Like many children of the mid-2000s, I was obsessed with virtual worlds. Whether it was just a social space to talk to friends in, or a more traditional game setting involving pet raising and a flash game arcade, I played just about every one that existed. Over the years, however, a lot of these websites have closed, leaving me with an inability to ever revisit games that shaped my own development as a gamer.
This repeated mourning of games I hadn’t played in a decade but now never could again has led me to an idea. I’m going to go back and play old virtual worlds again one more time, using my old accounts if they haven’t been deleted. There are two purposes to this endeavor of mine, with the first reason being general nostalgia and record keeping. I want to get some screenshots and make sure that these games aren’t forgotten when they leave the internet. The second purpose is that I want to give a review as to how they have aged, and whether there’s any reason to come back to these games in 2018.
The best place to start, it seems, would be Webkinz. For those who aren’t aware, Webkinz is a virtual pet game tied to buying actual stuffed animals that have a code attached that can be used to adopt a virtual version of that pet online. These stuffed animals were everywhere for a while, and then the craze died out. I’m about to get online for the first time in a while and see what’s changed.
The first thing that I noticed upon logging into my account is that I have at least seventy birthday cake slices. Every pet gets a slice of cake on their birthday, and I have around twenty pets and several years of missed birthdays built up on my account. This also means I have a lot of mail spam from the Webkinz team wishing my pets a happy birthday. Thankfully, mail deletes itself after a certain amount of time, so I have far fewer letters to deal with than I do birthday cakes.
Since I haven’t bought a pet in over a year, my account has been downgraded to a basic account, so there’s a number of features I can’t access. Still, I noticed I can actually do more on my account than I used to if I let my membership lapse, so Webkinz seems to have a better free-to-play system built out than before. With that said, I also noticed that they are also a lot more money hungry than before. As a kid, the only ads came from sponsored content, like a free virtual furniture item promoting a movie coming out, or from unobtrusive ads on the side of the browser. Now, every time I wanted to start playing a game or navigate to a different part of the website, I had to watch the same thirty second ad for Goldfish Crackers before I could continue. It is possible that the heavy ads come from not having a recently adopted pet, but based on internet complaints, I doubt that.
Still, I braved all of the ads to get a family picture of all of my pets together in the same room in my house. As a kid, painstakingly designing every inch of my house with themed furniture was one of my favorite parts of this website. Even as an adult, I enjoyed spending the virtual currency I had left over to decorate my pet rooms, although I was severely limited in terms of what I was allowed to buy on a basic account.
Of course, everyone gets on Webkinz in order to play in the arcade, and I am happy to report that all of my childhood games are there and ready to play. Are they as much fun as I remember them being? No, a lot of them are kind of slow and clunky, but they are there and can be played. My personal favorite is Goober’s Lab, a very basic match-three title that later got me into playing Bejeweled.
In terms of how populated the game is, I did run into other players while doing multiplayer activities and the game is still regularly updated with new games and Webkinz pets. While new features are being added, Webkinz seems reluctant to retire or update older features. This leads to a weird world where there’s a questing system that feels very similar to the mobile games of the modern era, but the means of connecting with friends on this game is a cell phone that looks like this:
The one thing Webkinz did retire that I’m a little upset about is the Mazin’ Hamsters game, which was a 3D game that weirdly reminded me of Marble Madness. It was actually a pretty fun game, but I think it got spun off into the Amazing World MMO that is also now defunct. Apparently the moral of this story is that people don’t like hamsters much. Still, I didn’t notice any other features missing that I utilized in my childhood. I could still do trivia with Quizzy, go to the Curio Shop for gem hunting, and get a job at the Employment Center.
An interesting note here is how much lag I felt while playing games and moving around my house. I found it a little strange because I don’t remember this happening as a kid. It is possible that I just wasn’t as picky, and this game is clearly running on some fairly archaic code, but I also wonder if the absurd amount of advertisements built into this game is causing some slowdown. Either way, it was a bit disappointing to have so much trouble running the website sometimes.
Overall, I think Webkinz aged better than I expected it to, both in terms of overall functionality and that there are still people online. It isn’t nearly as enjoyable of an experience as it used to be, but I could see myself getting on for a round of Goober’s Lab every once in a while.
Did you play Webkinz or other virtual worlds? Let me know if there are any worlds I should be talking about in the future!