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Virtual Pets

My cool childhood

When I was a kid, my parents and I used to holiday in Devon or Cornwall in our camper van. These were very enjoyable and memorable times! One of the special treats of such a trip was visiting the Pound Shops. In an era before Poundland and Poundworld super-sized and homogenized the industry, independent Pound Shops were treasure troves of cheaply sourced toys, decorations, utilities, and memorabilia. Different every time. They stocked fake Pokémon posters, unlicensed Star Wars sountracks, and all sorts of pocket money goodies and “tat”.

One of my favourite things to buy on a camper holiday was a £1 virtual pet. These were Tamagotchi rip-offs, produced cheaply in China. The one I remember the most was some kind of dinosaur pet. I remember the on-screen character developing one day from something that looked like a Charmander into something that looked like a Pterodactyl. Not owning a real Pokémon Game Boy game, I told my new-found campsite friends that my toy had evolved from Charmander into Aerodactyl. When they raised their eyebrows and told me it couldn’t possibly do that (which I knew, really) I had to add “Well, it’s only a fake”. It was fun to pretend; imagination doubles the fun. The downside of these fakes was that they would randomly reset in the night and you never knew whether it was your fault.

Flash forward

Helen mentioned to me that when she was a little girl she had wanted a Tamagotchi, and had received some sort of dog-shaped third party equivalent, probably from a car-boot sale, but it didn’t work. So this Christmas I got us a matching pair of Tamagotchi Friends. They have NFC so you can bump them together to make them visit each other and trade items. I thought it was pretty cool.

A short rant about sexism in toys

I was struck by how Tamagotchi Friends (this latest version of Tamagotchi) is strongly targetted at girls. From the packaging to the gameplay and characters, there’s a big hint of hearts, hairstyles, and jewellery. Now, this is sad, not because I am a man, but because toys should not be tailored to a gender. I don’t think that you should have to make Nerf Rebelle especially for girls; please represent girls in the regular Nerf adverts instead. It is sexism. Hasbro were so sure that only boys would want the Star Wars VII figurine set that they entirely left out the main character of the film because she is a woman, a move which scorns all fans of the film, not to mention the intent of the film itself.

And now

I got past the disturbingly makeup-clad characters and had fun with my Tamagotchi Friend. I raised several generations, thanks to the interesting marriage/egg-laying feature! But this has given me a hunger for more virtual pets.

Specifically, it has given me a hunger for the dinosaur pet I had when I was six! I want to see what it was like, to compare and constrast, to study the elements of gameplay featured by each generation of toy, to examine the pixel art of the creatures! So I aim to recapture this experience by trying out as many different pets – main brands and counterfeits – as my conscience can afford.

I think this post will be used to collect and categorize the journey.

Thanks for reading!

Written 2016-01-25