There’s a woman I follow on Instagram who paints characters from 90s Australian kids cartoons onto denim patches. She sells the patches to designers, who stitch them onto old jackets which then sell for a hundred bucks a pop. A twenty-year-old living in [fashionably gentrified suburb] then buys the jacket and posts a selfie on Instagram, and someone comments “omg i remember the ferals!” and another someone writes “#Only90Kids”.
When an editor asked me if I wanted to “sign up to Neopets and play it for a while and write about it”, my answer was: “this sounds……… fun.” Just so we’re clear, that’s ten dots in the ellipses. Count ‘em. [editor’s note: you’re fucking welcome, Alex.] So it is with trepidation that I am even here, ‘dipping my toes’ into this weird ass world where every animals eats from the same everlasting, oversized omelette. (Does it never grow mouldy?? Huge if true. I mean, still huge if untrue, but just mouldy & huge.)
I’m worried. I used to play Neopets as a kid, but I remember next-to-nothing about what this entailed, what I actually felt at the time. What I feel now is this weird ickiness whenever I’m being sold something based on its nostalgia value alone. From TV revivals to fashion to games to toys to jokey cafes to racist ass politics: it’s back, babey!!! Wherever I turn, someone is asking me: remember your childhood, those good old days where you didn’t have to worry about making rent, when you were never concerned about tweeting RETIRE B**CH to the wrong celeb? Let’s go back to the good ol’ days.
[As I write this, someone at Buzzfeed Australia is ~livetweeting~ the entirety of the Looking for Alibrandi movie, lap up that hot #content, please]
What I’m saying, I think, is that this kind of ambient nostalgia, this soft nostalgia that fuels the businesses and creative practices of people my age, is antithetical to new ideas. It sits in opposition to exploring new cultural idioms. Nostalgia as background radiation.
OK, sorry, where was I. Neopets.com. I’m finally going to do it. I’m going to Log On.
I spend thirty minutes deliberating over what my username should be. I want a username that will scare off the youth. I do not want to befriend a teen, either by accident or otherwise, so I aim for a nom de plume that says as much:
I end up going go for a factual username. The name I choose gives me two months of leeway until I am lying on the internet, which is only one step away from catfishing my friends.
But then I’m presented with another choice: PICK YOUR NEOPET. Which digital fuck creature do I want to call me daddy?
I know that my original pet, from when I was twelve, was some kind of blue furry runt, but beyond this???? It could be any of them. They are all runts, and they can all be painted blue, which, that’s kinda fucked up actualy. It is only on sight that I know, I just know: it was the most generic of them all; the Pikachu of Neopets, minus the personality or multi-million dollar merchandising package.
I stare at it. I even take a screencap of it. But as soon as I look away I forget its name, and what it looked like. Was it a drowned rat thing? Something like that? Just cop a look, and fail-to-remember along with me:
So I try to pick the fucken rat, this Stupid Ass Rat Thing that I’m only relating to because it reminds me that I was once eleven, and by the virtue of youth, I was once mendable and changeable and not-stuck-in-my-ways. My soft brain is succumbing to that soft nostalgia.
But… I think the site crashes. I watch a loading bar for several minutes, hovering right next to the finish line but never getting there, like a hovercar in a hovercar race that broke downin a very unfortunate position, like, right next to the finish line, which is also hovering, um, yeah:
So I go back to the selection screen and pick a miserable looking eggplant thing. [SCENE: I am introducing my neopet to my family, as if she is a lost dog I found rooting around the bins on my way home from work, P.S. in this scenario I am a mopey 43 year old business man whose family hates him for never having bought them a jet ski.] SAY HELLO TO YOUR NEW SISTER, EVERYONE!
So, there. I’ve done it. I’ve finally logged on. But you know what comes next?
E V E R Y T H I N G.
The game presents me with hundreds of options. The front page asks me to FIND THE MAGICAL NEGGS! which I can only assume means that since I last played as a tween, this website was bought by a troupe of whimsical pick-up artists. Or do I want to customise my neopet, go on a spending spree, play some games, explore the world, read the Neopian Times, try and earn some money? I don’t knowwwwww.
I am exhausted by choice. There are too many links and buttons and options and avenues to lose myself in. So I end up going to the only place I truly know the contours of: the posting zone. And can I just say? On the record? The Neopets forums are Extremely Good:
Side bar: A couple years back, I downloaded a browser extension that changed every mention of ‘millennials’ into ‘snake people’.
Anyway here’s a poem, pilfered from news headlines, hot takes, and Chrome extension I deleted years ago after it kept on making me look like a fool on the internet whenever I tried to publish something about millennials.
Snake People are heavily invested in controlling the narratives of their lives
snake people don’t want children
And 50% of snake people have consumed craft beer
There is another scuttlebutt about snake people, of course,
snake people would rather put their money in a drawer
Snake People are totally horny for cause marketing.
the majority of snake people fear their e-mails
I think there are probably two things we can look for as snake people take over.
They are truly inconsiderate, self-absorbed people who have no public manners whatsoever.
I post this on the Neopian Writers forum, minus the struck-through lines that didn’t fit into the 400 character limit. Exactly one minute later I receive my first piece of Neomail. Wow! I’m already making friends here – I hope it’s not a teenger, beca–
Oops. My bad!!!
Should I have included the word ‘h*rny’ in my poem, asterisk included? Perhaps not.
Did I post the poem again in the Newbies forum, except this time changing the incriminating line to ‘Snake People REALLY LIKE cause marketing’? 100% definitely, yes, this is what happened.
Reception was mixed. On the encouragement of other users, I submitted the poem to the Nepets Poetry Contest, but only after taking on the advice that I should change all mentions of the phrase “snake people” to the name of a snake-ish neopet. I hope I win. Do I get real money? Please support me in this exciting and nerve-wracking time.
I’m a neopoet now, please don’t try to stop me!!!! B-)
STATUS: Feelin’ optimistic
MOOD: Better than before
NOSTALGIA: Barely sated / I forgot I was writing about it for a while there
NUMBER OF STRIKES FROM THE MODS: One
NUMBER OF THREADS DELETED AFTER PRETENDING TO BE MICHAEL CERA: One
NEOPET UPDATE: umm tbh i forgot that i had a neopet!!!! What do i do with it? Pls tell me. I don’t understand this game.
Alexander Bennetts is a writer and editor from Hobart, Tasmania. His ebook of fiction will be published by Spineless Wonders in 2017.