When Tamagotchi pets appeared on the market, they seemed like a harmless, if pointless, diversion. Then we were told that children who accidentally killed off the dear little things were prone to pangs of grief just as acute as when Chirpy the budgie dropped off his perch. If that is so, the emotional scars left on young ones whose real-life pet passes away must be appalling. There is no counselling service for them, whereas the Education Department is quite prepared to set one up for bereaved pupils, unable to face life without a fully functioning key ring. Because, realistically, that's all a Tamagotchi is - a key-ring-sized computer screen with a picture that self-destructs if not regularly programmed. Everything else is marketing hype and consumer madness, that heady combination which turns a Cabbage Patch Doll, or a virtual-reality pet, into an essential possession. It is a pity that children have to be manipulated into this nonsense, but they are the most potent force there is in persuading adults to part with money. And once one craze has burned out, there's a race in the toy industry to start another. Fortunes are made that way, and it does no harm to the psychobabble industry, either. Manufacturers may not be quite so successful with the latest development, the Tamagotchi triad. Cigarettes and alcohol are meat and drink to him. His toys, we're told, will be knives and cleavers. Few parents will want this gadget to find its way into the play box - but it wouldn't be surprising if the new version becomes a cult for the grown-ups. Think of the social work caseload, when Tamagotchi turf wars break out, and panicking owners find their computerised heroes slumped in the corner of the screen, bleeding profusely. Perhaps the Buddhist Kannon-in temple on the Internet Home Page, which is already offering a cemetery for cyberpets, can find a corner for chopped Tamagotchi triads. Better still, they could bury the whole idea.