Virtual Pet Collecting - PowerPets
I played a lot of bootleg Neopets games in my day, but the only one that ever really stood out to me was called PowerPets. It was near identical to Neopets, but it had a few key features that kept me coming back to play more. The main difference was that it featured real animals to adopt rather than fantasy creatures, with the hope that it would "be more educational" for children. Now you could buy items called "fur tonics" that could change the appearance of your pet to all kinds of fantastical colors (exactly like Neopets' paintbrushes) so...looking back on it, it really wasn't all that educational, lol. But the flash games were fun, and I really loved the community that was there.
Powerpet's homepage, circa 2006. (Thanks to the Wayback Machine.
My biggest interest there was the fact that players could write little short stories and submit them as "books" to be sold to the community for virtual currency. The books would be collected in "libraries" that you could access with a virtual library card if you were at a high enough level. This was tantalizing to young me--I was just starting to get serious about my writing hobby at that age, and the fact that I could make virtual money to spend on those damn fur tonics was too good to pass up, lol. Unfortunately, the "quest" system that allowed you to level up was surprisingly hard, and I never made it to a high enough level in order to "publish" my own books...but I did enjoy reading the works of others! You could pretty much post whatever you wanted, so a lot of random fanfiction for all sorts of media was shared there. None of it was stellar (probably because it was written by 12-year-olds, haha) but back then I thought it was just amazing! This was just before I had discovered fanfiction.net, so the idea of writing stories for others to read online still felt new and magical to me. I actually found a story I wrote about my powerpets in a handwritten notebook from years ago--you can read the transcribed version of it (and see a few drawings) here!
One of the world maps on Powerpets, where you could access the library and item shops.
I did manage to get a few things of mine put on the spotlight in Powerpets, though. They used to have a virtual greeting card page where players could submit art to be shared via email. Somehow I got lucky enough to get a goofy drawing of my pets I did in dad's Paint Shop Pro program featured on this page--It was a 'Happy New Year' card that I'm pretty sure involved a lot of tacky sunburst effects. When I noticed it was posted, I jumped up and shrieked with joy, running around the house. My parents scolded at me to quiet down, but I dragged them to the computer screen to show them my accomplishment...and they were actually pretty impressed!
I also had a short story I had wrote about my cat Juju featured in a "Pet of the Month" spotlight they had started. At the bottom of the homepage would be a photo of a player's real-life pet, accompanied by a description of them. I wrote mine in the first person perspective of my cat for whatever reason (I can't remember if everyone else did this? I think I did it as a stylistic choice in attempt to stand out) and gave him a posh British accent. He's a black-and-white tuxedo cat, so I guess I imagined him to be a fancy kind of boy, hahaha. Anyway, I told stories about how him and his brother ruled the house, would bully our elderly Siamese, and loved to beg for scraps of lunchmeat. He was just a little kitten at the time, so the photo of him I used was his tiny self sitting in a Christmas basket decorated with ribbons. I have to say, looking back on it, it was pretty damn cute. I got an award of a decent sum of the site's digital currency for winning that spotlight position, which I immediately wasted on fur tonics, lol.
The oldest photo I have of Juju and his brother, Spirit. I coudn't find the exact one of him in the Christmas basket, so this will have to do. They are so cute and tiny here! Both boys are still with us today, but much older and fatter. :)
For whatever reason, the autumn season used to always stir this desire in me to return to Powerpets. I think maybe because I spent so many school holidays playing it on grandma's computer when visiting family. Sometimes I still get the itching desire to make a new account and play my favorite flash games, but I find that it really doesn't feel the same anymore--the art on the site got a total overhaul (which was well-needed, not gonna lie, the old art was actually pretty ugly...but somehow charming?), and a lot of the older pages have broken code. There does seem to be some kind of dedicated fanbase for it though, from what I can tell during the last time I checked the forums, which is nice, even if it's not for me anymore! It's a childhood memory that I'll always cherish.