We all have that harrowing realization at some point in our lives. You’re sitting in your 8 a.m. class on Monday morning, rubbing the four hours of sleep from your eyes, when all of a sudden you think: “Holy crap, I haven’t fed my Neopets in seven years and they’re all probably dead!”
Your palms sweat and your heart begins to race before you realize that you’re concerned about two-dimensional creatures you created online when you were ten. Neopets was—and apparently still is—a website where you can create and interact with virtual pets, play games to earn the Neopoints to care for them and essentially act as a single parent to four insatiable little monsters.
Neopets was most popular in the early 2000s, back when you had to beg your mom to get off the phone so you could use the painfully slow dial-up internet. For kids like me, who weren’t allowed to get an actual pet until their younger siblings were old enough not to use tails for games of tug-of-war, Neopets was a godsend. With Britney Spears’ “Toxic” bumping in the background, I dialed up, created my first account under the username kittyangel10 (hit me up with those Neomails, y’all!), and entered into the fascinating world of Neopia.
Naturally, to help me fill the cat-shaped void in my life, the first Neopet I created was the feline-esque Wocky, which I aptly named “Cute_Lil_Angel9410.” Innocent enough, right?
Well, as soon as I discovered that you could adopt abandoned Neopets from the Neopian Pound, the warm-hearted humanitarian in me thought that it was a good day to save a life. That’s how I ended up with my beloved red Scorchio, “_LiL_TuPaC_,” whose name I pronounced “Lil Two-Pack” until I finally wised up an embarrassing number of years later. Until then, the mystery of why some kid named their Neopet after one-third of a six-pack and then abandoned it continued to baffle me.
Looking back on it now, the whole concept of the Neopian Pound was pretty strange. Adopt a pet, stick it with a strangely punctuated name and suddenly decide you’d rather have one that looks more like a unicorn? No worries, just surrender the poor thing over to the Pound, and with one click all your responsibilities as a pet owner simply disappear.
It also didn’t take my ten-year old self long to realize that the world of Neopets, much like the society I would one day enter into, was run by money. While the website itself was free to play (although apparently now kids are encouraged to use PayPal to purchase virtual pet clothes using “Neocash,” because that makes sense), everything in Neopia costs Neopoints: the food, the coveted paintbrushes that change your pets’ appearances, and the many other useless items you bought because they looked cool.
You had to earn Neopoints by getting as high of a score as possible on a variety of Flash games, which ranged from strategy and action-adventure, to ones that were more temporary and advertisement-based. The latter were always the best, because they were usually quick to play and gave you an automatic three hundred NP every time.
The catch was that you could only cash in on the same game three times a day, so in order to rack up a good amount of dough, you had to get crafty. There were (and still are) numerous independent websites that provided invaluable tips and “cheats” to help struggling, low-income pet owners keep their creatures fed and still earn enough Neopoints for paintbrushes and other such luxury items.
At one point, my siblings, cousins and I actually became so obsessed with paintbrushes that for my sister Brigitte’s birthday, we pooled our Neopoints together to buy one that made her favorite pet look like a ghostly werewolf with bright red eyes.
It was a pretty emotional moment. I think she cried.
By the time I was eleven, my cousin and I had it down to a science. Every single day we would get on our separate accounts and do all of the “Dailies,” which were different parts of the site that gave you items for free. My favorites were the ones that gave you free omelets and various flavors of jelly, which kept my pets satisfied while Mama moved on to make her real money.
We would then proceed to play the easiest games three times each, as quickly as we could. One such game was called “Fashion Fever,” and simply consisted of players dressing up Neopets characters in funky outfits and hairstyles. Pro Tip #51210: You don’t even have to do anything. Just click “End Game” as soon as you start for a quick three hundred NP, even though your character will still be naked, wearing nothing but a head of spiky red hair.
Perhaps the simplest of these games was one where you literally just watched commercials, then spun a wheel to determine how many points you’d get. The upside was that this “game” allowed you to send your score five times a day, meaning a little extra dough in the bank.
The downside was that after watching the same corny ad for Cinnamon Toast Crunch five times in a row, I was ready to throw my keyboard out the window. Learning to mute the video and pull up another tab in the meantime saved me my sanity, although considering my current affinity for sugary cereals, my subconscious may have been more deeply affected than I realized.
After we had gathered as much moolah as we could on each of our accounts, my cousin and I got smart. We created a shared account between the two of us, setting up our Marketplace shop with useless items like plushies and garden gnomes then jacking up the prices to match whatever we earned on our separate accounts.
That way we could pool all our Neopoints together, raising enough to paint all of our pets in a variety of colors and styles, and even buy Petpets for each (side note—if Neopets could have pets, couldn’t they just care for themselves? Filed under: “Things I Didn’t Notice As a Child”).
Neopets is actually a very intricate website, with its own newspaper, inflation system, contests and random events, and forums where I used to spend countless hours talking to friends. I learned a lot from my time spent on this website, like how to haggle for lower prices with animated shopkeepers, how to handle the rejection of my countless submissions to the Neopian Times, and that even if you don’t feed your pets for a decade, they’ll still be there patiently waiting for your return—if you ever manage to remember your password.