On Developing Your Neopet's Character
In my opinion, one of the things that makes Neopets such a truly great game, an enormous factor in what keeps people playing over the years, is the way it promotes creativity. The world needed an MMO that rewards its players for drawing, writing, and coding, and Neopets stepped up to the challenge.
Even more central to the whole idea of the site, however, are the players’ Neopets themselves. One of the initial draws of the game is the ability to create your own Neopet, a creature that has meaning to you, that appeals to you on a personal level.
And your options are practically limitless. There are 55 Neopet species and 59 different colours to paint them (not counting Lab Ray colours), and when you factor in customisation, one can truly say that no Neopet need look identical to another.
But what about when you want more? When you want to think of your Neopet not just as a fun dress-up graphic on your user lookup, but as a living creature in the vast and exciting world of Neopia? Something that will become your companion and family as you establish a Neopian life for yourself? When I first started playing Neopets, that’s what I wanted. But I was young and didn’t have the experience, skills, or presence of mind to sit down and say "okay, today I’m going to do some solid character development".
However, I’ve also learned over the years that developing your Neopet’s character is a process. The story of how your Neopets’ characterisations expand is the story of your interactions with the game itself. And sometimes, it can take a while – and a few false starts – before you finally get to a place where you think "yes, this is exactly who I want this Neopet to be".
To illustrate, I’ll tell the tale of how I pieced together my Neopets’ characters, from when I first created them to the multi-dimensional protagonists they’ve become in my Neopian Times writing. This article isn’t so much of a technical how-to as it is a musing on the process of fleshing out a Neopet, at least the way mine happened.
Sometimes, Neopets will come to you fully-formed, inspiration striking you like a Tigersquash to the head. Such was the case with Blynn. From the very beginning, I imagined her as an energetic, carefree, slightly mischievous Zafara, and she has remained that way ever since.
That’s not to say that there isn’t any work to do after that, though. You can still explore the how's and whys of your Neopet’s personality, as well as fill in the details. As I wrote about Blynn in my Neopian Times stories, more sides of her started to come out. For example, I discovered that the reason she is so happy-go-lucky and goofy is because she has a strong drive to make her anxiety-prone owner laugh. She also possesses a strong sense of intuition that complements her more emotionally-driven brother Hyren and logical brother Pharazon.
Many aspects of her character were not things that I concretely sat down and figured out—they just came to me while I was writing her. I find that this happens to me more often than not when writing, and I take it as a good sign, that a character is developing naturally and feels real enough that I can start to intuit various aspects of their personality as though they were a living person.
Not to say that’s always the case, though. Sometimes, it takes quite a while to figure out what’s right for a character—such as my Grundo, Hyren. When I adopted Hyren, I decided it would be interesting to give him some sort of mysterious past, something unusual lurking beneath that cute blue Grundo exterior. Something related to swords, because I decided he would be my battling pet for plots.
My first attempts, though, fell flat. (Although, I was still a teenager, so that could have had something to do with it.) I tried to come up with something cool, such as having him be a former pirate, or a former test subject of Dr. Sloth with a strange mutation, or a vigilante Mystery Island warrior (or maybe all three somehow). But nothing really felt right, nothing stuck. So don’t get too frustrated if you find the same thing happening with one of your Neopets—and don’t give up. Sooner or later, you’ll stumble upon the right character concept for them.
I’m happy to say this happened with Hyren. Years after adopting him, I casually returned to the problem of figuring out his past and how it shaped his personality (grumpy old guy who likes swords), and I pieced together something that I liked. A lot. Enough to write a 12-part Neopian Times series about it. (As well as a couple of other NT stories that take place before the aforementioned series.) That was when I knew I’d finally gotten a good grasp on Hyren’s character, and I was elated.
So don’t think it’s a lost cause! Even if you feel truly stumped on directions to take your Neopet’s character, even if you have to take a rather long break from trying to figure it out, a solution may just come out of the blue one day. And it’ll be awesome.
Of course, other times, you may find that developing your Neopet’s character comes fairly easily as soon as you start applying yourself to the task. This is what happened with my Draik, Pharazon.
I’d had Pharazon for some years before really trying to flesh out his character. Blynn and Hyren had been my classic comedy duo for so long that Pharazon just didn’t seem to fit into the dynamic anywhere. It didn’t help that I didn’t really have any preconceived notions of what I wanted him to be like as a person—I just thought Draiks were really cool and I wanted one.
But as I got more into writing for the Neopian Times, and got several tales published about Blynn’s and Hyren’s misadventures, I decided I needed to make Pharazon work within our Neopian family somehow.
In order to do this, I started by deciding where he would fit in to the group dynamic. He is younger than Blynn and Hyren, so I knew they looked at him as a little brother. That naturally led to the realisation that being treated as the youngest would – if he was not a very strong-willed person to begin with – lead to him becoming overly dependent, timid, and a little self-entitled. This personality contrasted sharply with Blynn, Hyren, and his owner being rather independent, pro-active, and confident, and contrast makes for really interesting dynamics.
I also decided to make him a scholar – or at least a wannabe scholar – because I noticed that role was missing in our Neopian family. Not to say that the rest of us aren’t smart, or that we don’t enjoy learning, but Hyren’s kinda all about swords and military strategy, I’m the resident slightly eccentric adventurer-writer, and Blynn… does Blynn things.
I didn’t want to give Pharazon similar ambitions or interests as the rest of us, so I thought it would be fun to make him a meek little bookworm who would much rather read about adventures than go on them (as opposed to the rest of his family), and who admires the great minds of Brightvale but doesn’t think he could ever be one. His personality came together quite nicely after that.
Of course, a Neopet’s personality can definitely change over time. Pharazon has been the most dynamic of my Neopets over the time I’ve written about him. His character as I described it was my initial concept of him. Over my past few big series, however, he’s gone through some things that have drastically molded and refined him. He’s become more independent, less whiny, braver, and believes in himself more. He’s also embarked on the path of the magic user and is beginning to be a proficient wizard, although he still has his doubts and worries.
It’s very fun not only to come up with a personality for a Neopet, but then use it as a starting point for stories that will help that Neopet grow further as a person. But don’t feel pressured to do this with all of your Neopets. I think it’s perfectly fine to have Neopets who don’t display so much drastic growth throughout the course of Neopian Times stories—in fact, they would probably provide a good contrast and complement to more dynamic characters.
For example, Blynn’s always been pretty emotionally stable, and Hyren had most of his big character growth in the first series I wrote about him, and has stayed much the same ever since. I still find them fun to write about, just in different ways than Pharazon.
As I’ve shown here, there is no one path to discovering your Neopet’s character. You have to do what works best for you, and I think sometimes that will even mean developing each of your Neopets by a different method.
It’s definitely not a quick process—sometimes it will even take years. But what I can say is that developing my Neopets’ characters is what has given me the most long-lasting enjoyment with the site, and made it come alive for me. I think there are many other writers and creative types in Neopia who feel the same.