Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Beloved early-internet game Neopets was actually run by Scientologists

Screenshot: Left: Neopets.com, Photo: Right: Mark Mainz (Getty Images)

As if there weren’t enough reasons to hate the scourge on society that is Scientology—a “religion” known as much for its history of torturing members, denying the ill life-saving medicine, demonizing homosexuality, stalking their enemies, and covering up sexual assault as it is for its looney intergalactic origin story—we’ve just learned that they had a hand in Neopets. Neopets, for Christ’s sake.

Neopets, if you’re unfamiliar, was an online game where kids could grasp the basics of the internet (and other educational concepts) while caring for virtual pets. Well, yesterday, The Outline shared a story detailing how, in the early 2000s, the game’s then-CEO not only utilized L. Ron Hubbard’s trademark business model, Org Board, while overseeing the company, but also tried to integrate Scientology teachings into the game.


Org Board is, like many things Scientology, complicated to grasp but built on deceptive, retaliatory practices. As Northeastern professor Patricia Illingworth explains:

“The report’s section on ethics is really about a very primitive sense of justice, an eye for an eye, getting back at people who have in some sense harmed the organization,” Illingworth told The Outline. “If someone in or outside the organization has done something that undercuts the mission of the organization, which is basically making money, then the organization, in the name of ethics, is advised to retaliate against the person in order to ensure that they don’t do it.”

Creators Donna Williams and Adam Powell, a pair of independent game developers, emerge as the embattled heroes of this story. They weren’t aware that CEO Doug Dohring, a Scientologist, was adopting this “80 trillion-year old” practice at first, but slowly came to realize that he was populating their offices with like-minded colleagues. After that, they did everything they could to resist a full takeover.

“We found out about it about 6 months after we started working there and started googling all the employees and they were all Scientologists,” Powell says. “It was weird, we just didn’t mention it until they hired this lady who wanted to bring Scientology onto the site. We fought that as hard as we could and they got rid of her.”


In a Reddit AMA from 2014, Williams says: “At one time there was some talk about putting Scientology education on the site, but we killed that idea pretty sharpish. Adam and I made sure that it never made its way onto anything site related. Religion and politics were two big no nos for us as far as site content went. Can’t say the discussions we had to keep it that way were much fun though!”

Lest this sour your view of Neopets in retrospect, sentient Twitter thread Chrissy Teigen is here to help you cope. In an effort to recall what it was she loved about the game—which was sold to Viacom in 2005 and subsequently relieved of its Org Board methods—in the wake of the article’s reveal, Teigen dove back into the land Neopia:


While there are, sadly, not 58 more tweets to that thread, she did respond to one Twitterer who reminded her of the Scientology connection.


Amen. Never forget: Those were your pets, not Xenu’s.


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About the author

Randall Colburn

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.