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Virtual Pets (And You Thought Beanie Babies Were a Nuisance!)

Some principals are taking the byte out of "virtual pets," one of the latest fads to hit the United States. Should the distracting critters be banned?

Most principals are praying that the virtual pet craze will die out by the time fall rolls around. But, as the popularity of virtual pets---or "virtual pests," as some principals call them---grows, so does the number of principals forced to deal with distractions the digital dogs and dinosaurs can cause in U.S. classrooms. More than a few school principals have banned the cyber critters from their schools!

"First we were overrun with Beanie Babies, then all of a sudden teachers started commenting that the kids seemed to be taking a lot of long bathroom breaks," Bud Rivard, assistant principal at Center Road Elementary School in Vernon, Connecticut, told the Hartford Courant recently.

"We found that the kids were concentrating on the toys, anticipating when they were going to beep and heading off to the bathroom with them," he adds.

Virtual pets are now banned from Center Road Elementary and from a handful of schools in other states. Elsewhere, principals are hoping the fad dies out---quickly.


Tickle Me Elmo might be "cold," and Beanie Babies might be cooling off, but right now virtual pets are HOT! In the first four months of this year, more than 4 million of the egg-shaped mini-video games on a key chain were sold in Japan. It wasn't long before word got out and demand spread to the United States. In early May, kids hoping to buy the first "virtual pets" to show up on this side of the Pacific stood in line for six hours at the FAO Schwarz store near Union Square in San Francisco. And, on May 27, K-Mart introduced the toys in a handful of their stores at $14.99 a pop.

In November, 1996, Bandai Company released the first Tamagotchi (roughly translated from Japanese, it means "gentle" or "lovable egg"). It looked like a little plastic egg with a key chain attached. Implanted in the egg was a small LCD screen and several buttons. Occasionally, the egg would beep, a sign that the little creature on the mini-screen needed its owner's attention. The baby might need to be fed or played with or given medicine. Those things could be accomplished with the push of a button.

"If you give it too much candy and not enough exercise, you can get a fat, lazy Tamagotchi," Gene Morra, vice president of marketing and sales for Bandai America, Inc., told the San Francisco Examiner. "It's a great toy, and it also teaches responsibility."

If the virtual pet is carelessly cared-for, it might even die. However, that feature may soon be eliminated in the United States in favor of a pause button that will allow kids in school to put their Tamagotchis' demands on hold while the kids attend to their studies.

As a sign of their popularity, Tamagotchi---"the original virtual pet"---has spawned a number of knockoffs that are capitalizing on the cyber creatures' popularity. Among the competition are Giga Pets, Nano-Pets, and Dinkie Dino.


Meanwhile, back in the schoolsthe black market for Tamagotchis can be a problem. Some kids have resorted to "pet-napping" the virtual critters! And the beeps from the needy little creatures can by a big annoyance. The miniature pets are the subject of debate on school boards; the consensus has been that if they interfere with academics they don't have a place in schools. Debate has flowed over onto radio talk shows and into the press. The Hartford Courant, in response to the banning of virtual pets from Center Road Elementary, opened its op-ed pages to a discussion of the electronic pets. Here are a few of the comments:

"Virtual pets let us kids learn responsibility.
I have a virtual pet and it does not distract me from doing any of my schoolwork."
---Ashley, Grade 6

"I think virtual pets should be banned from school for three reasons:
1. They might die.
2. They beep and that distracts the student.
3. It could go hungry."
---Jared, Grade 1

"Virtual pets should not be allowed in school.
They are distracting and disruptive. Toys should be left at home."
---Grade 8 teacher

"I think cyber pets should be allowed in school.
They are very educational. They teach kids how to take care of a real pet."
---Brian, Grade 6

"We should keep those pets in schools because if we keep them home they will die. Also, they could stay with [our] parents, but if they are very busy and forget to feed them or play, they could die. The kids could keep the sound off. If they keep playing with them every second, the teachers can hold onto them."
---Danielle, Grade 6


In addition, virtual pets have spawned a large number of Internet sites.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2006 Education World