New Times, Old Story: A Veteran's Perspective
To a majority of people, Neopets is a place for children. It’s a safe haven for kids to meet new people, hang out, expand their creativity, learn about other cultures, economics, and the internet. It’s no wonder outsiders are curious as to what adults are doing here. Most people would say, “We’re still holding onto our youth!” and that wouldn’t be wrong; but the answer isn’t as simple as that.
I remember my friend first telling me about Neopets in 2001. I was in sixth grade and we had finished our assignments for the day. The teacher let us surf the web and so my friend signed onto Neopets. I asked him what it was and he said, “You get to have your own pet, like mutant dogs and cats; and you can play games with them and stuff like that.” How could I resist such a vocabulary-restricted sales pitch? I signed up for an account and decided to create a blue Aisha as my first pet (maybe this was the mutant cat he was referring to).
What was this virtual world and what would I find beneath it all? That day, I made it my goal to find out.
I quickly explored Neopia and found myself face to face with the Guild Neighbourhood. I glanced over the statistics and saw over 20,000 members. I stared at the screen in shock. “I’m... I'm not that good with names!!” Back in those days, guilds were a new concept and it wasn’t uncommon to see a member count in the hundreds. I decided I didn’t want to be in such a big guild, so I went to the guild boards and found myself a co-creator. We decided it would be the coolest thing if we created a Hamster themed guild. He really liked hamsters and I thought... they were cool... I guess; and so we began construction. I wanted our guild to be as spiffy as the big ones and for that, our aesthetics needed to match. That night I spent all of my free time learning HTML and CSS. The next morning, the guild looked warm and inviting and I was so proud of myself. The guild ended up dying two weeks later; turns out only seven people were passionate about Hamsters.
The next year I entered the 7th grade. Over the summer I had accumulated a total of 84,000 NP (back then it was a lot for someone with dial-up) and I was ready to show it off to my friends. I had signed up for Computer Programming and (thanks to my experience from Neo) finished my coding homework with ease. I booted up Neo and signed on, excited to show my friends all of my hard work. One of them looked over and said, “Oh, you still play Neopets? I don’t really play anymore.” Okay, so it wasn’t the reaction I was looking for but some of my friends still reacted enthusiastically. They began asking me for tips and how they could earn so much; it was the only time I’ve ever been considered cool. But that was a sign; the Neopets boom was dying down. With each passing month, more and more of my friends would stop playing. By the time I started 8th grade, everyone had stopped playing Neo, even me.
I didn’t get back into Neo until high school. Anyone who’s been in high school knows there’s always drama; there’s too much stress. I needed an escape, so logically I went to the internet. I created this account (realmofmist) and began my Neopian journey all over again. I wondered if Neopets would be any different, since I’d be coming back much older. As I explored familiar surroundings I came to a realization; an epiphany that would inspire this article four years later.
To most adults and older teenagers, Neopets is a guilty pleasure. It’s a hobby that doesn’t get much exposure among friends. Nobody wants to be laughed at for going on a “kids site.” Some people go as far as clearing their browser history when friends come over. Obviously this raises a single question, “What’s the difference between us and them?”
Have they grown up and left their youth behind?
Is Neopets really for kids; are we just in denial?
At a glance, it would be easy to suggest a broad variety of answers. “I’m here to get away from life. I’m here to make friends. I’m here to be entertained by noobs. I’m here to secretly monitor my kids.” But that still doesn’t answer the underlying question of why we’re here. If it was really that simple, we’d just go socialize with friends, go see a movie or read our kids’ text messages.
About a month after I joined, I found a guild that hosted their own newsletter. It featured movie reviews, articles, stories, jokes and poetry. I had never written outside academics before and the editor was pressing for submissions. I had nothing better to do, so I decided to write a poem. That day I discovered my passion for writing, something that has stuck with me till this day. In fact, I hope to make it my professional career.
If you look at the guild boards, you can find a load of people who are skilled at coding and making graphics. Check out the Neopian Times or the poetry contest and you’ll find people who ignite words like wildfire. It’s not too hard to locate Neopians who know a thing or two about inflation, supply and demand, making profits and the economy in general. Everyone is offering their knowledge and experience one way or another; whether it’s answering questions, giving critique or just offering support.
So why do we keep coming back?
Simply put, we defy the laws of the internet. It’s hard to find a setting where personalities come before appearances, but here we can make mistakes or make a fool of ourselves without judgement (most of the time anyway). We’ve created a place where you can find more supporters than haters. It’s one of the few places on the internet that strives to stay drama free.
If I had to sum up the Neopets experience in one word, it would have to be “growth.” We’re part of a huge international community; learning from each other is inevitable. Neopets has become dynamic as ever, even becoming a commercialized business; but has it changed? Not one bit. At its core, Neopets is still a community for people to grow and learn. It’s a place where we can come and bring nothing to the table, yet still have something to offer. The community... our online family is what keeps us coming back.
We've helped mould Neopets into the biggest clubhouse on the internet. A refuge with an open door; where spite isn’t welcome, participation is mandatory and most importantly, everyone is invited. Always crowded, always moving and always expanding.