In 1999, a now somewhat obscure computer game called Babyz was released. It was a three years later when someone I went to high school with gave me a copy of it. In retrospect, it was really kind of bizarre. I was essentially a digital pageant mom, y’all. The game was about, well, raising babyz. You taught them to walk, you fed them, you played with them. There were also versions of the game calls Catz and Dogz, and I recently found my discs for those… but that’s another story.
In 2002, I was fifteen years old. I went to a private Christian school. My home life was, without giving explicit details, less than ideal. The details are horrific, but unnecessary. I’d been online before then – I’d been on other message boards, read fanfic, wrote aardvark fanfiction, etc. But Babyz? Babyz was my introduction to fandom. I’ve said off and on that Harry Potter was, but that’s not entirely true. It was Babyz.
There was a Babyz RP board, so even after my aardvark fan fiction days, there was roleplaying. Of a computer game. About babyz. I never said my younger internet days weren’t weird, y’all.
I got my early internet message board moderating experience. I learned HTML and CSS thanks to Lissa Explains and fansites (which unless you know my info from those days, those websites are staying buried in the abyss, thanks). I made friends I still talk to frequently today and as a direct result of those message boards, I moved to North Dakota.
People make fun of internet communities, but as a lonely teenager, late nights talking with my Babyz friends saved my life (until I discovered JCY and the Zee a few years later, and gained even more lifelong friends). As a lonely, isolated teenager in Ohio, having a game to escape to? Having a website to run? Entering my digital kids in pageants? Really, this is odd to explain to an outsider…
I often joke that you can tell when I met someone by what nickname they refer to me as. I no longer answer to my birth name, but the Zeeps called me Angel for years, and I still answer to that though I think they’ve mostly switched to Nora. My Babyz Community people that I still talk to call me Nora now, but the nickname Anniebear is still very recognizable.
It was one game. It was one friend saying “Hey, I think you’d enjoy this game.”
And that one game changed my life.
There were other communities I was involved with as a young teenager – some of the more typical ones, like Neopets, and some other more offbeat ones, like Wajas. But nothing, bar none, will be like Babyz.