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Chrissy Teigen’s wistful return to Neopets is reminiscent of something we all do

It’s about taking time to return to the digital spaces of our childhood

blue scorchio Neopets

It took Chrissy Teigen about 20 minutes to muse about playing Neopets before announcing she was going to dive back into the game.

Teigen is one of Twitter’s favorite personalities, and her unhindered enthusiasm for the most random things is part of the reason she’s found adoration from millions of strangers. That includes games like Animal Crossing, Super Mario Odyssey and a love of Neopets, a nearly 20-year-old online game based around raising virtual pets.

Teigen’s tweets about Neopets, reminiscing over her time spent with virtual animals and even moderating community boards, aren’t just quaint, but relatable. It’s a look into someone fondly remembering a part of their past, and diving back in hoping to find that everything was just how they remembered.

Even when it was brought to her attention that Neopets was allegedly run by Scientologists, Teigen quipped back with a question about how this affected her marketplace. There’s an air of disbelief in Teigen’s tweets, a pleasantly surprised reaction that Neopets is still virtually the same. It’s an understandable feeling, and eerily similar to my own reaction when I returned to Habbo Hotel a few months ago. I went through my own wistful Habbo Hotel memories after talking to a friend about old games we used to play. I went home, created a new account, customized my miniature avatar and set about exploring the virtual world.

Things were different, but still wholly familiar. There were new areas, and different cultures defined message boards, but the core values of Habbo remained the same. It was exhilarating. It’s almost like Neopets and Habbo Hotel remained static; encased in a museum exhibit showcasing the internet’s simpler times.

Returning to something like Neopets or Habbo Hotel a decade after the fact is daunting. We’re conditioned to believe that everything on the internet will change the minute we step away. Facebook and Twitter change constantly; memes appear and disappear every few hours; there are billions of comments, jokes, messages and videos posted every single day. It’s an anxiety-inducing whirlwind, and it’s partially why we flock to unchanged relics of our past.

We’ve been doing this for decades. It’s why we spend $10 to play a remastered console or PC game from two decades ago, hoping that we can spend a few hours existing in a world as we remember it. I’ve desperately sought out terrible Flash games — if anyone knows how to play a version of Rollerboy 2, please email me — that I spent months of my life playing as a kid, only to be crushed upon realizing there’s no way to play it anymore. That part of my time spent on the internet, wrapped up in a game where I found peace in the otherwise chaotic, is gone. It sounds silly, but that realization is devastating.

It’s also, however, what makes moments like Teigen rediscovering a thriving Neopets or my own stumbling into a more or less unchanged Habbo Hotel so special. I equate it to returning home after years away at college or living in another city, sitting in the back of a taxi, and feeling a warmth spread through your chest seeing the local corner deli from your childhood still going strong. Change is scary, frustrating and confusing; having little touchstones to return to and center ourselves makes those transitions a little easier.

This is only becoming more important in an evolving digital age. Our past is slowly being deleted. Websites go offline or are overtaken by armies of trolls that we don’t recognize. New websites or apps are taking our attention away, pulling us from one community to the next. We’re losing touch with the bases that we built our digital footprint on. I don’t keep up with my LiveJournal, Archive of Our Own or Wordpress blog anymore. I don’t even know if they still exist, but I get wistful thinking about them from time to time.

It’s comforting to know that some of these cornerstones of our past digital selves — Neopets, Habbo Hotel — still exist almost exactly as we remember them. Sometimes we just need to disappear into a simpler time and hang out with a virtual pet. I adore that Teigen, and the rest of us, can still do that whenever we need, and share that enthusiasm with one another on Twitter.

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