Neocities celebrates ‘old web,’ offering relief from 24/7 social feeds

Gaming has never been more connected and social than in 2022. With the press of a button, you can record footage to post online almost instantly. Streaming keeps growing due to the pandemic and barriers to entry changing. Hop on to Discord and you can start chatting with friends about a new update or a meme going around your servers. For many, gaming has become a hobby delivered via a constant connection. For others, the modern internet is so busy and chaotic that they’ve been looking to the old internet as inspiration for how to connect with the games they love.

Look beyond the bigger websites and you can find a lot of communities engaging with games in different ways. Sites like Backloggd, GG, Rawg.io and Glitchwave encourage game categorization and discovery. There are tons of bloggers writing about games on Medium, Multiverse.plus, and Substack. It’s at Neocities though, that many are finding the most solace in the old web.

Neocities has been around for almost a decade, at this point. The platform was originally created by Kyle Drake, in 2013, out of frustration for the increasingly restrictive internet. In an interview with Wired at the time, Drake noted that modern websites, such as Facebook, were frustrating because all content had to adhere to a corporate controlled model. In contrast to this, Drake held nostalgia for the time of completely user-created content and the ways that the limitations of the old internet fostered creativity. This is why he originally created Neocities with a 10 megabyte limitation and built a community to help users learn how to create their own pages. This was a place for people to imagine an internet for the people, not content that was created to fit inside standardized formats and algorithmic preference bubbles.

In the beginning, Neocities was mostly just a network of lofi internet sites. Sites were typically designed around a single piece of information or idea. They could look like a Hackers fan page with an oversized gif, feature plain text information about a particular topic, or be a repository for ambient internet art. Yet over the past few years, users have gone to the platform more and more as a space to engage with games.

Neocities sites can focus on just about anything, because they aren’t restricted by post formats and most of the users are creating web pages for their own personal enjoyment. Peachy’s Page archives RPG magazine advertisements. Rabidrodent hosts lists of NES/SMS games themed around seasons, high resolution retro game maps, and homebrew GBA games. Melonking.net hosts a hidden text adventure, a tile-based explorable town, and news about the creator’s games.

A webpage screen capture shows content about Sega Saturn game Jung Rhythm and PlayStation game Ghost in the Shell

Faiyubu’s page
Image: Anita Diaz

What’s special about Neocities game pages is how the community shares content formats which best allow them to express themselves. Rather than adhering to platform restrictions, users can design their pages in ways that best suit them and then take inspiration from one another’s designs. This creates common formats that can be seen across Neocities, but are not enforced. At Faiyubu’s page, the creator hosts pages with a tamagotchi log, a journal, and a gamelog. The gamelog organizes what games she has played recently, what’s new, what is currently being played, and how many games she plays each year. It’s an index of Faiyubu’s taste and feelings about her library.

The creator of Faiyubu’s page, Anita Díaz, says that she went to Neocities because of her love for older webpages and the distinct DIY aesthetics of “the old web.” The gamelog came afterwards, from a desire to find a new space to express her feelings about games.

“I started the gamelog because I wanted a place where I could share my impressions on different games instead of leaving them on a notebook. I had decided I didn’t want to post them on a Twitter thread,” she says. “And while I think that websites like Backloggd are great for cataloging and discovery, I’d rather have people read them all in the same place; that way they can get an idea of what I like and dislike in games and better understand where I’m coming from. They have to go out of their way to read them too, so no one has to see them if they don’t want to.”

For Díaz, and so many others on Neocities, the platform provides a space that isn’t organized to be consumed and indexed. Rather than a constantly rushing river of information, Neocities sites are like homes where users fix them up, spend time on them, and invite others to visit. While there is an overarching tag function to look through sites, networked socializing isn’t put front and center like with so much other social media. Instead, these sites network with others via slower communications such as email or site comments. Díaz tells Polygon, “A cool thing about Neocities is that it has some optional social features like following and commenting, so some folks reply to the entries when I update. I’ve even got emails from readers playing a game I covered and telling me about it!”

Neocities sites like Soft Heart Clinic show this domestic intimacy, as they are filled with pages that comfort the creator such as lists of healing games, collections of game fashion photography, and groups of the virtual pets they look after. This can also be seen in the way that users create shrines for the media they love.

Shrines are a common format for pages dedicated to games, along with other media, on Neocities. Each shrine is a page that a creator dedicates to an entire game or aspects of games to show how much it means to them. At Pomelo’s Final Fantasy X-2 shrine, a page is set up dedicated to the characters, systems, and world of Final Fantasy X-2. At Baby’s Animal Crossing: New Leaf shrine, Baby documents the times logged into the game, a museum checklist, and details about the town. There are also shrines for characters such as the Mother 3 Duster shrine which is just a website with three pages dedicated to the character Duster from Mother 3.

These shrines are more than just informational pages like wikis. They aren’t meant to wholly capture every aspect about a game. They are expressions of what users find meaningful to represent their intimate relationships to these games.

User Bagenzo takes the domestic experience of Neocities literally by creating a house that users explore and spend time in. Bagenzos.house is a tile-based website with details on the left side of the screen and the interior of each room on the right. Each room is themed differently, made to hold different aspects of Bagenzo’s identity. The living room is painted blue with a fireplace and clown painting hanging on the wall. In some of the tiles, the user can find Bagenzo’s journal, site updates, and a link to the game engine used to create the house. Click one of the hands and it will take you to the attic, which displays Bagenzo’s games and portrait, or to the kitchen where you can find her touhou blog and virtual pet.

“I’ve always been sort of obsessed with spaces, the actual layout of them,” Kate Bagenzo says. “Part of making games is a way to actually take those spaces and impart them with some kind of meaning. Most of the graphics for the site are from a game of mine, where you start and end the game in my house. So it was an extension of that — I had already made a place that felt like home and I just translated it to a web page.”

A screen capture of Bagenzo’s House shows a living room setting and various links

Bagenzo’s House
Image: Kate Bagenzo

Bagenzo also notes that parts of the website were inspired by a need for something that other social media couldn’t offer. Twitter, for example, is designed so that most content can’t be preserved and presented well aside from what’s most recent. On top of this, The urge to keep up and stay on top of everything can be overwhelming and harmful to mental health. Alternative social media spaces like Discord messaging or servers don’t really solve this problem either.

Anita from Faiyubu’s page says: “The internet has become really homogenized, with social media sites restraining the customization of their users’ pages, deciding which content gets to be seen thanks to their algorithms, etc. Not only that, but sometimes we tend to engage in toxic behaviors there too! I believe a lot of people are getting tired of depending so much on social media because of these issues, but a lot don’t know they already have the tools to create their own spaces online.”

For many, the solution to this may be imagining something new, even if something new looks a lot like the old. A place that allows them to choose the community they want to be around, and engage with the games they are passionate about. “Personally, managing Faiyubu has made me realize that on social media I end up seeing a lot of stuff I don’t want to see,” Díaz says. “While on Neocities I can just not visit a page if I don’t like it. I can post stuff on my web and chill without having to expect people to like or reply. It’s way more relaxed and ‘slow’, if you will. I’ve realized it’s kinda like my safe space online, and I love that.”

https://www.polygon.com/23024357/neocities-social-media-alternative

Nigarai M Grusio

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