Like many people, I use to live for the weekends. With only 90 minutes between getting home from work and bedtime, I constantly thought “There’s no way I can do [this] today, I’ll do it this weekend!”
[This] being writing a blog post, folding clothes, organizing the linen closet, whatever!
Then the weekend would come and I’d be too swamped with laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, etc. to actually enjoy spending time with my family like I wanted to.
Meanwhile I was working 40+ hours every week with a 45 minute commute each way and still barely making ends meet.
Neopets is one of those things that you either A) have never heard of (wtf, is it like a Tamagotchi or something?) or B) wilt with nostalgia over because ohmygoodnessssss the 90s were like totally amazing!
I happen to fall into the “B” category.
Whenever I talk about my journey toward becoming a professional blogger, one thing I mention often is that I’ve been blogging for nearly twenty years.
“But, Amber, how can that be?! You’re far too young to have been doing it for that long!”
Aww, well thank you, dear reader, but it’s true.
I first started blogging with Xanga back in 1998 and even built my first website with Geocities around that same time! Pretty impressive given that I was a 10 year old with AOL as her internet service, eh?
I then signed up for Neopets in June 2000 and found myself wonderfully lost inside this virtual world.
What is Neopets?
Neopets is a virtual world in which you have virtual pets (that fortunately cannot die!) Users within this world can buy items, such as books, food, and clothing, to use to interact with their pets. They can also buy items to equip their pets to do battle or furniture to decorate their Neohomes. Basically think of Neopets like Pokemon on acid.Heh have you swooned over the coolness that is me yet?
While many might think it just a silly game for kids, Neopets taught me many things over the years, such as…
Neopets & HTML Coding
Each of your Neopets has their own homepage that you can customize and design with basic HTML coding. Now keep in mind that when I first started with Neopets, the internet was a fairly new experience for everyone. So for a child of barely thirteen to have the opportunity to learn and implement coding like this was quite literally unheard of! Adults were still working to master it (many didn’t know what it even was!) and here was this game that gave kids the chance to learn in a fun, imaginative environment. I can now read and write HTML having never actually taken a course on it – this comes in pretty handy as someone who runs an online business!
Running a Business
Speaking of running a business, I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit which certainly comes in handy with Neopets. As I mentioned before, you can buy/sell items on Neopets, which leads to you running your own shop. Not only can you again utilize HTML to design your “storefront” and better market yourself, but you can also visit the “Shop Wizard” to compare prices. I was so serious about my Neopets store that I would often write out a marketing plan (much like an editorial calendar!) and map out what’s best to sell when. Yes, Neopets taught me competitive pricing, a concept I obviously still use today!
Christmas ’round the corner? Better pull my Christmas paintbrushes now so I can sell them at a higher price when the holiday gets near!
School is soon ending? More kids will be playing soon, better stock up now so I have plenty of inventory on hand!
Neopets running a special giveaway for free items? Collect ’em and stick ’em in my safety deposit box, because goodness knows they won’t sell for much any time soon.
I’m sure it seems silly to most, but there are some serious economic lessons to learn through Neopets!
When I took Consumer Economics in High School, a lot of what I was taught were things I already had basic knowledge of thanks to Neopets. First, there’s the bank, through which you not only deposit/withdraw your Neopoints, but you can also collect interest. Thankfully the APY (annual percentage yield) with Neopets is much higher than that of the real world, with my current account drawing at 11%.
Yes, I’m a Neopian Millionaire. No, I won’t give you a loan. (*psst* it’s against their ToS anyway!)
Oh and they also have a stock market that I took very seriously from early on.
Even though it’s all pretend, I would sit and read through the “Neodaq’ reports and tune in on the message boards to see if I could pick up any incoming trends (or dips). It was all so fascinating to me! Little did I know I was developing life skills that would one day lead to me running my own business!
How to Be a Leader
Within Neopets, you can join or run your own guild of other Neopets players. I created one called “On Faerie Wings” and this probably goes without saying, but I was the Faerie Queen. I even held quarterly elections for those wishing to serve on my council.
(because again in case you missed it the first few times – I was super cool!)
Through my guild, I would share my own personal tips regarding Neopia and cultivate information from others on what worked vs. what didn’t. We would host live chat forums, set up practice battles, and I even created a separate Geocities site to spotlight members’ Neopets. I took my leadership role very seriously and at one point had one of the most active guilds on the site. When my Grandma died in 2001, it was those guild members that helped me work through it. The game gave me something to focus on through the grief and I credit it with helping me become the leader that I am today.
