Virtual Pet Collecting - Neopets Part 1
In The Neo-World
Out of all of my experiences with gaming and the internet, my most formative was definitely playing Neopets. The amount of time that I spent on Neopets over the years is insane--it consumed everything I did for most of my youth. In 5th grade, my nickname at school was 'Neopet'. That year my Halloween costume was just a bunch of Neopets plushies safety-pinned to my body, because I was a 'Neopet collector'. (I swear to God this is true...my parents still remember...) My very first screenname on AIM was 'da_neopets_freak'. I honestly barely remember what my life was like before Neopets, it's that serious! So many of my interests that formed me as an adult started during my Neo-phase...I'll always be a little emotional talking about it, so bear with me, this series of articles is going to be long-winded. In this article in particular, I'm going to be focusing on the site itself, and my favorite games and characters.
Neopia, the main hub world of Neopets lore. If peoples' souls could haunt websites after leaving this mortal realm, I would like to wander this place as a ghost. It would be so comfy and full of happy memories.
For those who don't know what I'm talking about (though I highly doubt it, but just in case), Neopets is a browser-based virtual pet game that exploded in popularity during the early 2000s. Honestly, I can't remember for the life of me how I discovered Neopets--maybe I saw it advertised on another site somewhere in a banner ad, maybe a classmate told me about it at school, etc. I've asked old friends that I grew up with if they could remember how they started playing...and none of them remember, just that we all got into it around the same time at 9 or 10 years old. So I guess it will forever be a mystery!
Old banner ad that's available as part of Neopets' old referral program. I've always wanted to use these somewhere!
My very first username on Neopets was meep400 (I'm sharing this wildly embarrassing link to my old account, because it's fifteen years old!!! And no, unfortunately I can't log into it, because I haven't the slightest clue what the password is, and the retrieval email is my parents email from years ago.) My pets' names were all incredibly stupid nonsense words or plays on their species name. Each one had their own interests and personality, which I describe briefly on their pet profiles--attempting to alter those was my very first exposure to HTML! I had a Kougra at one point that I put in the pound for whatever reason, and one of my friends at school with me was so angry over it--"You monster, how could you?!" she yelled when I told her. Luckily, he got adopted into a new home--I managed to find what user he ended up with using the search function. XD My favorite pet that I always doted on was my purple Usul. Usuls are still my favorite Neopets species! It took me so long to save up for that purple paintbrush...I'm still heartbroken that they've updated the design and removed the orange spots that went along with it. I used to always draw my Usul with orange freckles, it was my favorite part of her design.
What purple Usuls looked like before the re-design. Note the cute freckles.
There are countless fond memories I have of Neopets. It's hard to even decide where to begin. The games were fun, of course--My favorites are Meerca Chase, IceCream Machine, Destruct-O-Match, Trouble at the National Neopian, Snot Splatter, and Cheat! (Yes, I'm probably one of the few people that liked 'Cheat'...I could play it for ages as a kid!) There's probably a few other games I'm forgetting about, but those are a few that stand out in my memory. I have a back-up account that I use to log in and play the games again, from time to time. When I was young and still serious about collecting neopoints for rare items, I would spend every morning exploiting those crappy advertisement games (the ones that are hastily thrown together and sold to Neopets to get a shitty product in front of kids in the most obvious way possible) for a couple thousand neopoints a day--I have a vivid memory of sitting there playing some matching game involving song snippets from a goofy Disney channel CD on a snowy morning during my winter break, eating mom's homemade porridge.
Some paintbrushes. These were always what I was questing for! They allowed you to change the color/appearance of your pet to all sorts of cool fantastical things. But they were very expensive!
The little worlds to explore and NPC characters are so memorable too. I loved the faerie characters so much (the Earth fairy Illusen caused me to have my earliest bisexual awakenings...lmao) and the sneaky little Easter Eggs hidden within the world maps. Like finding that one linked pixel in the Faerie World map that led you to the faerie queen's "hidden tower" where you could buy rare items for huuuuge amounts of Neopoints. And the mysterious "Jelly World"...there was a running joke on the site that "Jelly World doesn't exist", when in actuality you could find it by typing in the right URL. It would bring you to a secret map for a jelly-themed world, with games and a place to get free food for your pet. It was so awesome!
The mysterious and elusive Jelly World.
One of Neo's easter eggs was actually terrifying though...In the Jurassic-themed world, 'Tyrannia', there was a spooky cave you could "explore" by clicking on text prompts. The "deeper" you went in the cave, you would see a picture of your pet crying saying "I'm scared!" and be given the option to either continue or run away. If you persevered, your screen would suddenly turn black, and you'd be met with an animation of a giant screeching pterodactyl! We had a gathering of family friends over one night and all of the children were gathered around the computer screen, myself included, clicking around Neopets, when we stumbled across this. I was so terrified that I ran out of the room shaking! The adults asked me what was wrong, but I felt stupid for getting so scared of a stupid kids game that I couldn't tell them, hahaha. I couldn't believe that my precious Neopets had something so scary hidden inside of it!
The terrifying pterodactyl! You can see a video of it in action here, but you'll have to imagine the tinny shrieking sound.
Outside of Neo's virtual world, I was a mad collector of its merch. The Limited Too (a popular store for tween girls back in the day that sold clothes and toys, stuff that would appeal to 10-year-olds basically) always had a bunch of Neopets merch in stock, and it was a real treat when I convinced my parents to take me to buy a new plushie. I have a specific memory of rummaging through a bin of plushies while Hilary Duff was blasting on the store speaker. It was especially addicting because all of the plushies had a code that you could use on the site that would give you neopoints and items...and of course I wanted those sweet neopoints! Haha. I also collected some of the trading card series because I liked the art, the official Neopets magazine, the Neopets board game, and some other little doodads like stationary goods. And you can't forget when McDonalds had a run of Neopets toys in their Happy Meals! Conveniently, my family was on a cross-country road trip where we were eating fast food most everyday, so I managed to collect so many of those mini-plushies (and ate way too many chicken nuggets).
Photos of my glorious collection. I still have everything--I've thought about donating some of it, but my mom begs me not to everytime I bring it up. Because in her own words "I spent so much money on that stuff for so many years, don't you dare get rid of it" LOL~ :p And yes, that is a Santa hat I made with 'Neopets' written on it in glitter glue...I made it while I was a girlscout, we were supposed to write our names on them, lmao.
At the end of the day, I'll always respect Neopets for giving me a sense of responsibility, and for always letting my imagination wander. I learned money saving skills and how to prioritize tasks thanks through my questing adventures and trying to buy items in the auctions house. I made countless fan arts and fanfictions, honing the skills that I still use today, thanks to its community full of young artists and writers (more on that next time!). It may be a simple pet game for kids, but it always pushed me to improve and become a better version of myself. It's colorful and fantastic world was always an escape and well of inspiration for me--so with that, thank you Neopets. You may now be a barren wasteland of what you used to be, but you will always be so special in my memory.