Catfishing a Real Friendship

Jas Saunders

My first friendship heartbreak was on Moshi Monsters. 

Because that’s what those online chatroom games were made for, right? A dating site for preteens? 

It started innocently, like most things do – lambs, kid’s movies, teasing your siblings… 

I made an account to avoid real life. For a website that relied wholly on conversing with friends, or turning strangers into friends, that was somehow pretty easy to do. You hit the ‘streets’, find someone who had an interesting ‘room’, and you either sent them a friend request or you left a comment on their pinboard. Then, you just had to wait for the sweet serotonin of having a stranger validate you. Simple. A friendship—if you were lucky—would then fall straight into your lap.  

And if that happened to be the case, you’d be able to forget all about the life away from your screen. 

When I made my account, I set my location to be from England even though, I did not live there. I don’t know how no one even thought to question me on that since I gave myself the fake name of ‘James Sanchez’ which is definitely not the name a pasty, white British kid would have. I also settled on the username, imskatebored, after moments of deliberation. After all, I was a girl who only had guy friends in the past, and although we never even talked about skateboards, I knew from Disney channel shows that a skateboard would just make me sound way more cooler than pokemondude23. 

          punjab2010: hey! i like ur room, i like the way you’ve used the door ornament to make an ‘O’

          for your ‘HELLO’ in the letter stickers 

          imskatebored: Oh hey thanks!! No one else has ever said this to me before so i’m real glad

          you like it! : ) 

I like how you use your letters to spell when you’re online or offline 

          punjab2010: whaaaat but it’s so clever 

          hehe, thank you, it’s not as original as yours 

          soooo uhhh what are you up to??

          imskatebored: Some SICK skateboard tricks, duh 

          and you? 

          punjab2010: omg you skate that is so so cool!!! i’m just listening to my boy justin hehe, that’s

          what i call justin bieber, i luv him 

          imskatebored: No way I’m a fan of him too!! even though I’m like one of the only guys out

          there who do : ( 

          punjab2010: thats OK!!! i’ve always wanted a bff that’s a guy friend and likes justin bieber! 

          imskatebored: I don’t like guys,, by the way!! I just like his music because I’m in a band!  

I wasn’t lying. I didn’t like boys. In fact, I didn’t like anyone back then.  

          punjab2010: UR IN A BAND??? omg yep OK you and me are gonna be best moshi friends 

          i’m asali, i’m 12 and i live in south Australia! 

          imskatebored: I’m James : D Also 12 and I live in England 

How was that for a meet-cute? 

Whenever I was stuck in class at school, I wanted to be home on the computer. Whenever I was on the computer, I wanted to talk to Asali on Moshi Monsters.  

It wasn’t an addiction – that’s what I told myself and the adults around me, at least. It was a coping mechanism to cope with loneliness and being misconstrued in the verbal arena. It was the comfort of being seen without overexposure, like a photo taken at the right moment just before a big gust of wind or the sun moves behind a cloud. It was finding ways to express who I was, before I had the technicality of using deeper and clear words to express who I am. 

I learnt a lot about Asali. Maybe even too much. 

Asali was an only child. I was not. 

As she said, she was twelve and lived in South Australia. She even told me her address. 

However, I was not – I was 11. I set my birthday to a different day to ‘get into character’ or something 

Asali’s parents owned a restaurant, and they gave her money for school lunches. One time she gave $20 to her friends to stop trying to make her talk to Francesco – a guy in her class she dubbed her ‘arch-enemy’. Eleven years later, I’d like to believe it was secretly an enemies-to-lovers kind of thing. 

Asali said that she wanted to be a doctor, which was the complete opposite to me. I was determined to be the youngest author ever, without knowing that title was already taken by some four-year-old. 

She loved Justin Bieber, and she loved One Direction of which her favourite member was Zayn. She shipped Larry, but Archive of Our Own and any other fan fiction site was probably too old for us, thank God and Allah for that. 

Her username came from where in Pakistan she was born before her family emigrated, and the year she made her Moshi Monsters account.  

Asali was everything I wasn’t. And I was fine with that. Opposites attract. But she wasn’t the only friend I made, and she wasn’t the first ‘victim’ either.  

I spoke to another girl from America often – her name was Anita. I didn’t talk to her as much as I did with Asali, though. There was also a girl from Queensland called Krystal who had a younger brother with his own account that I also sometimes interacted with. I remember coming home from school one afternoon and signing in immediately. I put my backpack in front of the computer’s monitor and sat down in the desk chair. When I saw the message Anita left me, it felt like I had been punched in the stomach: 

          anitarulesxox123: hey james what’s your phone number? Would luv to chat on the phone


I don’t know if I would have given her my number if I wasn’t pretending to be someone I wasn’t. I just knew I wasn’t willing to let the cat out of the bag. I responded in the way any eleven-year-old would – who was also leading a Hannah Montana life, and happened to be gay before realising it. 

          imskatebored: Sorry! My house has one phone only and it’s for office purposes! 

