Happy Birthday Virtual Neko Blog! (plus handy Neko FAQs)
One year ago today, a little Neko blog was born into a virtual world called Second Life.
At the time, I had no idea what it would become… no clue about the depth, the history, the dress code (if there was one), nor the size of the Neko community in Second Life. Heck I wasn’t entirely sure what “being Neko” meant, given that I was a relative newcomer to the “cat ears and tail” set.
I only knew that something about being Neko had struck a chord inside, making me want to do something, to give something back, to support this uniquely curious, often misunderstood, but ever-so-delightful community of “cat people.”
So I jumped down the rabbit hole as it were… delved into it with all four paws, tracing a yarn ball’s worth of loose threads that I would later weave into this blog, meanwhile creating all sorts of “Neko Resource” pages, and an online Neko community forum. (Photos in this story are just a few of the highlights from the first year).
But I’m getting ahead of myself. What I really wanna do, after a year filled with blogging about all things Neko, is answer the most basic Neko questions everyone always seems to ask… the same questions I set out to answer in the first place… which I still get asked in Second Life today. So without further ado…
Why Are You Wearing Ears and a Tail?
Some may call it catty, but my typical reply is this: “because I’m a Neko” (well duh). Then I wait to see if they take the bait. Most good little mousies (or humans, sometimes prey is interchangeable) will eventually nibble. Which leads them to their next question, which is usually…
What Is a Neko?
The short answer: a human avatar who wears cat ears and a tail, and typically affects a cat-like attitude on a full time (or at least most of the time) basis in Second Life.
The medium-length answer: mm, it depends… we Nekos come in a variety of genetic variables. Some are very nearly human, the only difference being our lovely ears, tails, and sometimes Neko eyes (c’est moi). Others are further along in our “transformation,” preferring skins with calico spots, furry belly texture, or even tiger stripes. These more “feral” Nekos sometimes wear additional cat-like accoutrements, including paw feet boots and whiskers.
Neko means cat in Japanese, so you might think it started there. Yet cats were admired for thousands of years before “Maneki Neko” and “Hello Kitty” became popular — cats have been found buried in ceremony on the isle of Cyprus 8,000 years ago, worshipped as the god “Bastet” in Egypt, and countless other cultures record affinities for all things feline.
Somewhere in recent history, humans began dressing up as (or sometimes even transforming into) cats. From the villianess “Catwoman” who first appeared in Batman comic books in 1940, Osamu Tezuka’s catgirl mangas (comic books) in the 1950s (which inspired numerous cartoons), the American television cartoon “Josie and the Pussycats” in the early 1970s, and the Broadway musical “Cats” in the early 1980s, to a Cyberpunk roleplayer “Chromebook” that included a cyber-neko altered body kit (thanks Pussycat!), clearly some sort of personal feline transformation was afoot (apaw?).
However during the 1990s, it was the Japanese culture that took “dressing up” to a whole new level. By then, all sorts of manga and anime (animated movies) were featuring little girls sprouting ears and a tail, inspiring cosplayers all across Japan (and eventually the rest of the world) to begin “dressing up Neko” in first life.
The very first Nekos in Second Life simply called themselves catpeople or catgirls (getting called a Neko in Japan is a whole ‘nuther matter if you’re a guy…). So it’s still somewhat of a mystery how “cat equipped humans” came to be called “Neko” in our little virtual world.
My best guess is that the term “Neko” evolved due to the growing influence of Asian residents in Second Life — people who in their first life were already dressing up as Neko cosplayers, and simply carried it full time into their virtual life. No one knows for sure, but it’s possible this was the catalyst that turned Second Life’s early “catgirl” phenomenon into the full-blown “Neko culture” it is today.
Why Did You Become A Neko?
For me, it was simple: someone very special started wearing ears and a tail. After a week of being mesmerized by those delicate furry parts, I wanted in. We TPd to Atomic, where I debated the Neko-defining choice of fluffy versus smooth hair tail: fluffeh felt right to me. In fact it felt so right that when I started to take the parts off one week later, something seemed terribly amiss. That’s when I knew: transformation had begun.
