Neopets and Neoliberalism


via Neopets
Neopets is a website where people (usually children and adolescents – according to Bray & Konsynski (2007), the median age of a neopets user is 14) keep virtual pets and earn money (neopoints) to feed and customise the pets and give them toys and accessories. The neopoints are earned through playing the games online, clicking on the websites of sponsors, and by investing in the neopian stock exchange.

Aside from being a popular website amongst children, neopets is a high-earning website and was bought in 2005 for $160 million. It is included on this blog because it serves an example of how certain websites are able to embody neoliberalism.

In this case, there are two levels of anlysis: the game and the website itself. On both these levels, neopets is very much reflective of neoliberalism.

The Game

Neopets is really a kind of game, the point is to earn money, make investments, play in the arcade, adopt virtual pets and take care of them. Money is awarded to you if you do these things particularly well. If not, your pets basically go hungry (alas, there is no social safety net on neopets). The game doesn’t make any sense without its economy – just like work, the games are not particularly fun on their own for most children, but the end result of ‘earning’ the money (i.e. consumerism) is what makes the work worthwhile.

Wealth is not a zero-sum game, all you need to do is play the game and you will not be taking anyone else’s money, the neopets economy will simply expand. This reflects neoliberal beliefs that the wealthy do not harm or take away money from the poor, but that the wealthy in fact earned their money and the poor can do the same simply by playing arcade games working hard.

The trade of items is fully liberalised. Given that the products one buys on neopets is essentially made by nobody (i.e. it is a virtual product), there are no problems in the production process such as employment needs which would give rise to taxes, tariffs or subsidies. The realities of product supply are not complicated which makes embodying a neoliberal perspective much easier.

The simplified economy of neopets effectively works to undermine any economic system other than neoliberalism. Supply-side factors in producing items simply don’t exist – it’s as easy to produce one item than any other, and therefore how much the item is worth is merely dependent on demand. Additionally, because it is relatively easy to earn money – all you have to do is play a game – it does not address the idea that poverty can arise due to a number of factors other than merely not working hard enough.

The Website

While neopets is a free game, there is a lot of revenue surrounding it. Other than the website’s worth, it is one of the first websites to use what is known as ‘immersive advertising’. This is where players can earn neopoints by completing advertiser surveys and playing games that are company specific. When I was about 12, I played neopets a lot and I was so interested in earning neopoints that I took part in subscribing to advertising content. Over 8 years later, my inbox is still filled with junk mail from advertisers I subscribed to on neopets. The amount of commerce going into this website is huge, and this business model is neoliberal in its motive for profits.

Time magazine featured a story on this in 2004:

Chirita isn’t feeling well. A furry green creature with four legs and a pair of wings, she has come down with a case of the Neomites, a common affliction in the mythical online world of Neopia. The Neopian pharmacy sometimes stocks a cure, but it’s pricey, costing about 330 Neopoints. What’s Chirita’s owner, Wendy Mendoza, 10, of Atlanta, to do? One way to rack up the points would be to play any of the 110 free games on Neopets.com trying activities like bumper cars or chemistry for beginners. Then again, Wendy could also score by hunting for secret images in the site’s virtual McDonald’s, trying her hand at the Lucky Charms Super Search game or watching cereal ads in the General Mills theater–earning 150 points a commercial. Wendy visits the site several days a week.

In essence, website users (usually young people) are rewarded for their participation in advertising and consumerism, which is reflective of a neoliberal system.

One Response

  1. […] epitomises how, when people go online, they can pretty much work to recreate the offline world. Neopets is similar, and so is facebook insofar as the information available on facebook is similarly […]

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