Entertainment

Why We Should All Get Back On Neopets Before It's Gone Forever

The end of Flash is coming. It's now or never for this beloved nostalgic relic.

Earlier this month, I jokingly said to anyone who would listen that we should all get back on Neopets as a way to kill all this new free time. The thing is, I wasn’t really joking. Neopets, the online virtual pet website popularized by preteens of the early 2000s, is a highlight of my childhood, as I abandoned my Tamagotchi in favor of feeding endless omelettes to virtual bunnies, unicorn-pegasus hybrids, and something called a Chia.

On Neopets, the Flash-based website created in 1999, users can create and name their own pet, selecting from a handful fantasy creatures, and take care of their pets by playing games, purchasing food, and exploring new landscapes in the world of Neopia. We started bank accounts for our Neopoints, where we would collect interest every day and invested that hard-earned currency in a fake stock market. We taught ourselves HTML to make sure we could code the cutest backgrounds for our pages, complete with custom blinking cursors. We even gave our own Neopets their own pet, aptly called Petpets. What an existence. 

But with the impending cutoff of Adobe Flash -- the program that runs Neopets’ games -- looming over the website at the year's end, it’s unclear if Neopets will survive the remainder of this year. Neopets’ Twitter account remains active, and allegedly, a mobile game in the works, as well as a TV series, but the site's owners have yet to share a blueprint for how the world of Neopia will exist past 2020, especially in its current web iteration. So this very well might be our last chance to spend time on the Neopets we know and love.

During my obsessive Neopets phase that began in 2002 -- when I was in second grade -- and lasted well into my middle school years, I ran a guild devoted to other horse girls where we role-played owning horses and obsessed over books to collect and read to my pets. The only thing I worried about in Neopia was completing the quests I was tasked with by faeries, the strategically stationed arbiters of the game. So I asked myself: how would the experience of Neopets hold up in 2020 compared to the excitement of being online and caring for a virtual pet back in, say, 2004?

I logged back onto one of my old accounts, shocked to find that I could still get through. Everything was almost as I remembered: Flash games, creative and weird foods, like a black currant omelette or a fish-shaped berry, to feed your pets, and seemingly endless fantasy worlds to explore. If anything, some of the Flash had been updated: Faerieland is dressed in ugly hues of purple and green now, instead of the former pastel pinks and tacky fuchsia. Tyrannia, of the original destinations users could visit, no longer looks like a blank plateau but is instead vaguely jungly. Mystery Island is the same: somewhat problematic in its references to pacific islander culture.

Even more surprising than the updated explore pages is the fact that, after browsing several Neoboards -- Neopets’ forum for user chats -- I’ve found that there are people who remain active on Neopets. It’s unclear if these are users from Neopets’ heyday who have stuck around, accumulating money in their virtual bank accounts while the rest of us had moved on to MySpace and beyond, or whether these were returning visitors like myself, back for a taste of sunny nostalgia in these bleak times. Lo and behold, there was a thread asking if any early 2000s users were logged on; sure enough, replies trickled in, with one user even declaring that, “Neopets will always be a part of my life.” Another said that they were “hoping that with stuff happening, [Neopets] will pick back up.” Either way, I felt less ashamed being 26 and visiting a virtual pet website seeing everyone else. People were sharing fanart of their favorite pets and discussing game strategies, requesting people to join their guilds, and showing off coveted avatars. 

Sure, the graphics aren’t as good as what you may currently be playing on the Nintendo Switch (Celeste, Stardew Valley,Baba Is You, and other purposefully pixelated games aside). The website is also crowded with ads, something that must have happened gradually as Neopets struggled to retain users and money following the site’s handoff from scientologist CEO Doug Dohring to Viacom in 2005 to Jumpstart Games in 2014 -- a transition that led to mass layoffs of core staff members, internal restructuring, and a temporary shut down of the Neopian Times, the website’s version of a newspaper that highlighted user-generated stories. And yes, the games feel a bit simplistic and the overall website is still extremely PG-rated. 

But despite Meerca Chase being but a glorified version of Snake, it’s still thrilling every time a rainbow negg springs up. And even though it might be socially irresponsible to gather with a group of friends to play card games right now, you can still be deceitful in Cheat!, the website’s version of BS, or try your hand at solitaire. Las Vegas’s casinos may be shut down, but Neopets has plenty of scratch cards, a game of craps, and slot machines to get you through. I’ve even taken to teaching myself how to play the site’s version of mahjong.

Neopets is free, its premise still cheery and enticing, and -- for me at least -- provides a much-needed sense of calm in an otherwise anxiety-ridden existence. If you haven’t been back on Neopets in a decade, or are completely new to this entire concept, maybe it’s time to log on.

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Kat Thompson is a staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn