But like plenty of girls her age in the late Nineties and early 2000s, Garcia wasn’t just caring for a digital pet orbattling with it online – she was experimenting. “Neopets,” and other sites like it, was deemed acceptable as a safe place for girls to play in an often unfriendly Internet. Such a space allowed for girls to create a culture of play that supported a breadth of creative endeavors.
Like Garcia and Kanna, Freeman speaks of the openness of such a space – the endless possibility of creative endeavors – as a reason for Neopets’ female appeal. Certain spaces on the Internet were hard-coded for boys; sites were rarely explicitly labeled “for boys” or “for girls,” but it was the broader social world that imparted gender exclusivity. Likewise, “Neopets” had no labels, but societal influence pushed it away from neutrality.
Empowering Building Blocks
Interesting to see the following structures and decisions which helped create a safe space for girls.
- Clarity of purpose, with strong rules by the developers (no nudity, violence, etc)
- Emergent norms which are given strong guardrails by the rules.
- Crowd–sourced newspaper, The Neopian Times
- Capitalist economy facilitated by in-game mechanics
- A mixture of specialists: storytellers, artists, reporters, designers supported by the economy
- Built-in community tools: guilds, chatrooms, etc
These simple building blocks allowed an emergent culture to form protecting an often attacked population without alienating boys. Even today, spaces which feel to feminine are looked down upon. Pinterest and Tumblr both have a reputation as female space, even as they try to court widespread adoption.
Learnings across communities
I’m excited to look at other successful communities – both digital and physical – to see what other building blocks foster successful communities.y hope is those design decisions and building blocks are transferable. My hunch is that strong rules which reinforce emergent norms is importantp in directing people in how to act in this community. Clearing on how to act is extremely important in both the internet and face–to–face interactions.