Recently, I’ve found myself doing what I thought I’d never do again – playing a browser-based pet game.
These sort of games are definitely, definitely not new for me. My parents and old friends can attest to how much time I used to spend on games like Neopets, Webkinz, Howrse, and the topic of this post: Ponystars.
Usually I like to try and draw some sort of philosophical or analytical point in these posts, but to be honest, I want this post to commemorate a community that was really important to me years ago that now no longer exists. I don’t really have any kind of deeper point to this other than a chance to remember how important it was to me back in the day.
Nowadays, a Google search for Ponystars will probably pull up a few scattered news articles about its untimely demise at the hands of copyright law as well some broken links from “girl gaming” websites. There’s a Facebook group remembering the site, but it hasn’t been updated in a long, long time. Google Images pulls up a few pictures of the ponies and screenshots of the website back when it was still up and running. But no one really talks about it anymore and that makes me kind of sad, honestly.
I joined Ponystars back in 2009, when I was ten years old. I was a horse-obsessed kid back then, even though I had never really ridden horses. I was raised on My Little Pony. I loved animals. So Ponystars appealed to me immediately. A website that lets me raise and breed multi-colored pastel ponies? Uh, yes please.
My first pony was a winged air pony named Magenta. She had, as her name suggests, a magenta coat, blue eyes, and a green mane. Later in life I gave her a little tattoo on her butt cutiemark-style of a rainbow-and-music-note design. In the rich story I made up in my head around my ponies, she was a beautiful and lively queen of her herd.
Her king was a horned earth pony named Ice Blizzard, all blue with brown eyes. I was delighted to discover they bred to produce lots of cute purple ponies (my favorite color.)
The breeding quickly became one of my favorite aspects of the game. You could breed two pony parents together and their coat, mane, and eye colors became the range of colors their offspring’s coat, mane, and eye colors could be. I would give these ponies long, elaborate names, often inspired by songs or book quotes.
(Off the top of my head, I remember one cream colored, blue-maned air pony named “Lost in Space with Nothing but a Few Cream Puffs and My Dignity, Sort Of.” I couldn’t make that one up if I tried.)
Another obsession of mine in the breeding aspect of the game was breeding for “glitches.”
When you begin the game, you roll for your first pony by designing their parents. You pick their coat, mane, and eye colors by setting the RGB values. You could pick from a color picker, but for a short time early in the site’s history, you could also just type the numerical RGB values in directly. And while that’s all fine and good, it allowed for some… er… interesting experiments.
Some enterprising early users used this creator to create ponies with colors wildly outside of the RGB range. Some, called “Plitches,” had RGB values of higher than the standard 255, 255, 255 maximum. They usually appeared bright red or orange, but in rarer cases could appear black, white, or green. “Glitches,” on the other hand, were rarer still, and had values lower than 0,0,0. Their color ranges varied much more wildly than Plitches did, which made them ultimately more valuable.
Eventually, the glitch was fixed and ponies were no longer able to be created with these impossible color ranges, but the ponies that had already been created remained, and people learned how to breed more. The easiest way was to breed two glitched parents together, but even in that case it was rare that their glitched colors would pass on to their offspring. It was also possible to breed an all black pony (0,0,0) to a glitched pony to create glitched offspring, but that was even more rare and difficult.
I can’t remember if I ever successfully bred my own glitched pony, but I certainly spent a lot of the in-game currency on buying them from other users. They were my prized possessions.
Another aspect of the game that convinced me to sink real-life money was the customization options. There existed hundreds of “traits” in the game – little clothing items you could buy and dress up your pony with. These items ranged from accessories, to special coats, manes, hooves, backgrounds, and props the pony could be displayed with. Most of these items could only be bought for the special paid currency, so I convinced my parents to buy me gift cards for them on many occasions. I took pride in customizing my ponies, matching colors and styles and tweaking them until they were just right.
Was the amount of money I spent on this doomed game a total waste? Oh yes, absolutely.
However, I think through all the breeding and customization of those pretty, pretty ponies, it was the community that kept me coming back. The website had a large, populated forum for discussing the game with other users. People would use these forums not only to chat but also to run contests, giveaways, and even tiny in-game businesses – selling items and ponies to other users. I spent hours and hours on these forums – probably more time than I spent on the actual website.
However, the biggest aspect of the community came in the special Ponystars IRC, or Internet Relay Chat. It was a website-sponsored instant messaging website, and there I spent a ton of time chatting with people not only about the website, but about life.
It’s strange, to me, looking back on these days. I’ve never really been the sort of person to have Internet friends, but my time on Ponystars was the only exception. I knew the regulars of the IRC like I knew real-life friends. We had inside jokes. We helped each other out with customization and naming advice. We held giveaways. We talked about our lives.
And you know the weirdest part? A ton of those people were way, way older than me. And not in a creepy, internet predator way. I mean, a lot of my closest friends on this website were teenagers, or college-aged, or even parents with children! I remember often being the youngest in the group chat, and being praised for my maturity.
Nowadays that sends off all sorts of creeper bells in my head, but back in the day I didn’t worry about it. We were all connected in our love of our pastel ponies. (I mean, granted, there was no sharing of personal information, since we all tended to go by our usernames and there were rules against sharing anything else that might be incriminating, but still.)
And then, after a few years, Ponystars was struck by a litany of copyright claims from another, similar website called PonyIsland, and the website was unceremoniously closed down for good. I remember saving pictures of all of my favorite ponies, and mourning their loss with the other members of my little IRC community.
I looked for those pictures in the process of creating this post, but to my dismay, I couldn’t find them. I imagine they’re probably rotting in a dusty corner of one of my Mom’s old laptops. And I still sometimes stop and wonder what happened to all those people I used to talk to so regularly. Where are they now? What sort of lives do they leave? Do they remember me, gillystar45, young in age but “mature?”
I’d love to talk to some of them again. Maybe that’s the point of this post, But it’s a long shot. The more realistic purpose is to pay homage to a personally important, dearly departed website.
Will I ever find another pet website quite like Ponystars? Probably not. But then again, I’ll never be that same horse-obsessed ten-year-old girl. But I can still remember those days, full of pastel prettiness and a unique community.