We’re now six-ish years into quarantine (give or take), and if you’re like me, you’ve exhausted your at-home activities. I’ve watched everything on Netflix, twice. I’ve baked so many loaves of bread that the Pillsbury Doughboy sees me as a threat to his livelihood. I’ve even considered reading a book, like some sort of pioneer. Things are getting desperate.
Recently, in between looking up every house on Selling Sunset, I started thinking about the internet of the early 2000s. Back then, as a middle schooler, I would spend hours methodically clicking through the same few websites, flying past my allotted time on the family desktop. It didn’t matter that the graphics were pixelated or that a MIDI version “My Boo” by Usher blasted whenever I opened a new page. I was enraptured.
So in the name of journalism, I logged back on to my most beloved sites from the early 2000s, to see how they held up today.
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If you were too busy going to parties and playing kissing games in Ashley’s basement to have been into Neopets, here’s how it worked: First you created a digital pet. Then you played games to earn Neopoints, which you used to buy useless online objects. Let’s break that down. Say you spent 14 hours of your precious youth earning 10,000 Neopoints. You could then buy your pet a virtual spaghetti that he doesn’t even thank you for, before you get back to work to buy more. (I don’t have kids, but I assume this is what having them is like.)
The game teaches kids some valuable lessons—like sometimes buying things really does make you feel better. (At least that’s the one that stuck with me.)
Is it still around? Absolutely. Much like the Abercrombie and Fitch at my hometown mall, this site has not been updated since 2004.
Is it as fun as you remember? I’ve spent most of my life chasing the high I experienced after earning 1000 points playing something called Zurroball. But while my 12-year-old self was right about some things—Lance was the best member of N’Sync and the purple sparkle gel pen does make you seem mature—this one doesn’t quite hold up.
How much time can you waste on it? 45 minutes. After I spent all my points, it was time to send my Neopet—Ashlee_Simpson_90—to run around on that big farm upstate, while I go back to compulsively googling “can you catch COVID from too many zoom happy hours?”
One day, when I’m 150 years old, pumped so full of silicone that I’m unrecognizable as a human, I imagine myself lying in bed, surrounded by wide-eyed great-grandchildren, begging me to tell them again about the adventures I’d had as a pre-teen.
“Well,” I’d say. “After school, I’d rush home, smash a handful of Wheat Thins into my mouth and spend the entire afternoon making tiny pixelated dolls in tube tops.”
Dollz Mania, and its many imitators, were basically flashy paper dolls that you’d put in club clothes and wigs with chunky highlights, posting them on MySpace because “this one looks just like me.” (It did not.)
Is it still around? Not as we know it. It’s sad, because if a glitchy online doll platform can’t make it, then who can? But the Wayback Machine has archived some similar sites from its 2004 heyday here. I’m sure the Smithsonian is hard at work on a full exhibit on these dolls as we speak.
Is it as fun as you remember? Nothing can be as fun as I remember this being. After dragging around a few pairs of low-rise jeans, I remembered that I’m an adult with a Netflix subscription and ¼ bottle of wine in the back of the fridge.
How much time can you waste on it? 5 minutes—the same amount of time I spend each day trying and failing to follow a YouTube cat-eye tutorial.
AIM (AOL Instant Messenger):
Back in the day, AIM was like a nightclub in 2019, or a socially distanced Trader Joe’s in 2020: the place to see and be seen.
There was nothing like crafting your away message, shading anyone who wronged you at school that day (“*~*ExCiTeD 4 FrIdAy w/ mY gUrLs – SHS, DO, MS, MK, SW and NO1 ELSE*~*”).
Then you’d spend hours waiting for Cory, the sixth-grade hunk with the floppy hair, to come online so you could message him “hey” and he’d say “sup” and then that would be the extent of your interaction. Ah, young love!
Is it still around? AIM was shut down in 2017, taking with it Cory’s chance to finally confess his feelings for me. However, a few scrappy little upstarts have adorably launched their own messenger services—like Google’s Gchat and Facebook’s Messenger.
Is it as fun as you remember? Fun? Maybe not. But it did set up a lifelong obsession with being constantly online and available to talk to anyone, at any time.
How much time can you waste on it? Every waking minute.