Along those lines, being the efficiency strategist that I am, one thing that has always stood out to me with Neopets is that because your Neopets can never die, your success is limited simply to the time and energy you’re willing to put in. This virtual world has taught me many things that lend themselves to my now running my own business but if you’re going to take anything away from this piece, it should be that – your success is only limited by the time and energy you’re willing to give toward it.
Now I’m off to play some Meerca Chase…but if my husband asks, I’m totally with a client! 😉
Comment below – were/are you a Neopets player? What was your favorite game?
“She died, didn’t she?” The nod that followed my question shattered a part of me forever. My worst nightmare had come true; Grandma had died while I was away on my eighth grade trip.
March 15th 2001 was the last time I saw Grandma alive. I walked to her house every day after school, but this time my step-father drove me there so I could say goodbye before I left for my class trip to Washington D.C.
I’ll never forget how frail she looked, a shell of the powerful woman who had helped to raise me. I stood at the edge of her bed and fought the staggering urge to cry; crying would make it real and this just couldn’t be real. So I bit down hard on my bottom lip, the taste of mercury filling my mouth, and I kept myself numb to it all.
As I moved closer to her bed, her eyelids fluttered open and she gave me a feeble smile.
“Hi, honey,” she croaked through her chapped and swollen lips.
“Hi, Grandma,” I replied. I could feel my throat begin to swell and burn as I attempted to swallow those unshed tears.
“Leaving for your trip soon?” she asked. I knew she was excited for me to go on this trip as she’d previously made it clear that under no circumstances was I allowed to stay behind and watch her die.
All I could bring myself to do was nod in reply.
“Well…have fun, okay?”
I again gave a soft nod and turned to leave. To this day I cannot say for sure whether or not I even told her “I love you.”
When I returned from Washington D.C. a few days later, I stepped off the bus and with a quick glance, I saw my mom waiting for me beside our little blue Ford Focus. I had to force myself to look up at her.
“She died, didn’t she,” I asked.
My mom’s lips remained in a tight firm line as she made eye contact and nodded.
It’s that nod that still burns in my brain.
Grandma’s funeral went by quickly and yet I remember so much.
Almost as if thirteen year old me is still stuck there, forever looped in time…
I remember looking down at her in the casket, soft and frozen in time, willing her to just breathe. To just please come back to me.
I remember my school friends stopping by with their parents, awkward hugs and hand drawn cards.
I remember sitting in the bathroom with a friend, both of us sobbing into the couches and begging the pain to stop.
I remember the final glance I took before once again turning away from Grandma, this time forever.
The time following her death saw me tumbling into darkness.
First, my step-grandpa died of a heart attack.
Then the dog I’d had since my first birthday had to be put to sleep.
A month later, we adopted a puppy only to watch it slowly die of Parvo over the course of half a week.
And then as the summer faded to fall, my mom announced we’d be moving. We left Chicago and I became “the new girl” in a town that had less people than my grade school.
Every morning my eyes would flutter open only for my brain to immediately beg for the release that sleep provided. I lived each day simply to move on to the next.
With no friends and a mother lost in her own sorrowful oblivion, I let myself fall away from reality.
Then one night, a dream…
In it, I was sitting at the feet of my grandmother as she stroked my hair and soothed my sorrow. For a moment, I relished the comfort.
Then suddenly, I looked up at her.
“You’re dead,” I stated as if it were a fact we’d both just forgotten.
“I know,” she replied, still stroking my hair.
“But…but you can’t be. You’re here!” I cried.
“I am,” she said softly.
“You’re not supposed to be. Please, please come back,” I clung to her, willing the dream to continue on forever.
“It’s time to go, Amber,” she told me with one final caress, “You have to wake up now.”
With that, I felt a white light pull me toward the front door. I reached and screamed and begged…
And woke up.
It’s been seventeen years, three months, and twenty-seven days since Grandma died. Surviving in a world without her was (and sometimes still is) almost more than I can bear, but I push on.
I look to my children now and think about how she would have adored them. Unlike most Grandmas, mine was fairly strict, much more a mother than a grandmother. But oh how she would’ve spoiled my babies, especially my little girl, who was given the same middle name as my grandmother – Arlene Margaret Lewner.
I often think about how different my life would have been had she beaten that colon cancer and survived beyond her fifty-three short years. Oh how different the path would have been, but surely the destinations would have remained the same.
Every day I will work harder. Each day I will push a bit more. While I may never be as great as she once was, I will be a Lewner woman. I will make her proud.