Virtually gone but not forgotten

March 11, 1998|By David Grimes

I WROTE a while back about Tamagotchis, those battery-powered "virtual" pets that you could feed (or not feed), exercise (or not exercise) and discipline (my personal favorite) without worrying about getting hauled into court by the animal rights nuts.

Despite, or perhaps because of, their many annoying qualities, Tamagotchis became immensely popular. The warbling beep of needy Tamagotchis could be heard in classrooms and offices across America. Bleary-eyed executives missed deadlines because they were up all night feeding their toy. The excuse "the dog ate my homework" was replaced with, "I was up until 3 a.m. spanking my Tamagotchi."

No 'Tamagotchi breath'

The manufacturer says Tamagotchis give kids a taste of what it's like to take care of a real pet, which, of course, is a total crock. Tamagotchis do not get fleas, eat your shoes, drag home dead things or stain your carpet. There are no expensive vet bills with Tamagotchis, you don't have to worry about it jumping the fence and biting the mailman, it doesn't shed and you can bring it close to your face without fearing "Tamagotchi breath."

The biggest difference between real and virtual pets, of course, is that if Fido gets flattened by a gravel truck, you can't just press the "reset" button and get him up and running again.

Attempting, perhaps, to bring more reality to the nondeath of a nonpet, a California woman has started selling Tamagotchi-size caskets and tombstones. Earline Reeves of Palmdale is offering 5-inch-long caskets lined with puffy white satin for $10.95, and tiny headstones customized with the electronic pet's name for $8.95. Both come with a funeral booklet that urges "survivors" not to dwell on their toy's demise but to "get on with your life." (Good advice, perhaps, for Ms. Reeves.)

There's also a fill-in-the-blanks eulogy that says, in part, "We know (blank) has gone on to a better virtual place where there is no hunger, no boredom and no maintenance required. There is no reason to 'beep.' "

(Maybe not, Ms. Reeves, but there is certainly reason to urp.)

I wouldn't be surprised if Ms. Reeves' business does well because there is no shortage of suckers where Tamagotchis are involved. The biggest saps, as usual, are the parents who not only shell out $15 for what is essentially a beeping egg, but get conned into "taking care" of the stupid things.

A baby-sitting problem

Nowhere is this lunacy more apparent than in the Far East, where 40 million Tamagotchis have been sold in Japan alone. In Singapore, five parents baby-sitting their kids' Tamagotchis were fired because they were too distracted to work.

Too late for these unfortunate parents, a city council member in Taiwan suggested establishing a "day care service" for virtual pets while their owners were in school or at work.

These stories raise several questions in my mind. No. 1, how "distracted" must one be to get fired in Singapore? Dead? Asleep? Or something closer to the level of distraction seen in U.S. workplaces from the Lewinsky thing or during football playoffs?

No. 2, shouldn't these fired parents be hired immediately by the world's first Tamagotchi day care center in Taiwan?

David Grimes is a columnist for the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune.

Pub Date: 3/11/98

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