Platform as Generic Rhetoric: The Case of the SCP Foundation


In 2007, a short story on 4chan’s /x/ forum, a thread dedicated to paranormal discussions, garnered so much attention, response, and imitations that a group of users created an entirely new website dedicated to expanding on the form and content of the original post. The SCP (Secure, Contain Protect) Foundation website opened for community editing in mid-2008, and has been actively publishing and producing ever since. The SCP Foundation’s main site now contains thousands of technical reports on fictional anomalies and phenomena that the SCP wiki users from more than a dozen countries have invented to build a complex storyworld filled with paranormal events, secret government experiments, and monstrous entities that have breached “containment.” By writing in the style of scientific and technical documents in multiple languages, the SCP community’s users have also created a story–one with canon events, characters, villains, conflicts, and resolutions–over the last thirteen years. Now in “Series 6”, the SCP’s main story continues to be published via the international community’s uniquely designed and managed wiki-style site.

The SCP project has gained attention from major news outlets, niche fandom blogs, and major tech industry websites. But the story-via-scientific-report wiki deserves attention from the fields of rhetoric and cultural studies as well, for multiple reasons. Not only is this wiki a surprisingly-cohesive volunteer-run collaborative writing project–a feat any writing instructor will recognize as impressive on its own–but the SCP project also introduces an aspect of play and purposeful genre disruption. Through its rigid style guides and community participation rules, the SCP Foundation is able to use one genre to push the boundaries of another, despite working across cultural and linguistic borders. The project's very existence points to several questions: What are the limits to SF writing? What can technical writing teach us about creativity? And how does the wiki platform and design of that platform form and inform the social and writing practices of the community that creates these texts?

For the sake of time, this presentation will focus on just one aspect of the SCP Foundation project: The ways that the choice of the wiki platform/medium and the creators’ design choices for their wiki template options help tell the story, maintain the tone of that narrative, and ultimately constitute the community’s appeals to authority, order, and legitimacy. In the first (and main) part of the presentation, I will provide that analysis and description, using current rhetorical theories of genre, medium, and platform, emphasizing Carolyn Miller’s “Genre as Social Action” theory and recent articles in a special issue of Present Tense which theorize how “platform” fits into our usual models of a rhetorical situation and genre.

In the second part, I will point to how the SCP Foundation’s writing, design, and community practices reveal gaps in those current theories of genre and platform–particularly in a post-truth, post-postmodern context. I’ll conclude by naming and showing some additional cases that parallel the issues of platform and genre that SCP project makes apparent, listing some further questions these outliers pose for theorists working with genre and rhetoric.