The alignment chart originated in 1974 from the popular game Dungeons and Dragons. In the game, characters customize a character and categorize their tendency to be good or evil and lawful or chaotic, with true neutral in the center spot. The character is placed into one of the 9 alignments, and the player is expected to follow the alignment during the role-play of the game. The original creators of the game provided a chart templatefor players to assign roles. This article does a good job breaking down the different alignments by their meanings. To summarize, the “lawful” category is usually reserved for elements that generally “follow the rules,” or stay within the norm. Conversely, the “chaotic” category contains elements that consistently act against the status quo. These categories are nuanced by the “good” or “bad” squares. They are defined by the perceived morality of the element being placed. The middle category is “neutral,” in which the element does not reliably behave one way or another and thus belongs to a neutral alignment.
While the original intent was for players to only use one square to categorize their own character, players began comparing their characters amongst each other by placing each of their characters into the 9-element chart. This was the beginning of the reproducibility of the chart as a “meme,” as more groups of players began to organize their characters into the chart. Early charts were strictly for gameplay and to establish alliances or determine enemies, but they soon became humorous ways for groups of players to rank characters. Once the charts transcended the D&D bounds, people used them to categorize characters from TV shows and movies. Then people got even more creative about what the chart could compare and began categorizing everything from pop culture references to political ideologies.
As memes have evolved with social media and it has become increasingly easy to distribute the meme, the combinations of elements and their alignments are endless. However, production of the chart is more involved than that of other memes or sounds. Rather than reusing one image with a different punchline, the creator must find at least 9 related images or phrases that fit well into the defined categories. There are numerous templates on sites like DeviantArt, Reddit, and Pinterest, and apps like Memeatic. The began in a 3×3 grid form, but newer templates include 5×5 charts, and some even larger, depending on the categories and depth of comparisons.
These charts require knowledge of all 9 comparisons to understand the cleverness behind each category. The more unconventional the comparisons, like categorizing lecture halls at Hopkins, for instance, the funnier the meme is. But there is also some relatability required when making these charts. For those who are familiar with all 9 elements being compared, especially if they are popular, the reasons for placing the element the category should be immediately recognizable. Originality is the most valued element in the alignment charts, especially when the alignments that are essentially the opinion of the creator. On online meme sharing groups, particularly niche groups that tend to appeal to certain circles, these charts can be met with either affirmations or debates of the placements in the chart. People might immediately associate a couple of the elements with their respective alignments, but contest the placement of others, depending on how they personally view the character, object, food, phrase, or whatever the element may be.
Pictured to the left is one alignment chart that I find to be particularly clever, mostly because it very accurately captures the first few months of the Covid-19 pandemic. The chart was created by a member of the Facebook group Zoom Memes for Self-Quaranteens, a group created at the start of the quarantine lockdown in March. The group is mostly comprised high school and college students, rejoicing in our shared struggles by posting memes. The creator of this chart was clearly up to date on the early quarantine trends, including the elements that defined the beginning months of the pandemic in the US. When it was posted in the group, most members agreed with the placements, and I also immediately acknowledged the “how to cut your own bangs” video as a chaotic and evil pastime. However, while not featured on this chart, I would also categorize the toilet paper craze of late March as “chaotic evil.” I would also place the bread baking phase somewhere in the neutral category and relegate Zoom jokes into the evil category, purely based on my own views of these trends. Because the charts are confined to 9, or sometimes 25, spaces, with only one element per category, the placements are all up for debate. Another notable aspect of this chart is the seemingly random grouping of elements. It includes a workout video, a whipped Dalgona coffee, and a SpongeBob meme, among others. Without having the exclusive knowledge of the early quarantine trends of students in the US, this chart is nonsensical. Even if one is familiar with these things individually, understanding their placements again requires knowledge of what each element means in relation to the quarantine and the public perception.
There have been many other alignment charts that including elements relating to the Covid-19 pandemics, ranging from attire in Zoom meetings to the various names for the Coronavirus, both pictures below. Like all memes, alignment charts are produced based on current events and shared feelings, which makes them circulate much faster. While scouring the internet for the best alignment charts, I found this thread on Reddit which contains thousands of charts compiled since 2009. After looking through some, it was clear that I needed specific knowledge of the contents to be able to appreciate the humor. That is precisely what makes the alignment charts so popular and reproducible—they are truly individual expressions of opinions, and it’s always nice to have your opinion validated on the internet.