a lost zillennial

I realized I wasn't alone in Toontown

Like clockwork, every day after work, I've been playing Toontown.

a lost zillennial MikuraNightwish / Deviant Art

For the uninitiated, Toontown was an MMORPG made by Disney that lasted from 2002 until 2013. It had — and continues to have — a cult following largely made up of the people who grew up alongside it. I played it in elementary school, and I wasn't a hardcore player (I was 10 and not very good at video games), but it helped me create some formative relationships virtually and in person. When the game shut its doors, it was emotional even though I hadn't played in a while.

An unpaid group of enthusiasts came together to create a near carbon copy of the game free for all to enjoy several years later. This was a game changer because Disney's version was pay-to-play, so the folks who grew up with it were able to get friends and family to experience it with them.

I won't get too much farther in the weeds about the history of Toontown. If the few people who read this want to learn more, there is a wealth of info online that gets very, VERY in the weeds. There are a handful of YouTube videos that have given me a few hours of content to waste time with.

Toontown has been a tiny safe haven for me since I graduated college. I needed more hobbies to occupy my mind that were at least a little more social (big into knitting and reading). I think part of the appeal of this game was that it is so simple and mindless. It is something I can easily keep my hands occupied with while watching something or my brain occupied when I'm exhausted after work.

But something unexpected I found is that almost every Toontown player I've interacted with is in their 20s or 30s. I even met a grandfather at a pretty advanced point in the game who said he started playing with his grandkids and ended up loving it (it's not lost on me that this player could have been pulling my leg, but it was cute so I choose to believe it).

In-game groups are typically four players. A conversation I started in a self-deprecating fashion went as follows:

Me: i can't believe i have a retirement plan and i'm playing toontown

Player 2: i also have a retirement plan

Player 3: yeah duh that's called being fiscally responsible. of course i have one.

Player 4: ...i have 3 kids

Turns out I was the baby of that group. Figures.

As funny as that was to experience, it's a moment I'll probably remember for a long time. Playing this game designed for kids made me feel a shame that I hadn't recognized until then. Part of the insecurity I've been feeling about being "an adult" has been imposter syndrome. I don't yet feel like I deserve to call myself that. But I also wouldn't think of accusing anyone else of that distinction. Who am I to say someone isn't acting like an adult? What does that mean?

I don't have any Toontown friends that I expect will last longer than a month or two, but the comfort I feel when I log on and see familiar names is an important thing in my life right now. It's silly, and it's childish, but it's fun. I think everyone needs a little bit of fun where they can find it.

If you're reading this, perhaps think about what you spent your time doing for fun as a kid. Maybe one of those goofy things will give you some comfort, too.


p.s. This is my "Toon." Bask in the Nutgraf of it all. a lost zillennial