Good save, good save… 

That didn’t stop me from ‘online-dating’ Anita, however. 

And Krystal… at the same time.  

I know what you’re thinking. I became a player at eleven. A Moshi Monsters fuckboy. And Krystal was apparently 14; I’d gotten myself an older woman, would ya look at that? 

One of the main things you could do with a Moshi Monsters membership was send another user presents. They weren’t anything too substantial or worth the $25 a month. These presents were essentially 20 second videos of the Moshi Monsters doing a silly little animation related to your chosen theme, with the option for you to add a message at the end. Basically, it was like an electronic email I’d get from my Grandad on special occasions, just more costly. 

I knew that if I wasn’t going to be the one willing enough to get the membership, I would work hard to be the one getting the presents. 

          ​imskatebored: Hey, um, sorry for my absence. I kinda broke my arm doing a RAD skateboard


If only I could show the 20 second video that I got sent in reply. It was foolproof.  

No one questioned the two times I ‘broke’ my arms and leg, despite me claiming—and pretending—to be a really good skateboarder. 

In hindsight, those presents did nothing. They were just trophies of online validation and made me seem popular to anyone who visited my ‘room’ and account.  

But back then? If life was a game, I was fucking winning.  

Asali, Anita, and Krystal? They ate that skateboarder shit up. I received ‘Get Well Soon’ themed videos from the former and the latter. I was gaslighting, gatekeeping, and girlbossing all at age 11.  

I joke about it, but I did and still do feel kind of guilty. 

          punjab2010: i LOVE boys with brown hair and green eyes who are musical 

          imskatebored: I have those, AND my band is so cool 

That was the the easiest lie I had to tell. I wasn’t lying about my hair colour or eye colour then. I wasn’t musical, but she didn’t need to know that. 

I was so nervous to make a Moshi Monsters account under ‘James’ that I was willing to do anything to be liked. I remember my dad on a ladder in the garden and being so nervous to ask him for an account. I don’t even know why I asked him for permission.  

After all… it wasn’t my first account. 

          punjab2010: hey um james, whose jtownhoft? 

I did so well at balancing my Moshi Monsters lives and my personal life. I had my real account, and my James’ account. I knew I should have opened up with it and fessed up – that I was just some girl in Western Australia attempting to escape real life. 

Instead, I dug myself a deeper hole to crawl into. I just had to hope that neither Krystal or Anita cared enough to check Asali’s message board. 

          imskatebored: That’s my girlfriend’s account, she’s in holiday in Australia so she made a Moshi

          account so we can talk over the distance : ) 

What a fuckin’ idiot. 

          punjab2010: AWWWWWWH so cute i’m so so happy for you i didn’t know you had a girlfriend

          that’s so CUTE!!!! 

What a fuckin’ genius! 

Being James helped me in more ways than one in the end. Towards the end of 2011, I was getting bullied by the girls in my friend group at school. It was the first time I was properly friends with the same sex. Years prior, I sent playing football with some lads in my class, or writing stories and comic books with my guy best friend. It was only because I wasn’t in the same class as the latter that I shifted to those girls – and because my teachers and parents thought it would be good for me to make friends with my ‘own kind’.  

Those girls bullied me for being gay before I even realised I was. Maybe that was why I wanted to be James so badly. The real me got bullied by her friends, and their friends in the year above. When I cried in a toilet cubicle, they just got on either side, stood on the seats, and peered over to watch. I told you I made an account to avoid real life, didn’t I? 

Three years later, when I was 14, all good things began to come to an end. Asali stopped using Moshi Monsters – ‘I’m too old for it’ is what she told me, and she did have a point. We only kept it for one another. Censorship was getting shitty too, it refused to let anyone send anything that the website thought wasn’t grammatically or spelt correct, including her own name. But she was the girl who taught me what virginity was despite it giving us each a one-week ban. She was one of my closest friends when the rest of the world didn’t understand me.  

I got her Instagram handle and came clean about who I really was. 

Her response? 

‘Yeah, I started to figure as much.’ 

And she blocked me. 

Author: Jas Saunders is an Honours (Creative Writing) graduate from the University of Western Australia, with an undergrad in English Lit and Public Health. Her writing has been published in Blue Bottle Journal, Pulch Mag, Just-Femme-And-Dandy Mag, Haunted Words Press, and more, found at

Artist: Zoe Hawker is a multi-disciplinary student artist working with sculpture, installation, and painting. Her self-reflexive practice aims to decode the absurdities of our current culture.

Editors: Bea Warren and Euri Glenn