Sociology -- Horatio Alger is Dead!

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Horatio Alger died on Neopets this afternoon. At least I learned of his death then. I suspect he died a long time ago and nobody bothered to drag his bloated and stinking corpse outside and either cremate or bury it. I won't mourn him particularly. Instead, I'll tell you how I learned of his passing.

I traded for a dubloon. I don't think I overpaid. It saved me the cost of a codestone and I got to train my youngest pet, Ephraim_of_Roanna, who is a reincarnation of the bruce I had in 1999. That bruce' name was obscene. Now he has a good name and a caring owner. He is an old soul and still an avid singer and dancer as I am an avid Neopian who loves her pets. You can love a virtual pet quite easily. After all it is a part of yourself. I take good care of Ephraim and all my pets. I try to feed them before they get too hungry and I read to them which makes them more intelligent and I train them which increases their level. That was what I was doing out trading for a dubloon.

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Well, I also went out to price orange paint brushes. I long to paint Ephraim orange, my tonu Bball_fan104735 (also known as Rachamme) spotted, and my grundo, Shanti, silver. Rosalita, my grarrl is already brown. Well I when I went to price the orange paint brush it was between 800,000 and one million NP. An NP is a neopoint and it is worth about ten cents. That is how I think of it. Numbers by themselves of course mean very little. Suffice it to say I have 62,000NP to my name. On a good day I can earn from 5000 to 6000NP. I have a long way to go to reach 800,000NP, and that is putting it mildly. Therefore, I tried my second choice of paintbrush color, gold. I learned, much to my sadness, that the golden paintbrush is now retired. In other words, it is a great thing to own if you are a very wealthy Neopian and want to own it as a status symbol, but it is utterly useless for painting a pet.

I poured out my sorrows to the player with whom I had traded for the dubloon (a coin I used to buy training for Ephraim). "How can any one buy an item that is 800,000 to 1,000,000NP?" I asked. I believed this was a rhetorical question. I expected that the young woman would comiserate with me. Instead she replied "Play games every day. Don't spend too much, and save your money." This is a response Horation Alger would have loved. It is also the piece of cant flung in the face of hopeless noobs (Neopian for newbies) who beg for paintbrushes and other expensive items. "Go earn it!" shouts a more experienced player on the chat board. Sometimes this piece of cant comes with good moral advice about the goodness and value of hard work.

Well I know all about hard work. I also know that bitter taste in the mouth when hard work and diligence are not enough, and when it comes to an orange paint brush or any other high demand paint brush, hard work and diligence do not suffice. Here is why. I figure I am a typical Neopian who has very good compuuter access. I earn 5,000NP per day. If I play games every day and do not train or read to my pets, I can lay aside nearly 5,000NP every day. I have 52,000NP in the bank and 10,000NP ready cash. For the sake of argument I need 750,000NP to buy an 800,000NP orange paintbrush. At the rate of earning 5,000NP per day, it will take me 150 days to reach my goal.

Ah but will I really reach my goal in 150 days? Chances are very good that I won't. The first problem that will derail me and the most likely one is INFLATION. Paint brushes and other highly desirable and scarce good have a double or triple digit rate of inflation. The paintbrsh that costs 800,000NP today could cost 1,600,000NP five months from now. Second, Neopets maintains paint brush scarcity by retiring paint brushes. I want to paint my pet. A retired paint brush is useless. My very expensive item could turn into a very useless item. Third, Neopets changes with some regularity and not in a way that best suits the users. I've seen one game retired and remade. Neopets could do that with any of the games I play as cash cows. Neopets could restrict the number of times one is allowed to play each game of skill to once per day. I am powerless against all of this and over one hundred and fifty days anything could happen.

Of course there are a couple of ways out of this mess. First, I can make money by ripping off my fellow Neopian. There is good profit to be made in books and pharmaceuticals and certain expensive foods. We are talking a twenty to one hundred percent markup. I have a store. The money would rain down while I slept. There is a small problem: I don't want to prey on my fellow Neopian. Also, running a store takes time, in a way that is far more diffuse than gaming. A game takes from five to twenty minutes and it is done. With restocking a store, one waits until a primary market store is stocked, buys whatever merchandise one can, and then comes back and does it again in eight minutes. There is a lot of waiting around since the eight minutes is only approximate so the wait is unpredictable, tedious, and long...too long.

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Second, I can just get lucky. There is something called a Fountain Fairy Quest where one can if one finds the right objects, paint one pet any color. Third, I can be an old player who could buy a paintbrush before the price hyper inflated. Fourth, I can be a shil. There are probably some around Neopets. Most large commercial communities have them. I guess by now you can tell I arrived too late and am neither lucky nor a shil.

I know you don't feel too sorry for me. It is not the place of a poor Neopian to whine when she can't buy something expensive, but what really boggles me is that I should consider myself poor at all. I have several codestones (useful for training pets), a pile of books (for the next intelligence raise my two youngest pets are getting), some edible odds and ends (I have to feed those hungry pets), a fairly nice collection of toys (This includes a bicycle so you can bet it is really nice!), and 62,000NP. My two oldest pets are levels eleven and ten respectively. Both of the older pets are total geniuses. The two youngest that are less than two weeks old are both level four and have brilliant intellects.

I am a loving and diligent owner and yet with all this Neopian capital and wealth, yet I am poor. What is going on? I think the bitter thing I am tasting is called "relative poverty." Here is a textbook definition of relative poverty. Adjusted to Neopia and the Nothing but Neopets Forum, the most active members on many of the boards are excedingly wealthy. Many own the lab map which means they have access to the lab ray that can randomly paint or morph a pet once per day. These folks sometimes create an industry of adopting out painted pets and then adopting "well named" pets from the pound so they can paint them and give them out. Yes, this is one way the very wealthy flaunt their prestige in the guise of "doing good." They also ask for deference. Adopting a pet requires a pet page reques. Nevermind that the person who is giving out the pet is not giving it that sort of attention. The prospective adopter must prove his or her "goodness." Why shouldn't the wealthy demand deference?

Other wealthy playeres, have been around long enough to cheaply paint their pets. Sometimes they start conversations about how many paintbrushes they have owned. Neopets does not release the statistics, though I did some bean counting of my own (I worry that my sample was not good enough), so there is no way of knowing how much wealth the average or typical Neopian has. Where the wealthy brag and the poor give proper deference or else, it is hard to find ordinary folks who will stand up and speak. And yes, the noobs and the desparate and the envious come around and beg on the chat boards. The wealthy then dispense the moral lesson about the virtues of hard work and tell the noobs to mind their manners and not make boorish requests.

Perhaps it is just human nature to want what is out of reach. In a moment of clarity, I created/adopted my family of four pets to be of uncommon color, sex, and species. This gave me rarity for free. I still think I have the smartest grundo in Neopia. Her name is Shanti. Grundos usually start out life dimwitted, and Shanti was no exception. Her IQ is curently Master Genius (70). Think Dungeons and Dragons stats and you will have an idea how high this is. I am not going to get that orange paint brush. Others got there first with more money or when things were cheaper. I have scruples and time constraints that make the games my best source of income. One hundred and fifty days is an eternity as far as Neopets is concerned, and no, hard work and diligence won't do it. Horatio Alger died at Neopets, at least as far as paint brushes are concerned.

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Eileen H. Kramer
October 17th, 2004