Eventually there was a limit to how much time I was allowed to spend on Neopets. So I waited until my mom went to the gym to hoard my money and tend to my starving animals—a something, a something, and a rare purple Shoyru I snagged at an auction. In the Neopets universe, painting a pet purple was a lavish, pricey affair.

I don’t know if I ever figured out the goal of the game—only that playing it felt like a secret, my first. Whenever I erased my browser history, I surged with the pleasure of shame. I felt like I was becoming a teenager, which is to say, a liar. These were the days before we knew how to use parental control, when Macs were still plastic colored shells. Ours was orange, I think. Or maybe it wasn’t, but I always wanted it to be.

I read PC Mall with the seriousness of a patriarch. I touched the first iPod. I was never alone?

I was playing Neopets when my appendix burst on New Year’s Eve—although I didn’t know it at the time. I lost my password not long after. If I hadn’t had to start over, I don’t know that I ever would have stopped.

Ava Kofman writes about tech and culture and works on the editorial staff of Harper's Magazine.