Welcome to Postgame, Sidequest’s monthly Patreon-exclusive podcast, where the editors lay down hot takes on cold games. We’ll be posting short excerpts from the podcast to the site as we release new episodes—if they grab you, consider tossing us a couple bucks a month to hear the full episodes!
Spurred by our discussion of our first games, we took our focus to Neopets this month—and, more generally, the wide world of adolescent internet interaction. To help focus our discussion, we each played Nina Freeman’s Lost Memories Dot Net, which, true to its name, activated many, many memories. So many memories.
Naseem Jamnia: I mean, definitely more than Zora, and it sounds like Missy, I was very focused on romance from a young age. Like wildly focused. I was like five years old and I declared that I needed to find someone who would marry me.
Zora Gilbert: Oh god.
Naseem: I was very young and it didn’t come from a place of desiring romance. It came from a place of insecurity, of like, “I’m never going to find somebody who loves me. I’m never going to find somebody who thinks I’m”—once I got to the age of thinking of attractiveness—”attractive.” That’s really where it came from. So I was hyperfocused on this from a fairly young age. Once I started developing crushes, yeah, I think being online helped mitigate some of those feelings. I did not actually—you know, the people I roleplayed with at the time, or [the people] I was online with, they were all at the time identified as female. I don’t know what they identify as now, which, I think, helped me not realize that I was queer, for one, because it was very focused on boys. But it meant also that—we didn’t have a lot of drama, weirdly enough. The sort of stuff that comes up in Lost Memories, the kind of in-person drama, I don’t know if I ever had a shared crush with a friend, but I knew the feelings. I felt very strongly for Nina, imagining that she was actually 14 and not in fifth grade or whatever the fuck.
Naseem: Because the feelings of trying to navigate who I am and feeling more understood online were very, very accurate.
Zora: It was interesting watching both of you play through the game, and by watching I mean reading your notes from when you played through the game, because you both were talking a lot about identifying with Nina, and Nina reminded me a lot more of my other friends. And for me, it brought up a lot of the feelings of alienation that I had at that time, because social media and my friends and their experiences that they would talk to me about didn’t at all match up with mine, which was—I didn’t care about Boys, capital-B Boys. I had male friends who were my friends. But they weren’t Boys, you know?
Zora: I mean, they were—anyway.
Melissa:They weren’t like the mystical—
Zora: Well, some of them were boys. Time reveals many things. But, you know, I had those friends, but they weren’t objects of romantic potential for me in the way that I felt like I was supposed to conceptualize them, and the least pleasant memories I have of high school are when I found, through various mechanisms, that they considered me an object of—not all of them, but select male friends—revealed that they considered me an object of romantic potential. Which is to say, some of them asked me out. Some of them did it in creepy ways. Some of them did it normally, but it was just continual. And then when friends who at the time conceptualized themselves—we conceptualized ourselves as female—when those friends would wax poetic about relationships or get into relationships, I constantly felt like I was standing on a shore watching people sail off to a sea that I could not cross and did not want to cross, because it was simply not the experience of relationships that I had or wanted to have. So while I really identify with the feeling of loneliness, the feeling of loneliness for me was much less, “Nobody will ever love me,” and much more, “People conceptualize love in a fundamentally different way than I do, and I don’t know what that means for my future ability to engage with people.” I was having some real existential fears.
Melissa: That’s fair.
Zora: This game brought it all back up.
Melissa: It’s really interesting, because as a teenager, the further somebody was away from me in terms of social standing in high school, the more likely I was to have a crush on them. I didn’t have crushes on people close to me, because I didn’t actually want a relationship. I wanted them far, far away as objects of distant affection, with one single exception, which I think in my notes, when I talked about having a crush on a boy—what did I actually say? I said something about hopping back and forth between working on my Livejournal, writing an angsty Livejournal post about this boy I had a crush on, who was talking to me at the time, and then telling my friend everything that he was saying to me. That was the one single time I had a crush on somebody who I actually spoke to. And it was a fucking disaster, let me tell you. But I think I really liked the idea of romance, but I didn’t actually want it at that point in my life. And I think that was something that really drew me to fanfiction and something that also I felt expressed through Nina’s actions in this game. Because I would have a crush on somebody, but I would never, ever, ever act on it or tell somebody. I would bite my tongue forever rather than, I guess, be confronted with the possibility of rejection, but also I didn’t want anybody to know.
Melissa: Like it was a big secret. And my friends were all dating or expressing that they wished they were dating somebody.
Melissa: And I was just like, “Uh, I have a crush on this boy, but I wish he would never speak to me again ’cause it’s… awkward.”
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Theme music is Bass Thee by Alexander Nakarada, used under Creative Commons 0.
Melissa Brinks is Sidequest’s editor in chief, co-creator of the Fake Geek Girls podcast, author of The Compendium of Magical Beasts, and an aspiring beekeeper. She once won an argument on the internet, and tweets at @MelissaBrinks.