Neoquest: 1 am
After midnight, a loud buzz jarred me from my sleep. I reached over and slapped the alarm clock, growling at it, wondering why I was voluntarily waking up when I really just wanted to keep sleeping. Then I opened my eyes and turned the light on, sitting up in bed and staring at the clock which now read 1 am. I was fourteen, in eighth grade, and at that time I went to bed at ten thirty...and this time was so early, or so late, or both. My parents were sleeping, and my uncle hadn't gotten home from work yet. The entire house was eerily silent, all except for the shuffle of blankets as I got out of bed and threw my housecoat on.
I opened the door and peeked out into the living room, the light from my room illuminating a small path in front of me. I had to make sure my dad didn't wake up, and I hoped my uncle didn't come home yet. I tiptoed into the quiet room, shutting the door behind me. Then I crept through the darkness, my slippers barely making a sound on the carpeted floor, and turned on the light at the other end of the living room. It was a small lamp and only gave a little light, but it was near the computer and it was enough to see by.
I glanced around, then skittered over to the computer, sitting down and turning it on. I waited, then, as I heard a creak coming from my parent's room... I took a deep breath, holding it, biting my lip. But then the noise stopped. I was safe.
The computer finished loading, and the light shining from that and the small lamp was all that could be seen in the still room. There was no way that my parents could see this from their room. But I had no school tomorrow, and my mom gave me permission to do this. She was letting me, and that in and of itself was a big deal.
And now the internet was on.
The house was completely silent except for the computer noises, and soon the clicking of my mouse... and the distant sound of my radio in my room, still on, giving the impression that I was sleeping because I always slept with the radio on. Five for Fighting was playing. That song, Superman. For some reason, that song was always on whenever I snuck out at one in the morning to... play Neoquest...
When this game first came out, it was the biggest thing ever to hit Neopets. There were so many people running to play it that they made it so it could only be played at certain times. I was soon caught up in it too, hopelessly swept away in the strange but wonderful newness of this game. The times it could be played were not so wonderful... 10pm was when it went up. 10pm California time, which alas, meant 1 am for me. During the day, this game was completely inaccessible, during the day when I was awake and my parents were too, when computer activity was allowed. But still, I loved this game, and...
And my mom said that as long as it wasn't on a school night and no one knew, I could play it.
I grinned secretively as I opened my game. There was something special about it, really, something that no other games had for me at that time. Something mysterious and new about it, something just as secretive as my sneaking out at this ungodly hour to play it. Something about the pixellated grass and the small white Lupe that never changed posture as it moved across the land, about the sign that came up proclaiming that I was just attacked, and something... this something the most of all, back then... the fact that this game was so new that there were no maps, no news, no knowledge of the plot.
Maybe it was the exploration, too, that added to it. As the months progressed, countless others played the game as well, and dozens of websites popped up all over the place that showed how to win the game and outlined every step in it. But now it was too early, and each one of us that took a step were taking it for the first time.
It was October, and we were the first.
Tonight, I found a jungle. It was way down near the bottom, and I had never seen those palm trees and that coastline before. Oh, where was I? I had no maps, nothing, and I hadn't even bothered to draw anything along the way to give me a rough idea of where I was. No, I was lost. But I found a jungle, and there... oh! I found ruins, too! An old castle, ruins of what I later found out was a school, covered... well, the small picture was covered in vines, but in my mind's eye I saw a a glorious ancient structure with a crumbling doorway reaching towards the sky. Inside, monsters I had never encountered before, people I'd not met, and whose speeches weren't transcribed on countless help sites across the 'net.
Maybe it was the fact that I wasn't really allowed to do this that gave me that shiver of mystery as I explored this strange new territory. Maybe it was the fact that I had no maps or anything, and I felt, wandering around that jungle and ruins that I had really discovered something. I found something that no one else found yet.
Another noise... I stiffened and let go of the mouse, looking wildly around me. But it was just the sound of the house settling.
The next half hour was spent exploring that jungle, fighting new monsters, with the glow of the computer's light illuminating my face and the click of the mouse the only real sound to be heard. This was my jungle now, these monsters were my mystery. No one else's.
And then I heard the sound of the car door slam outside.
My heart raced wildly and my breath quickened. That was my uncle! He was home! I had to get out of here and get out now!
I saved my game and flicked off the computer buttons without even bothering to turn the computer off the proper way. Then I switched off the light and tore in the direction of my room, flinging the door open, leaving my shoes right by the light near my door. Then I turned off the light by my bed and dove under the covers, breathing heavy, clutching my stuffed animal to me. The door opened and I heard my uncle's footsteps and his voice... he was talking on the phone. My light was out, the computer was off, my radio was blaring as it was every night... and there he was, going downstairs to bed. He suspected nothing.
I grinned at my own personal triumph. I had outsmarted my uncle... something that was very hard and very rare, considering how he was one of those relatives who thought he was superior to every small child in the world save for his own... I had done something that I normally wasn't allowed to do... and I had played Neoquest, the best game in the entire world. The radio kept playing and I drifted off to a satisfied sleep.
Months later, there were thousands of Neoquest help sites all over the internet. There were maps of every single place, master charts of every single monster and boss, tips on how you should spend your skill points, and advice on how to fight bosses and win the best staves. Eventually Neopets itself got a better server, and Neoquest stopped being put on restricted time and was available every moment of the day. Trophies of completion showed up on at least half the user lookups and, when you asked for help, you stopped getting "I don't know, I haven't found that place, where is it?" and got instead links to the best help sites there were.
I won the game eventually, of course, around a year or so later. I've won many times since then, even gone on to write a novel... my first ever novel... about one of the characters.
But of course there was much lost along the way, and the mystery and discovery of being the first vanished with the maps of the help sites, and the quiet, still, secretive midnights disappeared when it was available every minute of the day. Yet there are some, though they are few and difficult to find, who say the only proper way to play Neoquest was when you saw the figure of Xantan informing you that Neoquest was down, and you'd have to wait until certain times to play it.
And there is myself, who will agree with them, and say that the only real way of ever playing Neoquest will be in the silence of the night, in the way-past-your-bedtime moments, clutching the mouse and listening for every squeak of the house and crunch of footsteps outside the door, when the only light is the glare of the computer on your face and the only noise is the click of the mouse, when we were fourteen and every territory we found was being explored for the first time.