Gaming has never been more connected and social than in 2022. With the push of a button, you can save footage to post online almost instantly. Streaming keeps growing due to the pandemic and barriers to entry are changing. Get on Discord and you can start chatting with friends about a new update or meme circulating on your servers. For many, gaming has become a pastime delivered through constant connection. For others, the modern internet is so busy and chaotic that they’ve looked to the old internet for inspiration to connect to the games they love.
Look beyond the larger websites and you’ll find plenty of communities that interact 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 is at Neocities, however, that many find the most comfort 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 with an increasingly restrictive internet. In a interview with Wired At the time, Drake noted that modern websites, such as Facebook, were frustrating because all content had to adhere to a company-controlled model. Contrary to this, Drake was nostalgic for the days of entirely user-created content and how the limitations of the old internet fostered creativity. This is why he initially created Neocities with a limitation of 10 megabytes and created a community to help users learn how to create their own pages. It was a place where people could imagine an Internet for people, not content created to fit standardized formats and algorithmic preference bubbles.
In the beginning, Neocities was mainly just a network of lofi websites. Sites were usually designed around a single piece of information or idea. They might look like a The Pirates fan page with an oversized giffeature plain text information on a particular topicor be a repository for ambient internet art. Yet over the past few years, users have increasingly turned to the platform as a space to engage in games.
Neocities sites can focus on just about anything, as they are not limited by publication formats and most users create web pages for personal enjoyment. Peachy’s page archives advertisements from RPG magazines. rabid rodent hosts season-themed NES/SMS game listings, hi-res retro game maps, and homebrew GBA games. melonking.net hosts a hidden text adventure, an explorable tile-based city, and game news from the creator.
The particularity of the Neocities game pages is the way the community shares the content formats that best allow them to express themselves. Rather than adhering to platform restrictions, users can design their pages in a way that suits them best and then take inspiration from the designs of others. This creates common formats that can be seen in Neocities, but are not applied. To Faiyubu’s page, the creator hosts pages with a tamagotchi diary, diary, and game diary. The game diary organizes the games she has played recently, what’s new, the games in progress, and the number of games she plays each year. It’s a clue to Faiyubu’s tastes and feelings about his library.
Faiyubu’s page creator, Anita Díaz, says she went to Neocities because of her love for older web pages and the distinct DIY aesthetic of “the old web.” Gamelog came later, out of a desire to find a new space to express feelings about games.
“I started the gamelog because I wanted a place where I could share my impressions of different games instead of leaving them in a notebook. I had decided not to post them on a Twitter thread,” she says. “And while I think websites like Backloggd are great for cataloging and discovery, I’d rather people read them all in one place; that way they can get an idea of what I like and what I don’t like about games and better understand where I’m coming from. They also have to go out of their way to read them, so no one has to see them if they don’t want to.
For Díaz, and so many others on Neocities, the platform offers a space that is not organized to be consumed and indexed. Rather than a constantly rushing river of information, Neocities sites are like homes where users fix them, spend time there, and invite others to visit. While there is a global tag feature for browsing sites, social networking isn’t front and center like with so much other social media. Instead, these sites network with others through slower communications such as emails or site comments. Díaz tells Polygon, “One cool thing about Neocities is that it has optional social features like following and commenting, so some people respond to entries when I update. I 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 gamescollections of fashion photography gameand groups of virtual pets they care for. This can also be seen in the way users create sanctuaries for the media they love.
Shrines are a common format for pages dedicated to games, as well as 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. To Grapefruit Final Fantasy X-2 tomba page is set up dedicated to the characters, systems and world of Final Fantasy X-2. To Babe Animal Crossing: New Leaf tomb, Baby documents in-game login hours, a museum checklist, and city details. There are also shrines for characters such as the Mother 3 Shrine Duster which is just a website with three pages dedicated to the character Duster from Mother 3.
These sanctuaries are more than just information pages like wikis. They are not intended to fully capture every aspect of a game. They are expressions of what users find meaningful in representing their intimate relationships with those games.
User Bagenzo literally takes the Neocities home experience by creating a home 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 has a different theme, designed to contain different aspects of Bagenzo’s identity. The living room is painted blue with a fireplace and a clown painting hanging on the wall. In some tiles the user can find the Bagenzo Diary, site updates and a link to the game engine used to create the house. Click on one of the hands and it will take you to the attic, which displays the games and Bagenzo’s portrait, or to the kitchen where you can find his touhou blog and virtual pet.
“I’ve always been obsessed with spaces, their actual arrangement,” says Kate Bagenzo. “Part of making games is a way to take those spaces and give them some kind of meaning. Most of the graphics on the site are from one of my games, where you start and end the game in my house. C So that was an extension of that – I had already created a place that felt like home and just translated it into a webpage.
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 curated and presented well outside of what’s newest. On top of that, the urge to follow and stay on top of everything can be overwhelming and damaging 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 restricting personalization of their users’ pages, deciding what content should be seen through their algorithms, etc. Not only that, but sometimes we have tend to adopt toxic behaviors there too!I think a lot of people are tired of relying so much on social media because of these issues, but many don’t know that they already have the tools to create their own online spaces.
For many, the solution to this may be to imagine 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 with and engage in the games they are passionate about. “Personally, managing Faiyubu made me realize that on social media I end up seeing a lot of things that I don’t want to see,” says Díaz. “When I’m on Neocities, I simply can’t visit a page if I don’t like it. I can post things to my website and relax without having to wait for people to like or respond. It’s much more relaxed and “slow”, if you will. I realized it was kind of my safe space online, and I love it.