Handy Neko FAQs
Curious to know more about us strange folk with the furreh bits? Here are my answers to the most common questions we Neko get asked in Second Life:
Q: Why Are You Wearing Ears and a Tail?
Because I’m a Neko (well duh).
P.S. It’s pronounced “neck-o,” not “neek-o,” k?
Q: What Is a Neko?
The short answer: a human avatar who wears cat ears and a tail, and typically affects a rather cat-like (some may call it independent) attitude on a full time (or at least most of the time) basis in Second Life.
The medium-length answer: mm, it depends… we Neko 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” Neko sometimes wear additional cat-like accoutrements, including paw feet boots and whiskers.
The long answer? That requires a bit of history:
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.
Right on the heels of this phenomenon came Second Life.
The very first Neko 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.
Q: Why Does Someone Choose to Become A Neko?
For me, it was simple: someone very dear to my heart 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 was suddenly faced with one of the most important decisions a new Neko must make: fluffy versus short haired tail. For me, fluffeh felt right. It felt so right in fact 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.
Q: What Do Neko 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 Neko 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, City of Lost Angels, and the new Shadowfox to name a few), the majority of the Neko I’ve met are inside Second Life strictly to be… Neko. No roles or gameplay required. Unless of course you count purrs and pounces…
Q: How Did the Virtual Neko Blog Come to Be?
You really wanna know, huh? Even though it’s obvious I’ve got a penchant for long stories? Okay here goes…
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 more little Neko 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…
Two years later, here’s why I keep doing 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. There’s just no going back.
© Stacia Villota / Virtual Neko in Second Life – 2009