Virtual Pet Collecting - Neopets Part 2
What kept me obsessing over Neopets for such a long time was the community there. In its heyday, there was so much to do and create! There were contests for creating 'pet pages' for your pet (Neopets provided a single free webpage for people to mess with if they knew enough HTML/CSS), fan art contests, short story writing contests, even build-your-own text adventure contests. A lot of the player--made content was really creative! There was one user that was a talented digital artist for the time, that wrote ~deep and edgy~ backstories for all of her pets on their personal pet pages. I remember one being especially sad--something about said pet wandering injured through the snow while bleeding out. I was in tears while a Coldplay MIDI played in the background (this is so funny looking back on it, lmao).
I can't hunt down an example of that user's art, so here are some emo Neopets. lol~
Neopets had their own little virtual "newspaper" called 'The Neopian Times' that updated once a week. I read it religiously--my favorite section being the comic section of course (though the 'editorial' section comes in close second. Players could ask Neopets staff questions there, and sometimes the questions/answers got so silly!) There were a lot of talented artists that would get comics published in the comics section almost every week. Unfortunately, I can't remember any of their names for the life of me, but I can still remember their art and their jokes. There was one artist who always drew himself with his pets, but he only drew himself from the knees down, like in an old-school cartoon. A Neopets fansite did an interview with him I think (I can't find it sadly, but I remember reading it) and revealed he was in college and drew comics for fun. There was also an artist I admired that dabbled in flash and made short little animations. My favorite involved an Usul that was a wannabe popstar that gets caught singing in class (if you remember from my last article, usuls are my favorite species of neopet). I attempted to create several janky MS-paint drawn comics and wrote some short stories in attempts to get into the newspaper, but unfortunately was met with many a rejection letter...But in the long run, I'm okay with that. My failures kept me working harder on my drawings and my stories, and I was always dreaming up what my next project was going to be about.
This is what the Neopian Times looked like back then.
In terms of the social 'chatting' aspect of the site, that part was fun too. It took me awhile to get into the forums, because like the naive child I was, I had actually signed up with my real birthdate (!!!) and the forums were off-limits for those under 13. So my parents had to sign a permission slip saying it was okay for me to use the forums, and fax it to the Neopets headquarters. We had to use a friend's fax machine because we didn't own one, and I think it took almost a month for it to be accepted. I was so excited when we finally got the confirmation email that I could use the forums! Most of my time was spent in the section of the forum for the 'Beauty Contest' (I'll explain this in my next article, but it was essentially a fan art contest), looking for crit on my drawings and advertising for votes. I actually don't have that many memories of people I met there, but I believe most were generally friendly--except that one time a kid told me to eat Play-doh, lmao.
What it usually looks like in the Beauty Contest forum.
I felt more at home in the Guilds. Guilds were like little clubs that specialized in a certain topic, that had a mini forum that was members-only. I jumped around between a few different ones, but I remember them and the people there surprisingly well. The very first one I joined was something related to pranks? I don't really understand looking back on it, but kids like pranks I guess, lol. It was ran by other preteens. I think at one point they actually made me one of the leaders? I remember writing silly polls for the other members to take. After that one, I joined guilds for wannabe-artists to get my art critiqued by older players (who, thankfully, were very supportive--though at one point I actually did have my art stolen and posted to another site I hadn't heard of...Who the heck steals art from a 11-year-old? Lol).
I always thought that the encouragement to create something of your own was one of Neo's strongest points. So much of online gaming now is so passive, imo...but Neopets exposed kids to so much, from web design, to art, to story-telling, because it offered so many places to experiment and try new things. Even if not all of my drawings and stories made it to the site, I shared them with family and friends. (I used to always write Neopets-related stories for my little cousins, even if they only had a vague idea of what all the creatures looked like, lol) It was truly an experience that went beyong the computer screen.