Few photos from the forum ages of online gaming live in greater infamy than one of what appears to be a human duct taped to the ceiling of a dimly lit basement, his arms reaching out to lightly graze the keys of a Dell mechanical keyboard.
Many have laid claim to this image. "I was there," they say. "It was me, I took this photo," others declared. We reached out to those people -- most didn't respond or couldn't provide proof. But one thread surfaced: A group of small-town gamers who hauled computers to each other's houses to play, among other games, Counter-Strike.
Photo courtesy: Brian Schaeffer
The picture in question originates from Mason, Michigan, where a close group of friends who liked to build personal computers and organise LAN parties grew up. Through Reddit and email, we were able to get in touch with a large portion of the group, as well as obtain verification and additional images.
Through all our interviews, members of the group laughed at the claims of internet fakers and commenters.
Photo courtesy: Nathan Gamber
"I don't want to say it's a closely guarded secret," said Brian Schaeffer, one of the LAN goers. "But half the fun of seeing that picture pop up on the internet is all the stories where people say, 'Oh yeah I know the people there.' No you don't! It was a small town, a random group of friends, and we literally just got goofy one day."
The group told me they would hang out together in various houses and, sometimes, even a tyre warehouse, lugging computer rigs to locations to play a variety of games. It was the summer of 2002 in the US, and at the time, Counter-Strike was the game to play. Others recount games such as Command & Conquer, both Renegade and Red Alert 2, as well as Battlefield 1942 (for those with the 512mb RAM to run it) and StarCraft custom games. Counter-Strike was the great equaliser. It could run on just about anything, and everyone had it.
For the Mason alumni, the night they taped Drew Purvis to the ceiling was just an average day, another LAN party with friends.
"It was still early in the day and the LAN had already become fractured," said Nick Wellman, another LAN goer. "There were about 10 of us there, and we were already playing three, four different games. Tyler was looking around and said, 'I think you can duct tape someone to that I-beam.'"
The duct-tape framework is assembled.
At this point, the teens gathered the necessary supplies, bought duct tape on a friend's employee discount, and had the tallest attendee, Brian, hold the subject, Drew, aloft while the rest taped him up.
What you see in the now-iconic photo is actually the group's second attempt to suspend their friend from the ceiling with duct tape. After about 10 minutes, the tape digging into his sides, Drew asked to be cut down. They revised their plan, adding pillows, and strapped him back up. Once on the beam, someone else had the idea to stack some tables up so Drew could still play on his computer.
"That is the funniest part about the picture," Nick told us. "Gaming from the beam was a complete afterthought."
Drew lasted about two hours suspended above his comrades before retiring to the ground (turns out a duct tape cocoon runs hot).
Brian, who happened to bring along his digital camera from photography class that day, saved some snapshots to commemorate the moment. Drew posted the photos to a gaming forum, where it would stay duct-taped to the memories of gamers for all eternity. (We reached out to Drew for this story, and made contact, but he didn't get back to us in time before publishing.)
"We tried to keep a list of all the places we saw the picture pop up, but it just kept started showing up in more and more places," said Brian. "It also speaks to how when something's on the internet, it's always going to be up there, you can't hide it."
For the Mason alumni, it's a little reminder of a simpler time.
"It's so funny, because if you see the Reddit threads, every time this picture goes around every couple years it's like a little Mason reunion," said Jonathan Watrous, another LAN-goer.
Those mini-reunions in the comment sections of this picture help keep the group together and caught up, long after it splintered and scattered to the wind. Some still try to get together, either online through modern games such as League of Legends or in-person.
"Not quite LAN parties," said Brian of recent Mason get-togethers. "We've done some of those, but we're all adults. Dragging the rigs around aren't quite as easy as it was back then, and we're all adults now, too. We had more time back then."
The photo remains an indelible reminder of a time when rigs were dragged into basements and parents were kept awake by the mechanical clacking of keys to the cadence of Counter-Strike.
"I don't see most of the people in the picture all that often, but this was before smartphones and ubiquitous social media," said Nathan Gamber, another LAN attendee. "So it's one of the few moments in that time that we're reminded of every couple years."