieving selves. Productive, positive, proactive time and technological usage were encouraged, leaving those who didn't ‘seize the opportunity’ out in the cold. In the wake of Covid and paranoid ‘holidays’ the Goblins are setting about rejecting expectations of personal and public betterment and toxic positivity, they're embracing protective self-interest, consumerism, laziness and impulsivity. Stripping ourselves of our public social expectations, shunning cleanliness and virtue signalling for a more primal, selfish public persona. Goblin mode is an unveiling of the way people may behave when nobody is around, eating out of the fridge, wiping your nose on your sleeve, being talked about in public again. 

Luigi Monteanni writes about Goblin mode from a musical theory perspective and a community rooted in underground, counter culture electronic music. He sees the revolutionary rather than apathetic potential of the technological Goblins citing the album titled The Rise of the Ga- zunderlings (2021) by Red Gremlin. Here the Goblins are featured as the exploited working masses, rising up out of the mines against societal structures. “Dedicated to the over-worked and under-paid hoi polloi of the world. ‘Be patient my brothers and sisters, our time will come” Goblins have power in their numbers, the 90% of Dungeoneers, “a lowly worker and possible lumpenproletariat of the dungeon populace”

While there is something to be said for being counter-cultural in a way that battles against the ‘toxic productivity’ and self-betterment signalling that takes place in the hero glorifying dungeons of the internet, I'm sceptical of the Goblin modded players disruption going beyond this. The question then is, are the Goblins a community in revolt, is there anything challenging in their hedonistic consumption, or are they playing directly into the hands of the dungeon masters, sitting quietly on the sidelines of platforms. Consuming what is fed to them by the corporations, that need their dungeons to be populated by not disobedient or rebellious in any way. I will qualify this by saying that players that are subversive ‘just enough’ to enable the continuation of the game are allowed to stay. The Trolls for example generate enough content and engagement to justify their place within the dungeon, so long as they dont challenge the dungeon master themselves they are permitted to stay. Are more of us choosing to become NPCs in our own games, It seems the only players the Dungeon master really needs to create a continuous, rewarding game are the Heroes, Trolls and Goblins. The Heroes inspire the Goblins to remain, and the Goblins provide enough fodder for the Heroes to have an exciting adventure. 

If the 1% rule was applied to D&D, 90% of the players would be Goblins, or maybe Trolls, the characters chosen to populate the underground caverns by the dungeon masters themselves. Sitting in the corners of each room, eating sweets and consuming content, enabling the Heroes to become so. As much as we may see the Goblin 'aesthetic’ as counter cultural, rebellious against the expected social norms, Goblins may have fallen into the trap placed by the platforms they occupy, the expectation of an apathetic, passive consumer. 

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