The digital critters "Beep! Beep! Beep!" when they don't get what they want. And just like a baby, their needs change most every hour.
Bandai started the craze last year in Japan when it introduced Tamagotchi, an egg-shaped pet on a key chain.
The toy was originally marketed as a tool to teach Japanese girls how tough it is to raise children. But the toy's popularity quickly spread to other groups, including male executives. Since November, Bandai has sold more than 1.3 million of the toys in Japan.
Now the product and its virtual knock-offs are headed to the United States. Tamagotchi will hit FAO Schwarz stores, including ones in White Plains, N.Y., and Stamford, Conn., the first week in May.
The $20 U.S. creature will have a different fate than its Japanese cousin. In Japan, if you forget to feed the virtual chick, it dies. In the United States, it returns to cyberspace. But don't worry; you always can hatch a new one.
Tiger Electronics also will introduce a lineup of Giga Pets next month. Each creature - Digital Doggie, Compu Kitty, Baby T-Rex, Virtual Alien, Microchimp and Bit Critter - will cost $10.
Like Tamagotchi, these portable pets need round-the-clock care. To thrive, the pet needs to be fed, bathed, played with, taught tricks and put to bed.
Several Web sites also sell digital animals online. For example, you can adopt a puppy for your computer screen from the Computer Petz site, or from Na Software.
And if that's not enough, the Virtual Pet Home page celebrates everything from the original pet rock to cyber pets. It also links up to other virtual pet sites, including a Japanese memorial to deceased Tamagotchi creatures. The site is at http://www.virtualpet.com.
By Deborah Porterfield, Gannett Suburban Newspapers
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