On Returning to Neopets
It’s been a year or two or maybe ten— you don’t really remember as you log in and admire the vintage charm of the mostly-unchanged front page of Neopets.com. The News box flashes by with games you’ve never heard of and spiffy new NC Mall items for customizations scroll by, a feat you’ve never even attempted. What you do know, at least, is that it’s been four, five, six, or a hundred attempts of guessing at the fake birthday you cursed yourself with by using it for registration when you were eight. To your left, your pets are crying, “dying of hunger”— a phrase that terrified your younger self. How did you solve this again? Tap tap at your temple— aha! A quick visit to the Neolodge is self-satisfying and easily remedies the issue. You’ve still got it.
Your User Lookup and Pet Descriptions are dusted with digital cobwebs— images littered about that have now been taken down from the various hosting sites you used to have accounts for, or plastered with their unsightly logos. The shaky-line quality of your old artwork betrays the age at which you drew them, and the song lyrics you penned on your Pet Descriptions make your ears glow red with embarrassment. On one Pet Page, you discover a picture of your old homework that you once confusedly discussed with friends. You stumble through your preferences to edit these relics out, admiring the CSS and HTML you cobbled together blindly to make something presentable. But then you change your mind. The flagrant honesty has entranced your admiration, and you decide to preserve the precious, angst-filled thoughts of adolescence for posterity.
Instead, you head for the Neoboards. You first received access to them many moons ago after deliriously begging your mom to fax in the COPPA form (she didn’t understand— you needed to set your avatar!). There are now three new boards resting above your favourite Avatar Chat, where you, your friends, and your selective avatar-collecting guild once hung out on every day, as if meeting up at a virtual mall. The Battledome Chat still exists as well, but you notice the “Restock and Chat” boards have vanished, and with it, the jesting flames of sibling rivalry between the Avatar Chat and Battledome Chat. In preparation of re-entering, you leaf through the most recently released avatars on Jellyneo, now an official fansite, enviously eying the retired ones you’ve now missed. You decide to try for the Battledome Veteran avatar, but nothing happens when you click into the new, unrecognizable Battledome page. A quick search implies it's broken. Oh well.
You turn your attention back to the boards, clicking into the Avatar Chat. It rests quietly, peacefully. Gone are the days of rapidly sifting topics, Super Attack Peas priced at an unbuyable 600 million NPs, and superusers like jazz_invincible, featheralley, and munsterpoo. Maybe bucolically eerie would be a better description. Surprisingly an MSPP-SuAP lendees request board still exists, as if a fossil of days past had been revived into the present. Perusing the semi-active topics, there's not a single username you recognize, but you weren't expecting to anyways. Almost all the accounts are over 100 months old like your own. Some, obviously had better foresight when picking usernames unlike your own number riddled name.
Curiosity taking hold, you search for your best guildmate's account name. It's missing. Heading directly to the URL shows that it has apparently been disabled. On your Neofriends list, too, you notice over half of the entries are marked "frozen" as you scroll through the page. What happened over the years? From this vantage point, the landscape is scarily desolate and untenable. You think, Am I the only one left?
Absentmindedly and a bit fearfully, you return to the Avatar Chat and craft a short post on your return, maybe respond to an existing topic, hoping for someone kind to engage your lost soul that wanders an intimately familiar yet coldly lonesome site.
Then suddenly, in the corner of your eye, an old Neofriend pops online! Have they returned recently as well? How have they been? You click excitedly into their page, eyesight flitting over their sleek, modern User Lookup free of gaffes. They've even joined a new guild. You reminisce back to the days spent chatting about nothing on your long-defunct guild boards, the time you were both warned for spamming on the Newbies chat (over 10 years ago now— you’ve been an upstanding citizen since then), and recalling the Kazeriu petpet named for them and still attached to your favourite pet. You reach instinctively for the Neomail button. Your choice of words and message courses through your mind at mach-speed, when unexpectedly, you screech to a halt, hovering with hesitation— Do they even still remember me?
You are crestfallen. Your hopes to reconnect with someone— anyone— dashed before they even began.
With the slightest hesitation, you X out of the window.
Perhaps you don't belong anymore. Perhaps your time has passed. Perhaps it's time to let an old, aged account go, letting it dissolve into infinite hiatus.
Dejectedly, you begin to slowly close the tabs you've opened. One by one. You start to accept that there might be no place left for you.
Reaching the last one, as your mouse approaches the close button, a message fortuitously catches your eye— a response to the post you left on the Avatar Chat. “Welcome back!” it reads, from an absolute stranger. Below it, they’ve linked guides to modern inventions you know nothing of like Food Club. You refresh. More strangers have chimed in, updating with great fervour the losses and gains and mix-ups you've missed in the years you've been away from this beloved, nostalgic pet site that marked the very foundation of your child and teenage years. And then you realize—
They, too, know the solitude of having returned as an unknown to a site they held dear for many years.
You sigh a sigh of relief; You are not alone after all.
Today will be a new beginning.