This article originally appeared on VICE US.
In the beginning, there was Adam. This is true for two things: the Earth, according to the Old Testament, and the website Neopets. In November 1999, Adam Powell and his college friend (and future wife) Donna Williams launched the animal-based gaming site, Neopets, which he says he first conceived of as a way to “keep university students entertained.” Over time, Neopets morphed into the vivid, twee universe that allowed its all-ages users to adopt pets, dress them, play arcade games with them, and interact on forums. At its peak, it boasted over 44 million users. Today marks the platform’s 20th anniversary.
Some years after its inception, 11-year-old me created a Neopets account on my family’s home computer. Under its whimsical facade, Neopets offered a trial run for life, allowing its users to act out caring for a pet, running a shop, and building connections. Through chat rooms, users were able to interact as if we were all adults, no matter our real ages. As a pre-teen, singing up felt a bit like biting into the forbidden fruit, a post-lapsarian pursuit. Immediately, I became consumed. I exchanged real-life playdates for the chance at earning one million Neopoints, waved away birthday parties to submit to The Neopian Times, and wholesomely catfished an unassuming British woman (for friendship!). The experience left its mark: I spelled the word “fairy” wrong for years because the website stylizes it as “faerie.” My parents were concerned enough by my latent hobby to take me to a hypnotherapist. It didn’t work.
These days I vaguely—almost dreamily—remember scrolling through Neopets forums, playing slot-machine-like games for luminescent prizes. What holds, what sticks to my brain like pasta on a ceiling, is one of the most inconsequential yet quietly-present elements on the website: its food. Neopets’ gastronomy was essential to the game. Users often made a pilgrimage to a massive cheesy omelette situated on a prehistoric plateau, collected glazed doughnuts from hanging trees, and waded through ice cream formations. In a world catered to youth, it made sense that the highest currency was expressed in the form of highly fat-saturated, cutesy food items, many of which children fantasized about but were not allowed to have.
So, as Neopets turns 20 and transitions from desktop to mobile, I’ve taken on the challenge of recreating some of its iconic food items. Each one could all be labeled grotesque—a term that appropriately encompasses the mysterious, fantastic, and incongruous all at once. But what follows is a tribute to the bizarre and ill-fitting Neopets food, commemorating a time of pubescence during which many of us held similar characteristics.
The Chocolate Corndog - r86 (Rare)
For this one, I double-boiled chocolate and slathered the goop onto a store-bought corndog. After it had settled, I gave in and took a bite. The texture was like a french fry left out in humid, hot air...left a lot to be desired.
Apple Tree Broccoli - r92 (Very Rare)
It’s basic-looking, but somehow this one evoked a kind of Americana nostalgia. The cherries bopped around like tire swings under a tree. I didn’t try it, since the broccoli was raw and the cherries were held up by glue gun strands.
Blopple - r101 (Special)
The Blopple was incredibly hard to make. It required pushing apple slices into slime and pressing herbed pizza dough into the base of the "sculpture." If anyone ever wants to Phantom Thread me, though, I give you permission to feed me bits of Blopple.
Marshmallow Omelette - r101 (Special)
The omelette is a piece of Neopets iconography ingrained in any early Neopians’ mind. The website offered over 103 different varieties of omelette, all based on its prehistoric-style world, Tyrannia. I ended up trying this one. My friend joked that I was underplaying the experience, shrugging “It’s not that bad, I guess,” while casually shoveling bites into my mouth. Whatever. Most desserts are egg-based anyway.
Checkered Carrot - r62 (Common)
This one was the party trick of the bunch. It looks cool, but just involves a painted a carrot and some spinach leaves.
The Bullseye Creme Pie - r68 (Common)
I thought the creme pie would entail the fairly simple task of layering on whipped cream and food coloring on a crust. A turkey baster later, my kitchen was splattered in a thick hot sauce-milk-dye concoction. Would not recommend.
Faerie Floss Cocktail - r101 (Special)
Finally, my giant martini glass found its true purpose. The Floss Cocktail was the easiest of the “faerie” foods to make, which is why I chose it. It’s comprised of sparkling mineral water, glittery food dye, and a Trolls Doll tail.
The Aquaberry - r160 (RARITY 160)
I would be remiss if I omitted the Aquaberry from this series. One of the rarest pieces in Neopian lore, its worth has ranged from 390,000 Neopoints to 142,000 Neopoints over time. Its real-life iteration was made it by freezing a sprig tucked inside a water balloon. The description reads, “this beautiful berry is actually considered a parasite to many farmers because of its tendency to steal water from other berries.”
Immersing myself into a universe I’d long forgotten was disorienting, like re-learning the rules of an old card game. At the same time, making these foods brought me squarely back to a space of giddy joy, similar to what I imagine I must have felt playing Neopets. There was an innocence and ease to dropping globs of chocolate on a corndog, or swirling glitter inside a giant martini glass.
Neopets has always been a reflection of our “real” world (though much more colorful and forgiving). It was where many of us first learned social contracts, figured out how to exist in the world. Doing the opposite and physically manifesting pieces of Neopets into my regular life felt unusual. Bringing these odd foods to life made me want to engage in purposeless curiosity more often—and also might have given me a slight stomach bug.
Styled by Jocelyn Zorn, Han Hal