Pandemic Got You Down? Run Away with the Pixies

Scrolling through my feed the other day, I saw a helpful breakdown of pandemic longing by Twitter user @dylan_thyme. “1 MONTH PANDEMIC: i miss seeing people, going places, & other concrete stuff,” he wrote. “6 MONTHS PANDEMIC: i miss abstract things, like the specific vibe inside coffee shops[.] 12 MONTHS PANDEMIC: my nostalgia, like the rest of me, has lost any recognizable sense of time; i miss blockbuster.”

It’s true—now that we’ve been stuck in this hell for a full year, I’ve been getting sentimental over various relics from ancient eras, like the Arctic Monkeys’ AM and those floppy black hats that Taissa Farmiga wore in AHS: Murder House. More recently, I’ve found myself regressing even further and reminiscing about the websites I used to kill time on as a kid. In my eyes, the pinnacle of these virtual worlds was Pixie Hollow—so you can imagine how my wings fluttered when I learned that a team called We the Pixies was working some magic to resurrect the site.

If you were a fairy fan born in the late ’90s or early 2000s, there’s a good chance that Pixie Hollow was your jam. The Disney-owned MMORPG—which existed in the same world as the Disney Fairies books, a series of Peter Pan spinoffs that took Scholastic Book Fairs by storm back in the day—allowed users to shrink down to five inches (standard pixie height, if you didn’t know) and befriend Tinkerbell and her pals. Players could customize their avatars with nature-inspired couture (skirts made of leaves and spider silk chokers=the height of fashion), play minigames to strengthen their powers, socialize with other fairies in common spaces, and go on exciting quests. The We The Pixies initiative—comprised of volunteer developers, artists, and audio designers collaborating across the globe—aims to recreate this magical experience for those who aren’t ready to leave their Neverland days behind. Their rewritten version of the site is still in demo mode, but it’s evolving quickly—WTP is constantly posting updates to its social media channels and hopes to have the entire game recreated eventually.

Never one to miss out on a good adventure—especially if it involves the Peter Pan extended cinematic universe—I logged on to see what the buzz was about. 


***

After starting up the We the Pixies demo, I was taken to the most fun part of any virtual world—the avatar customization screen. Like the original Pixie Hollow, We the Pixies lets you choose a “talent” for your character—you can be a “Tinker Fairy” (essentially a carpenter or blacksmith), “Water Fairy,” “Garden Fairy,” “Light Fairy,” or “Animal Fairy.” You can then edit her skin, eyes, hair, facial features, and outfit to match the vision in your mind. There’s an array of colors and styles, so most users will be able to create avatars that resemble themselves, with one major catch—“Sparrow Men,” or male pixies, aren’t yet an option. Sparrow Men weren’t added to the original Pixie Hollow until a few years after its creation; a pop-up on We the Pixies announces that they are “coming soon!” 

After designing my mini alter ego, I was asked to choose a name for my fairy. I got to select a first name and combine two words for a portmanteau last name; I decided that “Charlotte Moonglow” sounded about right to me. Then I was sent into the wild yonder.

The original Pixie Hollow included seventeen “meadows,” or environments, that pixies could explore. At the time of this writing, We the Pixies has two—Dewdrop Vale and Palm Tree Cove. Dewdrop Vale was where the website deposited me.

Exploring my surroundings, I was stunned by the developers’ precision. The soundtrack that swelled instantly dug up buried memories; the backdrop and buildings were exact replicas of the ones from my youth. Even the smallest details, such as the fonts used, were spot on. 

I was also happy to notice that I wasn’t alone. At any given moment, there were at least two other fairies nearby. They flitted about slowly and, it seemed, thoughtfully. Were they floating through a nostalgic haze, just as I was? When I said hi to one named Melody Cloudwing (just like the original site, We the Pixies allows you to type out speech barring profanity), she answered that question for me. She had played Pixie Hollow all the time as a kid, she said; she was eager to see how We the Pixies would expand. She recommended that I try out “Bubble Bounce”—one of the minigames that the We the Pixies team had recreated. I played through it smoothly, without encountering any glitches; when I returned to the Vale, Melody was chatting with a new fairy on the block.

