Pamela Morgan Beesly had a problem. She needed—needed—to get permission to go on online. Her friends Tammy and Izzy were online now, right now, and she was pretty sure they were talking without her—not about her, just, you know, talking, and her not there—and she couldn’t stand it. She needed to get online.
But her parents were, well, her parents, and they were also aware of what teenage girls liked to do, and worse, what they might like to do if given the whole of the internet to play with, and she wasn’t getting anywhere.
And that’s when it hit her. She knew why she needed to be online. They knew why she wanted (they wouldn’t say needed) to be online. And neither of them was budging. So she needed to change the game.
She needed something that was online that she couldn’t get at home, but that her parents would approve of.
Fortunately, she’d been watching enviously over her friends’ shoulders when she went to their houses, and she’d noticed a button that might help her out. A button her friends never clicked, to be fair, but a button she could use herself. A big button that said “Trivia.”
The argument was surprisingly brief. Pam fought dirty, after all: reminding her dad of his time on the school’s Quiz Bowl team, nagging her mom about her own experience with the trivia nights at church when she was a kid, then pointing out the utter lack of similar options at Dunmore High, their local church, or indeed the local community. As a clincher, she mentioned that if Dad would (please please please right now) set her up with a sub-account under his own on AOL, he’d be able to access and monitor her account if he didn’t trust her (this last said with the biggest Bambi eyes she could manage). After only a few days of this assault, her parents caved. Pam was allowed on AOL, where she could message with her friends after (this said with extreme [and, Pam thought, unnecessary] emphasis) she finished her homework, and provided she did as she promised and used it for educational purposes, including trivia. She could have sworn her father winked at her as he said that last part, but her mom’s back was turned and she wasn’t going to risk drawing her attention to double-check.
For the next couple of weeks she was deliriously happy chatting away gaily with her friends at times when, previously, she had felt tragically bereft of their presence and support. And, more to her surprise, she found out she was actually pretty good at this trivia thing. At least when she played the right games.
There were games on all sorts of topics, but Pam gravitated directly to the art history and general knowledge areas: she wasn’t a sports geek, she definitely didn’t do music, and most of the more specialized games were well outside of her comfort zone. But she was doing well enough in basic high-school history, math, science, and English—and she had taken them recently enough to have them fresh in her mind—that she surprised herself and held her own in the broader categories—and of course she was art-mad.
She didn’t exactly neglect her friends online (after all, that was the whole point of getting online in the first place!) but she did find herself also becoming sucked into the convivial community around the trivia games. At first her dad would play with her sometimes, hanging over her shoulder as if to check that she was really playing (or, she suspected, to relive his Quiz Bowl glory days) but after a while that dwindled off, and she was no longer p.o.s. Instead she was having fun just being Pam—or rather, MorganLaFey, the online handle she had adopted after hearing her mother’s lecture on online safety one too many times.
“Pam, you have to be careful. You know what they say—on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog! But some dogs bite, honey. You can’t let people know who you are, or where you are, or anything about you. No Age/Sex/Location! No pictures! Not even your real name. Just…be yourself without being yourself, OK honey?”
This and similar fretting had convinced her to use her middle name, and to disguise it. Honestly, it seemed terribly romantic to her: she’d always wanted to be a sorceress, and who cared if the old stories made Morgan the villain. She could be her own version of Morgan, a brilliant powerful woman everyone feared because of how awesome she was.
Pam was a lonely child, and it was not entirely her mother’s fault.
But while she kept her mother’s advice in her heart, she also started making some friends online beyond TamTamTam and Izabellzandwhistlez. She was by nature shy, but some of the personalities online jumped off the screen, and as long as she didn’t reveal too much of herself she felt comfortable enjoying them for them. ALLISFALSE and JeopardyFellow were full of puns and good humour; CantBeetMe wasn’t funny, but he knew his stuff and wasn’t afraid to say so; and so on. She meshed particularly well with one person in particular, who went by the handle WScranton8. They were always on around the same time, played the same games, and did about equally well, though in opposite areas. They were funny, self-deprecating, and easy-going. And there was that tantalizing “Scranton” in the username. Pam wasn’t about to violate her mother’s advice and reveal that she too was from Scranton, but she couldn’t deny that there was a thrill in seeing her hometown’s name flash by every time they answered or commented in the chat. She wondered often what their A/S/L might be—was that Scranton for real?—but since she wasn’t about to give up any data on her own (not that they’d asked), she wasn’t going to bring it up herself.
She found herself intentionally seeking them out, even playing one stupid sports-only game in order to be in the same room. She’d noticed that they were a whiz at sports trivia, often waiting out the other players in order to give the only right answer immediately before the buzzer (a practice she had learned was called ‘bagging,’ worth it because being the only correct answer was worth three points instead of one). But when they noticed she was there, they suddenly started answering earlier and earlier, giving her a chance to ‘lem,’ or copy their answer blindly (a practice she realized one day in biology class was named for lemmings going over a cliff, a thought which briefly alarmed her when she realized how accurate it was to her copying sports answers). She found herself thanking them for their kindness in the group chat when an instant message popped up on her screen:
WScranton8: glad to help
WScranton8: but i expect the same from you on the next art question ; )