Fictional companions and goth concerns.
I had to reset my Neopets password in order to write this column. No, not the password to my first Neopets account from 1999. The password to my second Neopets account from 2005. That was still a pretty long time ago, but more digital breadcrumbs are available: I remember which email server I used in the early aughts (do not ask me about 1999).
Once I manage to re-enter Neopia, I find my primary pet waiting for me – and dying of starvation. She is an Aisha, a quadrupedal species of Neopet with “acute hearing and a penchant for magic.” Her name is Model_Interference, an inside joke whose origin I no longer remember. Dressed in a devil costume and black wings, she stands next to a crystal ball, a moonlit night behind her. I have no memory of how I changed her outfit or her background, of where I found a devil costume in the family-friendly worlds of Neopia. At least I can rest assured that my aesthetic remains unchanged.
When I try to enlarge the portrait and look at my Aisha’s stats, a headstone with the word “Flash” appears, accompanied by an error message: “Uh oh! Some elements may not display correctly without Flash support. We’re hard at work converting this into a more modern & secure format.” Refreshing the page, my Aisha’s portrait appears briefly on the screen, only to be replaced by the “Flash” headstone. I refresh wildly while taking continuous screenshots, all to capture a 300-pixel image of Model_Interference in her demonic ensemble. I hope you are happy.
Now that Flash has exited (pursued by an Aisha), Neopets is, apparently, converting to HTML5 – but you don’t need me to tell you that Neopets is working on their whole thing. This has been reported on in more depth than the above error message, and anyway, I’m tired. I just want to give Model_Interference more Coffee and Marshmallows. I just want to think about my middle school library, where I discovered Elfwood and Expage and created my first Neopets account, all lost to the sands of time.
In 2017, Nicole Carpenter described the online aesthetics of that era: “Glossy, stylized graphics that harken back to the days of Geocities and Angelfire . . . hyper-saturated color palette, large hero images, punchy fonts and liberal use of brushes and filters.” Even reading the words “Geocities and Angelfire” throws me into a time loop.
But I can’t get lost back there now. I need to feed my Aisha.
Having seen my long-lost pet, I realize how terrible it would be for me not to feed her. Her stats tell me she is “dying,” which means she has been dying for years. I can’t leave her like this.
So, I really apologize, dear reader, for what I’m about to do. I’m about to walk you through the process of feeding my Neopet (rather, the process as it was in 2005, and also as it was in March 2021 – more on this momentarily).
I go to the general store in Neopia Central. I click on “Hot Soup” and confirm my purchase in a pop-up. New page – the shopkeeper congratulates me. I click “Back to shop.” The page refreshes.
I go to my inventory. It takes a moment to refresh.
I select the “Hot Soup” from my inventory. A drop-down menu lets me choose which pet I’d like to feed the item to. I select Model_Interference. The page refreshes. I click another food item. Feed it to another pet. The page refreshes. My internet is pretty fast, and still, I yearn for the sweet embrace of death.
I felt overwhelmed by the enormity of my task: feeding my Neopets while considering my feelings about them while condensing the worlds of Neopia into a column.
So, I postponed this column by a month.
Over those interim weeks, the Neopets website changed – or rather, is changing. It is April 2021 at the time of this writing, and now, when I go to feed my Aisha, the interface is a little more slick. In a pop-up window, I click “feed.” I am shown the edible items in my inventory (and the entire page does not refresh). I select Coffee and Marshmallows. Model_Interference says “Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm” (yes, that is the number of M’s she uses). I am informed that “Model_Interference was famished, and now she is very hungry!”
Of course, I am writing this as an outsider – I am not part of Neopets’ ongoing culture. Despite my nostalgia for the site, I am not one of its true devotees. That said, if the Neopets Island Builders app comes to the iPhone, know that I’ll be here for it. I am just an elder millennial trying to figure out where Model_Interference got her devil costume, a hyper-saturated human trying to understand my Aisha’s changing world.