Pixie Hollow classic allowed viewers to collect items like dandelion fluff and flower petals to use as currency in shops. We the Pixies features this function as well. I picked up a few of these items; then I clicked on “Brook’s Basics,” a clothing store, to see if it was operational. Success—I could buy and try on an array of clothes, all of them carried over from the original game. When I navigated to Palm Tree Cove, I found that the hair salon there, Schelly’s Shears, was fully working as well.

After I was finished poking around the outside world—there wasn’t much else to do, but the artists’ attention to detail was worth appreciating—I took a look at my toolbar and clicked a button that looked like a tiny house, transporting me to Charlotte’s living quarters. A peek into my inventory revealed that I had a handful of items, including a “tulip floor lamp” I was particularly fond of. I played interior decorator; then I sat my fairy down (there’s a “sit” button!) on the windowsill, basking in the digital sunlight. We the Pixies may have a long way to go before it’s a carbon copy of its predecessor—but considering the developers’ commitment to making the recreation as realistic as possible, I’m willing to wait.

In its current iteration, We The Pixies doesn’t offer a save function, so logging off was bittersweet. In a way, it felt like the end of an era again—but I knew that if I wanted to, I could log on the next day and take flight once more.

***

I was excited to see how smoothly the virtual world ran, how lively its community already seemed—but my biggest surprise was how slow its pace was. I don’t mean loading and reaction time here—I mean that spending time on the site never once felt overwhelming. There was no sense of urgency, no implicit pressure to scroll to the bottom of a feed with no end in sight. Instead, I could roam at my leisure, carefree and content. I played Bubble Bounce but felt no existential sense of dread when I didn’t score well—I had had a good time. I adjusted my “dewdrop mirror” so that it was perfectly placed next to my window. I was, as they say, simply vibing. 

As many of us can say, the pandemic has made me think more deeply about my relationship with my social media. I’ve had my share of fun posting to Twitter and Instagram, but at the same time, I’ve realized that most platforms operate on the understanding that users want to prove that they’re attractive, accomplished, weird enough to be interesting but not so weird as to be off-putting. The virtual worlds of yore didn’t elicit that much forethought; they involved creation, curation, and social interaction without the element of competition. Sure, there was clout to be gained from hosting a crowded “party” in your pixie pad or getting the coolest new haircut from Schelly’s Shears, but the real draw of the Pixie Hollow experience was that it allowed us young dreamers to indulge in a collective fantasy. Just a few years before logging on, we had pretended to have magic powers on the playground; maybe we were still playing these games when judgemental eyes were averted. Pixie Hollow—and websites like it—were that exercise in imagination transmuted to a digital forum. They were online experiences that thrived off enjoyment and not stress—a concept that we haven’t had enough of during this record year for doomscrolling.

We the Pixies wasn’t cooked up during the COVID era—the project began in 2017. Yet in many ways, the website—and similar sites like Toontown Rewritten and Club Penguin, which also aim to revive dead MMORPGs that ’90s babies once treasured— seem perfectly suited for this moment in time. According to psychiatrist Neel Burton (as quoted in Forbes), the coronavirus has inspired many of us to turn to nostalgia because it can serve as “a vehicle for traveling beyond the suffocating confines of time and space”—that is, it can serve as a teleportation device to better days, if only mentally. This is particularly true of virtual worlds because they give us a visual representation of “space” over which we have an increased degree of control, uninhibited by the constraints of the physical realm. It seems that we’re nearing the light at the end of the tunnel as far as the pandemic goes—but we definitely haven’t emerged yet. Many of us are anxiously awaiting our vaccines, and all of us are still subject to the preventative measures we began practicing twelve long months ago. Under such circumstances, it’s easy to understand why we continue to feel compelled by the phenomena of our childhood, even as adults. In any time of stress, we deserve to have a little rest—or, in Tinkerbell’s words, a little faith, trust, and pixie dust.

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