Was 'Neopets' a Church of Scientology "Brainwashing" Tool? Not Exactly
It's always weird whenever you take a second look at some of the things that you loved as a kid through the lens of an adult. I was horrified to learn just how messed up the All Dogs Go to Heaven cartoon was when I got older — and to learn that Neopets had links to the Church of Scientology.
Oh, wait, you didn't know about the 'Neopets' / Scientology connection?
It's the sort of "childhood ruining" revelation that's completely changed the way people have looked at the online game forever. The title was a web hub that helped to reinforce fundamental learning principles for millions of children all over the world in a fun way.
From fun math games, to teaching basic coding principles, and showing children how to properly spell words, all while combining the best aspects of a Tamagotchi, many were enchanted.
Little did we know that, for a period of at least five years, the website was engaging in business practices with the Church of Scientology.
Of course, the first thing that pops into people's heads is, "Neopets is Scientologist propaganda!" And, of course, people wanted to make ties to some of the more "out there" facets of the religion, which has come under fire for its numerous scandals over the years, including, but not limited to, deaths and abuse of some of its members.
Once news broke out that there were financial connections between the Church of Scientology and the Neopets franchise, tons of unsubstantiated rumors began flooding the internet: that certain characters in the game and games were meant to help perpetuate the organization's beliefs. Pretty soon, there were throngs of people believing that Neopets was breeding the next generation of Scientologists.
The Outline lists some claims that weren't proven: like the notion that employees of the game were being pressured into joining the religion, but that wasn't true.
The game company's CEO, an investor and Scientologist himself, Doug Dohring employed L. Ron Hubbard's Org Board business model to help run the Neopets business more profitably.
It's important to note that the Org Board is a strategy that's utilized by a number of businesses like Mr. Jim's Pizza, Mission Renaissance, MGE Inc.
However, there are some individuals who believe that the "innocuous" nature of the Org Board is misleading in some aspects, especially when it pertains to ethics. Harvard Professor Patricia Illingworth at the Kennedy School of Government's Carr Center for Human Rights said the board employs a "primitive sense of justice."
In an interview with WIRED, Dohring said, "As a business executive I have enjoyed many successes thanks to my knowledge and use of L. Ron Hubbard’s administrative technology. Having used his technology in every business activity for nearly two decades now, Mr. Hubbard’s organizational concepts are always with me to the point where virtually every aspect of running my companies involves the use of his administrative technology.”
Neopets' founders Adam Powell and Donna Williams were unaware of Dohring's ties to Scientology before he came on board, and some employees spoke about the involvement of Scientology in a 2014 Reddit AMA: "We were not aware of it at first as we were totally naive. When we realised it was a bit of a shock. Somewhat awkward moment when you realise you started the biggest entertainment site visited by millions of children and teens, but the upper management you just signed the company over to are part of some weird religion that is banned in some countries."
They went on to state the administration of the Org Board didn't really have a significant effect on operations of Neopets, but they did notice after Dohring was put in charge as CEO, a lot of employees that were hired were Scientologists. There was never any discussion of incorporating Scientology onto the site until a new hire had tried to push that agenda strongly in terms of site content.
They also said that that employee was ultimately terminated. "We found out about it about 6 months after we started working there and started googling all the employees and they were all Scientologists. 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."
They continued, "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 [sic] much fun though!"
"A lot of employees were uncomfortable with the whole Scientology thing, especially since the test they gave to new employees had copyright L. Ron Hubbard at the bottom of each page...I think there was somewhat of a them vs. us feel to the office."