The Online Addiction

by Frances Moritz

After years of avoiding any online games with long-term commitments, I've finally fallen for one. Come read about the online gaming that has my attention.

Once upon a time, during my college days, I heard of MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons), MUCKs (Multi-User Chat Kingdom) and MUSHes (Multi-User Shared Habitat). After a brief curiousity incursion into a MUD, I decided to avoid them, as several of my friends fell prey to their addictiveness and I watched their grades plummet.

As the online world became more graphically inclined and MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) developed by the dozen, a dial-up connection (now replaced with cable) and an outdated computer (Gilly, the Perky Computer) saved me from being drawn into those worlds. On a rare occasion, during his Ultima Online stint, my husband used my computer to play very, very slowly. Now that he's hooked on World of Warcraft, which occasionally lags on his faster machine, he hasn't even bothered installing the game onto Gilly as a back-up.

So what online game has finally reached out and sucked me in? The world of Neopets, "the greatest Virtual Pet Site on the Internet." Like my brief incursion into a MUD, the initial foray was driven by curiousity after hearing about Neopets from several friends. Unlike the MUD, I wasn't able to escape as easily. Two major bonuses to attract me are that it's completely free, since they make their money off advertising, and there's nothing to install on your computer.

Creating your own pet is a fun concept. You start by picking a species, some less realistic than others, all terminally cute. Some of the species are limited editions, which means they're only available in a limited quantity. Other species are marked as "restricted"; you must find the secret way to unlock them. Once you've chosen your species, you customize it by picking the name, gender, color and some of that pet's preferences. The hardest part of creating a neopet is finding a name that's not taken yet.

An Aisha A Ruki A Bruce A Kougra attacking A Tuskaninny A Wocky

You can take your neopets into the Battledome to fight against other neopets, send them for grooming, put them up at a hotel for a night or week, buy them books to increase their intelligence, or build them a neohome, among other options. But you're going to need neopoints for most of that.

The easiest way to collect neopoints is by playing games, and a lot of games are available. Each game tells you going in what the neopoint (NP) ratio is for the points scored in the game. Be worried when you see a "600 NP per 100 pts scored" game - it's either low scoring (but fun), painfully difficult, or both. (See Dubloon Disaster as an example.) To encourage playing multiple games, instead of fixating on one, players may only submit scores for each game three times a day; any additional plays are for fun rather than neopoints.
Dubloon Disaster
Mines hone in on my boat in Dubloon Disaster
Ice Cream Machine
Dodging scoops from the Ice Cream Machine
The games are an assortment of new ideas and rehashes of existing games. In Ice Cream Machine, you run around as a Chia having a strange dream that involves avoiding ice cream scoops being shot at you from ice cream cones. You get extra points for avoiding ice cream with toppings on it, and you can collect some special scoops for bonuses or special abilities. I'm not sure why there's a fish head coming off an ice cream cone, but it's worth megapoints. This is one of the few games I'll play that requires a mouse, since my trackball is somewhat harder to use for precise control.

Castle Battles is another nice Shockwave game, where two neopets build castles and take turns shooting cannonballs at each other, trying to knock the gold treasure out of its designated square. Points are awarded for damage done to the castle, flags knocked over, and the actual removal of the treasure. The downside is that you don't get to rebuild your castle when you win a battle; your opponent comes back each time with a tougher castle. The upside is that this is one of several games where you can "unlock" extra levels, in this case by defeating new castles as you get to the higher levels. In Castle Battles, you originally choose from two castle designs; as you defeat each one, that castle becomes one of your options.

My castle takes its first hit in Castle Battles My castle has taken many hits by this point
Whack-A-Kass is a batting game, where you're swinging at a plushie of an evil villain and hitting it as far as you can. The first level is played with bread as your bat. As you pass the designated scores, a stick or a bat also become available, which allow you to hit the plushie even further. When you think your score is worth submitting for neopoints, you send the score and restart (or exit) the game.

Whack a Kass with bread    Whack a Kass with a stick    Scoring in Whack a Kass
I enjoy all of those games and more, but the one that had me bouncing off the walls when I first saw it was Meerca Chase II. At some point in college, I was introduced to the old BASIC snake game that installed with DOS, where you collected the number one through nine on each level. (OK, how many readers did I just lose?) Meerca Chase II is a modern version with Neggs (eggs with smiley faces) instead of numbers. There are no levels; you just keep going until you bump into a wall, a red Negg or your own ever-growing tail. You can choose between Classic (turn at 90 degree angles only), Freestyle (allows you to rotate), or Maze (adds hedges as obstacles, reminiscent of the middle levels in the BASIC game).

Meerca Chase II - Classic Game Mode Meerca Chase II - Maze Game Mode
These and many more arcade-style games are keeping me entertained online. If you're interested, they have a referral program where you get neopoints for getting people to sign up. Since I didn't know about it when I joined, here's the referral link for the person that's responsible for my membership: sign up for Neopets using this link.

NEOPETS, characters, logos, names and all related indicia are trademarks of Neopets, Inc., 1999- 2005.
Copyright 2004-2005 The Lady Gamer. All rights reserved.