Sure there are part-timers — fashion bloggers who wear Neko ears and tails for a day to complement a particular outfit, party-goers who “dress up Neko” for an event. But for most of us full-time Nekos, it’s less about a style, and more about who we are. Here are a few of the answers to the “why” question from the Second Life Neko Community forum:
“When I came to SL, I was human, but not for long. I asked myself, what can I do here that I can’t do in RL, and the answer was: be another creature! And thus I became a Neko.” – Sasha
“I love cats and kittens of all kinds, so once I found all the Neko stuff in SL, I just had to dive in.” – Adrianna
“(Over the years, I kept seeing) ‘neko / catgirl’ art and thinking – there they are again. (When I) logged into SL, a freebie I got resulted in me wearing ears and a tail. When I took them off, I felt weird, so back on they went. And then I had to get an AO, and then I had to get better ears/tails, and then… and then… next thing I know, I’m running around meowing and hissing at things. :)” – Pussycat
“I’m home… it just feels more natural.” – Kevin
“I have always identified personality-wise with cats more than any other animal. What I didn’t understand until later, was that Neko-ness isn’t just about the ears and tail, there’s a whole subculture involved. There’s something youthful in the Neko subculture. We’re like a bunch of lost kittens, cast out into the streets, struggling to survive alone when all we really want is a nice warm fire, a bowl of milk, and someone to provide belly-rubs and ear-scritches.” – Matty
“I am a Neko in RL who never really felt like i fit into my own skin. Once i found Second Life, I soon found out about Nekos. Since then I have never looked back. :)” – IshtarAngel
“It’s part of who I am… spiritually…” – AmayaYuri
“To me being a neko is an atitude or a personality twist. I have several places I go to RP and I am always diferent, but that personality trait of being happy and carefree is always there. That’s embracing your nekoness to me — a toothy silly smile and a twitch of the tail.” – Aditya
As you can see, being Neko is more than a game, more than a fashion genre (because we really don’t have just one), more than an addiction for fluffy moving parts, more than the ability to “pounce” your friends or “purr” over something yummeh. Kinda like the old question in first life, “are you a dog person or a cat person,” being Neko is first and foremost about attitude.
What Do Nekos Do in Second Life?
Same thing any of us do in Second Life… explore, shop, build, snuggle, listen to live music, work, roleplay, visit art galleries and museums, dance, and share fascinating conversation and perspectives with people from all around the world. We Nekos just do it with a few extra furry bits and attitude.
One of the myths about Nekos in Second Life is that most of us are roleplayers. People often assume that our cat ears and tails are simply “required props” we wear while “playing a Neko character” in some of Second Life’s many gaming or roleplay sims. While there are certainly plenty of Neko RP gamers, and several roleplay sims that support Neko communities (Midian City and City of Lost Angels, to name a few), the majority of the Nekos I’ve met are inside Second Life strictly to be… Neko. No roles or gameplay required. Unless of course you count purrs and pounces…
How Did the Virtual Neko Blog Come to Be?
This is the question I hear most these days. The story goes something like this:
Back when I decided to “try Neko for a while,” I was lost. Google searches turned up almost nothing (outside of a band in Arizona and a bunch of hello kitty fans in Japan).
SL Search queries weren’t much better… I’d wind up in a crackhouse sim with little poseball clusters named “scratch” and “rawr” and “pounce,” surrounded by stores selling everything from furry parts, to what looked like the Seattle grunge clothing movement, freakishly resurrected.
What IS a Neko? How to BE a Neko? This became my mission. My passion. Some may even call it my obsession, since I have this little… mm, shall we politely call it… list problem.
You see, when I decide I wanna learn about something, it’s all or nothing. Which inspires me to make lists. Please don’t ask me to explain.
These lists started out as notes I jotted during my in-world research, bolstered by a bit of right-click-inspecting whenever I spotted someone wearing a well designed Neko item. Initially I expected to find maybe a handful of Neko stores. But pretty soon the list grew so long that it migrated from a pile of messy sticky notes, to an alphabetized, neatly typed document.
And then I started visiting each store I found, adding more notes, discovering more Neko stores next door… pretty soon the document grew so long that I had to divide it up into separate categories. Which eventually became separate lists… like… um… Ears and Tail stores. And Neko Eyes. And Neko AOs and Animations. And… and…
Somewhere in the middle of all that list insanity I began to wonder… what if there were other little Nekos out there like me, wandering furtively from store to store, wondering if there were others, hoping to find their next meal (even if it was a cute little tuna can armstrap), wishing for a place they could call home… wouldn’t they find these lists helpful too? And how could I bring all of us together?
That, my fellow cats and kittens, is what inspired the birth of this blog. In short, it was a particularly excellent excuse for a place to store my lists. Of course it didn’t hurt that I loved to write, and that someone I knew had some pretty amazing SL photography skills…
I’ll never forget my first surge of excitement when I began to receive comments and emails from other Nekos. “I’ve been a Neko for a year and am so happy to find your blog!” Or “Hey thanks, I’ve been designing Neko stuff since 2006 and suddenly everyone has found me!” And “Wow I had no idea there were so many of us, and so many stores!”
One year and over 70,000 hits later (do I sound proud? Yep, I am), every comment I receive, every new Neko designer I discover, every blog reader I happen to meet in-world, reminds me why I do this: because I’ve grown to love this passionate little Neko population, and feel a dedication to doing whatever I can to suppport the Neko community in Second Life.
To every single one of you who reads this: thank you, from the bottom of my kitteh heart, for a most amazing year.
With much love and a very special thanks to Bobby Yoshikawa <3***
© Stacia Villota / Virtual Neko in Second Life – 2009
(okay this cupcake kitty from Ann Launay was just too cute not to share… thank you!!!)