Neopets is a very popular gaming/networking site amongst the youth, however it’s not limited to that age-range. As surprising as it may sound, many adults actually actively engage on this site. As someone who was a former Neopets-addict, I can honestly say that Neopets was definitely an appealing site, where I spent hours each day, which was possibly even more addicting at the time than Facebook and Twitter are nowadays..? From my past Neopets gaming experience, I can recall a number of things that made the site so appealing to youngsters (as I was about 13 at the time) besides the fact that usage of the site is free of charge (though you can pay for upgrades and perks). The site allows you to “create” a Neopet of your own, that is, choosing a pet from their limited selection and customizing their color, personalities and abilities. You earn points that are called “Neopoints” from games, contests, opening shops, trading post, auctions, stock market, you get the point. It’s like a whole reality in the virtual world. These neopoints act as a form of currency that can buy your pets food, battle equipments, paintbrushes to change their looks, etc. Most certainly, teens and kids who actively use the site can give endless reasons on why they love Neopets from all the varieties of things they can do on it. But just like any social media sites, having positives along with negatives, concerned guardians raised awareness to possible dangers of the site.
The article, “It’s a Whole Neo World; Neopets.com is a Raging Success. But Some Find It Inappropriate and Even Scary” brought up several issues that have parents concerned about what their kids or teens are exposed to in such virtual online gaming sites. One of the alarming topics was the appropriateness of the gambling games on the site. Players of all ages on the site have the ability to purchase lottery tickets and scratchcards that can win them more Neopoints. Another concerning issue was the “Neofriend” function where users of the site can “Friend” each other, kind of like the same reciprocating function of friend requests on Facebook. Guardians fear the anonymity of these “Neofriend” requests that can be from possible predators who may be preying on their children. Lastly, the issue of advertisements appearing all over the site has caused a stir amongst adults who have children and teens on the site. They disliked the fact that a gaming site that is supposedly appropriate for the youth, are even targeting these young children and teens as consumers.
I personally found some of the issues in the article to be far from dangerous and concerning. It is very understandable that parents and guardians have the desire to protect their children and teens from anything even remotely harmful, but many of these concerns as I see them, arise from the lack of knowledge of these sites. The issue of these ‘gambling’ games on Neopets is nothing but a friendly game in a virtual world that uses Neopoints instead of real world money. And again, they are just games and can even teach a lesson or two to users that earning money (Neopoints) is hard work, which in this case is by playing games. I don’t think many parents see that it may actually be safer for their kids to stay inside their homes and play such games as a way of escape than allowing their kids to go outside and possibly experience the real dangers of gambling in the physical world. In the reading, “Why Youth ♥ Social Media: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life”, boyd pointed out the issue that teens don’t actually have a space in the physical society, hence their love for these social network sites (134). What she meant by the teens as not having a place in physical society is the limitation of activities and privileges teens can do in the real world: they’re too young to go to parties or clubs, can’t hang out late at night, or do things that adults would consider “fun”. So the web and social networking sites act as a form of “escape”, where they can “hang out” with their friends and such. The same idea goes to these teens and kids who are on Neopets. They use Neopets as an escape. The controversy of ads on the site may be blown a bit out of proportion the way I see it. Kids, teens, adults of all ages are being exposed to countless advertisements each day, whether they know it or not. Think of it this way, isn’t letting your child play on a gaming site that contains some ads, where the games and content of the site allows your child to use their minds strategically much better than having them sit in a front of a television, drowning blankly into even more ads than they would be exposed to on sites like Neopets? I also find Neopets to be similar in ways to a popular youth SNS in the UK called, Bebo as discussed in the article, “As Soon As You Get on Bebo You Just Go Mad: Young Consumers and the Discursive Construction of Teenagers Online”. Willett found that the youth express themselves and perform their identities through updating their profiles, and customizing their pages (285). Players on Neopets do the same, they can customize their “Use-Lookups” (equivalent to a profile), the way their Neopets look, and shops, etc. Willett also found that most teens in the UK who used Bebo recognized their age-appropriateness for the site as opposed to other SNS’s (288). Neopets in a way sets their games and contents of their site to attract more of the younger audience, which in turn allows their young players to recognize that the site as appropriate for them and peers their age. Overall, parents should get a full understanding of such sites and understand the needs of their teens and children before criticizing and banning them from the internet.