A couple of years ago, my kids showed me a website called Neopets.com where they create free membernames, adopt weird little animated virtual alien-pets, and communicate with other owners of weird little animated virtual alien-pets.
It seemed like a pretty dicey concept to me, and I didn’t really see what was so great about it. That was a couple of years ago — now, 25 million members later, Neopets is being bought by MTV and MTV’s parent company, Viacom. The two young British entrepeneurs who created Neopets.com will share in the price of $160 million.
I’ve never really caught “Meerca Fever” myself (that is, I’ve never felt a strong urge to spend any time at all nurturing a “Meerca” or an “Iasha” or any other type of Neopet pet). But, I am intrigued by the idea that all this money is paying for a venture that offers no commodity other than imagination. Neopets is in the business of creating fabricated realities, and MTV thinks this is worth $160 million.
I know I’ve got a bad habit of going around saying this or that is “metafiction”. Well, I’m not going to say Neopets is metafiction. In fact, Neopets is simply fiction. When you sit down at a computer and create a theoretical, computerized life form, you are engaging in a practice diagramatically parallel to that of writing a short story, novel or play. You are encapsulating life. You are stepping into realms unbound from truth. This is what writing is, this is what dreaming is, and this is what virtual reality entertainments are, from SIMS to video games to online community sites.
I’m not sure if I like Neopets or not. As a writer, though, I have to hand it to them. Here in the literary world, we’re used to doing a whole lot of imagining, sometimes for little reward. It’s nice to see our fictional genes have some kind of market valuation, somewhere.