My sister and I took Neopets very seriously indeed. A lot of my early internet memories are centred around playing the game – I remember how fast the animation for the Wheel of Excitement span when we finally got broadband to the house and thinking: this is it. The future.
Neopets introduced me to two things that I still do on the internet today: mindless browsing, and making friends online.
We always referred to the mindless browsing we did as our ‘dailies’. Dailies involved jumping around the Neopia map collecting freebies, spinning wheels, playing scratchcards and games in order to collect currency. I don’t think we were all that systematic, but I do remember the little rush you’d get from collecting all that stuff. I do something similar now in the morning when I wake up and collect all those notifications from Twitter and Instagram and Facebook.
The chat boards were my favourite part of Neopets though. I’m still Facebook friends with an American girl I met in a Guild on the site (hi Emily!). Choosing my avatar, the font my posts would appear in, and my signature: my first taste of the possibilities in fashioning yourself online. I was probably 12 or 13 when I was using Neopets. This phase coincided with my new interest in clothes and makeup. I wasn’t rebellious but I looked for ways to be different, that essential posture for early-2000s teens. This difference manifested itself in me wearing a lot of plastic bracelets on each arm, stacked so that they practically reached my elbows. I recall customizing my jeans with fabric pens. Expressing my identity became an all-consuming project.
The Guilds and the chat boards had their own special hierarchies. I have remained fascinated by the politics of internet groups ever since – I’ll admit to having lurked on many a Facebook group/comment section/Twitter thread soaking up drama. I wasn’t particularly interested in being a big name in the group, but I can recall the excitement of logging on and being able to talk to Americans, whom I found utterly compelling, even when they were discussing mundane things like Walmart and school holidays and softball. Even headier were the in-jokes, which were lame, because in-joke always are, but had a special power to bind us together and make us feel like we were funny, special people. Which we were.
Other internet memories from this time: BBC Bitesize, Elf Bowling, Habbo Hotel