Ariane de Gennaro
As a nine year old, I had two passions: Daniel Radcliffe and cosplaying as an adult on internet games. Possessing paltry athletic abilities, I spent a lot of time alone in front of the old desktop computer in our home office. GirlsGoGames.com, for one, enabled me to do it all: makeover a princess with bacne, plan my dream wedding, own a virtual dental practice or calculate my compatibility with my third-grade crush by name and birthday. It also once offered me a sketchy link which, upon clicking, led me to PornHub.
After clicking confusedly away from the aggressive doggy-style sex which had appeared on our family Dell, I continued crafting a set of perfect virtual red-carpet outfits. GirlsGoGames.com was where I popped my first zit, had my first kiss and went to my first ultrasound appointment — looking back on it, it’s actually a bit spooky how domestically-oriented the site encourages its mostly female young users to be.
Nevertheless, the constantly renewing opportunities to LARP as a princess or a pizza waiter kept me rapt for years. The site offered me an enticing glimpse into adolescence and adulthood, fulfilling my desire to be a Big Kid, a Grown-Up. I adored GirlsGoGames.com because it let me be an idealized version of an adult for half an hour every morning. I baked elaborate cupcakes and aced celebrity photoshoots, made over my room and married princes.
GirlsGoGames’s one fault was that it was a single-player game — when I needed company, I headed over to Animal Jam under the mysterious and enticing moniker iluvcupcakes29545. I have a weird Animal Jam superiority complex because most of my friends were Moshi Monsters or Club Penguin-heads; Jamaa Township was my personal anonymous home.
Animal Jam’s world layout and user base enabled kids (and definitely really scary adults with strange little mustaches) near-complete freedom in their interactions and relationships. Only as an actual adult did I realize how bizarre one particular user-created facet of the game was: an obsession with “adopting” other Jammers, or being “adopted” oneself. Even worse was the fact that this ritual took place in an online forum called the “pillow room.”
I’d sit there and type things like “plz adopt orphaned bunny no family so poor : ( MEMBERS ONLY” or “rich mom looking for second baby no seals allowed” with complete sincerity and innocence. If I was feeling real feisty, I’d do a little dance or single out particularly decked-out avatars to chat up.
The complex web of relationships I wove was soap-opera worthy. I have distinct memories of logging off while trying not to get caught in a cheating scandal.
I hadn’t considered how creepy this was until I was discussing childhood games with a couple of friends the other night. Upon my explanation of the Animal Jam adoption system, one noted drily: “Someone definitely masturbated to that.”
She’s certainly right — though the game offered no identifiers or potential for in-person meetups, I made a point of secretly turning off parental guidelines when my mom was distracted on the elliptical four feet away. There’s no telling how many of the online friends I made were 33-year-old men named Ken who were employed at the mall.
Now also feels like an appropriate time to admit to the world that, inspired by the gamer girls of the 2011 internet, I had a YouTube channel on which I posted my MovieStar trailers and Miranda Sings impressions. One such video, entitled “Foot Power,” included gratuitous wiggling of my preadolescent toes and garnered way too much online attention. After some 40-year-old guy encouraged me to “rub baby oil on them next time,” my dad had to delete all my videos. But I digress.
I inadvisably went on the Animal Jam Reddit today and discovered how many furries are on there. It tracks — the default character was a creepily anthropomorphic wolf. It’s a little disconcerting to ponder how much of my happy online childhood was spent hanging out virtually with people who were old enough to own Hondas and go on PornHub on purpose (and definitely people old enough to be active on Reddit), but I loved being a Jammer.
The problematically pseudo-tribal music of the login screen will always trigger something Pavlovian in me, and I’ll never forget the thrill of tricking some other dodo of an eight year old into trading their rarest accessory with me.
So thank you, GirlsGoGames, for exposing me to my first weirdly-realistic ACL surgery simulator. And thank you, Animal Jam, for teaching me how to navigate a world of the freakiest weirdos I had ever encountered until my first collegiate Latin class. Love you guys <3