It is extraordinary.
I haven’t finished reading the thing, but even from partial experience, the layers of meaning in the project boggle the mind. User’s Guide* can, to scratch the surface, be read as:
- A playable alternative campaign setting for Chuubo’s
- A reflection on life and relationships while dealing with abuse or the lingering trauma thereof
- A love letter to/eulogy for a now unraveled online community
- A codex of or guide to Replay Value, a Homestuck alternate universe
- Speculative fiction of the cautionary tale variety, exploring the potentially disastrous nexus of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and gamification
- An existentialist parable, grappling with the search for meaning in a universe where, given sufficient time, all things are futile
- A deconstruction of video game tropes, particularly those belonging to the MMORPG genre
- An examination of digital addictions to games and discussion fora
- A sociological commentary on the communities that come and go across the Internet
The author herself lays out the first few I listed; the rest unfold in emergent fashion from the work. It’s the kind of thing that makes me wish I still had a foot in the educational sphere, to teach this text or write a thesis on it!
Prior to discovering User’s Guide, I hadn’t quite understood alternate universe fandoms, or AUs. The idea of an alternate universe for a fictional setting was straightforward enough, but e.g. Undertale with its Underfell, Reapertale, Flowertale, etc., etc., each with their own fan art and other assorted media, mystified me. User’s Guide, though, made it click. When a fandom grows large enough, like-minded individuals within it gather into sub-fandoms, and one way such a group can coalesce is around a particular AU. The AU itself—whether via the ongoing efforts of a central author, or the roleplay and works of its fandom, or both—takes on a life of its own. It brings back a sense of belonging to those longtime fans of the parent work who feel crowded out by its becoming too popular or mainstream. And it revitalizes fannish activity when the depths of the parent canon might otherwise seem tapped out.
Now I’m in the curious position of becoming a fan of a specific AU’s commemorative project, without any familiarity in the parent work. I know Chuubo’s, of course, but I’ve never made it further than a couple of pages into Homestuck. I’ll take a look again, but it may be that’s how it stays! If that’s how it goes, all the more credit to User’s Guide author Elaine “OJ” Wang for managing to so mesmerize someone who doesn’t even get Homestuck.
* The author tends to refer to the work as “RV Chuubo’s,” but I find that a bit cumbersome for casual use. Not least because it suggests a Chuubo’s campaign involving road trips with really bad gas mileage.