When I was a teenager, I ran a cyberpet site.
In the 00s, the term ‘cyberpet’ covered a lot of different things, from Neopets to those dragon eggs you had to hatch via visitor clicks. Several people, including me, ran sites where all the pets were custom-drawn, and visitors needed to apply via email to adopt the pet and display it on their website. Creators and owners of this type of pet would also usually have lots of roleplay-style text on their site, like “You enter a sunny forest glade. Three big cats turn to look at you, their lambent orbs aglow.” (Every pet had lambent orbs rather than eyes - it was the fashion back then.)
My site was a blatant knock-off of the cyberpet empire I admired the most: Raveen Kats.
By the time I found Raveen Kats, it was already quiet. (Or, more likely, had already moved into its own invisible subcommunities.) No kats were ever up for adoption on the site itself, and for some reason I never reached out to the creator or to anyone who had a kat. But I LOVED these pets.
Many are still out there, and not just on archived sites. They were (to my teen eyes) stunningly drawn, with fluorescent glowing colours and all sorts of wings and markings and magical auras. They came with complicated statistics and elemental types like Pokemon. Some people had scores of them, each with their own name, page and verbose introduction. Some kats were related, implying they could breed (if the creator allowed it). Some people ran entire prides, linking together multiple websites. There seemed to be all sorts of role-playing going on somewhere, because various websites referenced characters, places and events that formed a shared world.
I wished I could have one. But I had no idea how to go about it. So I set out to create my own.
I had some free webhosting available because it came with my dad’s email domain. My first site was on Freeserve (now defunct). Armed with pirated copies of Dreamweaver and Photoshop, plus all the CSS knowledge that Lissa could explain (remember that site?), I made sites abundant with iframes, css opacity, and backgrounds which I stole off Google and gave a bloom effect in PS. They were awesome. I wish I still had copies of them.
Of course, my pets were crap. I’m not much of an artist. Still, they did get adopted out, and one still survives online. It was great fun playing the owner of the pets and deciding whose site would be the best virtual home for them. I also got to give them cool stats and abilities without being constrained by having to implement anything mechanically. Text+imagination is still my favourite medium for that reason. It only takes a few words to conjure up something that would take months of development in a video game.
When I was even younger, I used to run “pet expeditions” on the Neopets forums. This was pure text, something like a choose your own adventure book. I would describe a location and let respondents choose which way they wanted to go or what action they wanted to take. Based on that, they would end up collecting pets along the way. They might find a flame cat if they climbed the volcano, or a unicorn if they went through the lush valley. I remember one of my major troubles being users who received a horse-like pet. They might request it to be a mare, filly, gelding or stallion, but I could never remember which horse genders were which and usually got the pronouns wrong, leading to some irate customers. To be honest, I would still love to play this sort of text game today, but I don’t know where you could possibly do it or who with. The internet is increasingly image-oriented, and long-form text-based arenas like forums are dying out. (A random memory that came to me - does anyone still use codes?)
Cyberpets also no longer really exist, having morphed into 'adoptables' which are bought and sold with real money and largely consist of recolours. (Even when I was a kid and everything was free, I thought templated recoloured pets were ripoffs!) While adoptable artwork is undeniably higher quality than cyberpet art was back then, simply paying for a drawing can't match the fun of having one 'awarded' to you by submitting a great application.
Well, I never managed to get my Raveen Kat. Nor did I ever become a good enough artist to draw my own successfully. Fifteen years on, I still search for them now and then, envying the people who managed to get one. And I STILL want one!