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GaiaOnline: 8 hours a day

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GaiaOnline is a dress-up MMO whose heyday was probably 5-10 years ago. At its height, the average ”engaged” user would spend 8 hours a day on it, with the average user spending 2 hours per day. It’s kind of like ten games in one. It has forums, mini-games such as fishing and puzzles, an MMO within the MMO (zOMG), alchemy/crafting, event games such as visual novels, and more. It’s much quieter now, but it’s the most peaceful place I've found to call home on the internet.

Almost every action you take in the game generates in-game money, so it’s truly up to the player how they want to play. You can sell art or services, post in the forums, buy low and sell high, play games etc. There’s no need to spend real money if one is patient. My favorite zen activities are picking up garbage in towns, battling with pokemon-like pets to get random clothing, and organizing my closet. IMO closet organization is even more fun than dressing up, because sorting things by color and type is super satisfying in an obsessive compulsive way. It’s also pretty fun to join themed dress up contests for prizes or make outfits for others using their closet. The clothing system is unlike any other dressup game I've played, in that you can make nearly anything- from a casual outfit or cosplay to a greeting card or abstract painting.

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The real gem is the current userbase. If you have trouble making friends, it’s the best feeling to be able to make 5 friends in a week and keep them for years. Because the userbase is small, it’s possible to see familiar faces often, which is very cozy. It warmed my heart one time when, I inadvertently bought an item from a store owned by someone I knew, and they gifted me more of that item after seeing that I bought from them! And I got a laugh when an anon sent toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic. It’s very fulfilling to gift things back, too, and maybe make someone’s day a little better.

Some aspects of the game are rather complicated to get into, but there’s always someone willing to help get the hang of things or even gift helpful items. Trolls are rare compared to years ago. The population has aged up over the years, and you’ll find many people in their 20’s and 30’s, despite the cartoon aesthetic. The site is nostalgic in a way, with user journals and profiles that can be decorated with gifs and CSS/HTML for the fancier players.

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Of course, Gaia is not without its faults. There’s a reason why the userbase is dwindling. It’s only fair that I list some of the faults, although none of them stop me from returning day after day. There are bugs that affect even the main gameplay, some of the Flash games will become obsolete, the site is run like a startup despite being in business for so long, it went through a money-grubbing phase that caused massive inflation (much better now), it needs more male clothing, there’s stolen art and IP that the staff reacts unprofessionally to when it’s pointed out. I don’t support the stolen art with purchases.

However, for anyone thinking of returning or joining, the variety and quality of clothing is the best it’s been. You can play alone or with others and still have a good time. It’s perfect to play while listening to or watching something else. There are friendly people to chat with in real time or back and forth like penpals. Some of these things are common to many MMOs, but I wanted to share my enjoyment of this one. Do you have a game that you “live” in?

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