How to be mastered by Tamagotchi

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 May, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 May, 1997, 12:00am

Aword of dissent. Everyone keeps going on about how bad those Tamagotchi virtual pets are for children, how children are alienated from their families and distracted from their schoolwork, and how they go into mourning when the beasts kick the bucket.

A colleague complained in this newspaper a couple of days ago that his son was blaming him for letting a virtual pet die.

And what was it he said? 'A Tamagotchi is the virtual pet only an absolute idiot would own.' Well, that's not so. Some very intelligent people own virtual pets.

The problem is they don't stay intelligent for long. Nor do they remain the owners of virtual pets for long.

Very soon it is the pet who owns them. And that's the point. It's not the children you need to worry about.

Sure, the pets all start out as kids' toys. And for a while it is a real educational experience. Junior is taught all about care and responsibility for a small, vulnerable creature, dependent on a loving human being for its every need.

The pet needs feeding, watering and stroking. It has to be educated or its grades sink to shameful levels.

And, occasionally, it gives the momentary pleasure every pet owner lives for, when it shows a bit of sparkle and joins Junior in a simple game or two.

A bit like Deep Blue and Kasparov really, but more Junior's level.

But then, just when things are beginning to get out of hand and the young person concerned is showing seriously unchildlike symptoms, like love, care and responsibility - or more characteristic responses such as premeditated virtual murder - virtual pets are banned from school.

Very soon the little dears are threatened with expulsion or worse if they dare bring any squeaking, beeping monsters within 100 metres of the school-gates.

Wild-eyed, deeply disturbed teachers picket all the entrances and refuse to work unless the ban is enforced.

After that, the virtual pet has to be looked after by the same poor sucker who looks after the goldfish and the hamster that Junior has tired of.

And that's when things go seriously downhill.

Okay, you're right. The last paragraph is inaccurate. The domestic helper has taken on the heroic task of caring for the goldfish.

But the virtual pet is another matter. Tamagotchi got us. We should have been warned. Little Miss Week Ending (we're breaking a long-standing taboo here by discussing the doings of the offspring in a column) was given a virtual pet by an adult who claimed she could no longer stand the strain of trying to keep it alive. This person was a teacher and should have known better.

The parent of one of Little Miss WE's friends told us she had been left holding the virtual baby when her own son had been banned from bringing the thing to school - and had been unable to save it. We still didn't get the message.

The thing came home with us, was taken to school the next day and immediately banned.

And ever since, Daddy has been spending his waking hours obsessively trying to keep the ever-hungry, ever-thirsty virtual pet fed, watered and air-conditioned, while Little Miss WE enjoys the quiet of school. Daddy's mind is boggled. He can no longer eat, sleep or think. It is worse than nappies ever were. It is worse than rocking colicky babies, worse than trying to get six-year-olds to do their homework.

Now Daddy is out for revenge on the world. He is going to send one to all Chinese leaders to distract them from any thoughts they might have of meddling in Hong Kong.

He is going to send one to the tax man and the landlord and to anyone who has ever failed to return a phone call when he is researching a newspaper article.

But one thing he does not dare to do. He does not dare let the virtual pet die. Little Miss WE would never let him live it down.

Editor's note: The Braudes' Tamagotchi has just passed away.