The History of E-Pets
One of the most popular toys this holiday season was the Hatchimal, an electronic pet that hatches itself out of an egg. While the Hatchimal has some unique qualities that makes it stand out, it is really just the latest in the electronic and virtual pet trend.
Electronic pets began with the Japanese Tamagotchi in the early 90s. A small handheld game that hung from a keychain and fit in your palm, the Tamagotchi was a hit. The story of this virtual pet was an alien egg dropped on earth that the player cared for and raised from birth to adulthood. The virtual pet’s eventual attitude, training, and smarts as an grown pet was dependent on the attention and care given as it grew.
After Tamagotchi came Furbies. Ranging from six to nine inches in height, these late 90s creatures were billed as trainable, responsive robotic toys. A new Furby would speak its own form of gibberish and as it “grew” it would speak more and more English (or another language if programmed and sold for that language).
Furbies could be trained to say certain words more often by petting it when it said those words. This “training” led to confusion regarding their actual abilities and a Furbies ban in National Security Agency offices, for fear of compromised security. The fear was that the Furbies would pick up the words said around it and repeat them. The company assured the NSA that this was not within a Furby’s capabilities but the ban was still in place for a while.
Furbies were also able to make limited movements, including opening and closing their eyes, moving their ears, and raise themselves up. A Furby’s movements and speech were sound and motion activated. One could simply walk past a Furby and it would stand, open its eyes, and say “Hellllooooo”, a not altogether comforting thing in a dark, apparently empty room.
Hatchimal, the newest e-pet, is a unique combination of Tamagotchi and Furby. Like the Tamagotchi the pet begins as an egg but this time physical, not digital, and like the Furby the Hatchimal is able to react to those around it.
The time it takes for the Hatchimal to hatch depends on how much it is played with ranging from ten to forty minutes. A specific area of the egg (where the Hatchimals eyes are) light up and indicate that the e-pet is awake and that your interactions with the pet are helping it to hatch. Eventually, the shell around the pet will crack and you can help it finally emerge.
Hatchimals come in five different types: pengualas, draggles, burtles, owlicorns, and bearakeets. As their names suggest each type is a combination of two other animals to make one magical Hatchimal. Once hatched, the pet is considered a baby and is ready to be raised. Though it will not change size once hatched, it will mature from baby to toddler to kid. Each stage has different games and activities, including walking, dancing, talking, and tag.
If a physical e-pet isn’t appealing to you, there are now several apps that build off the success of Tamagotchi. Virtual pet apps include Clumsy Ninja, Monster Pet Shop, iPet Pets, Drago Pet, and Furdiburb to name just a few of the vast offerings. A quick search of your favorite app store will likely return several free and $0.99 e-pet apps.
For those who remember virtual pets fondly or those who are new to the world and want to check it out, there are plenty of e-pet choices for all.