Trends in Japan

Top Picks || Arts & Entertainment || Business & Economy || Education & Society ||
Science & Technology || Sports & Fashion || Search || Back Numbers

Playful Programs Enliven Computing Experience

August 24, 1998

Japanese consumers are falling in love with new kinds of e-mail software whose primary purpose is fun, rather than efficient communication. Some programs let users "raise" electronic creatures and send messages through these pet personae. Another program sends a "message in a bottle"--an e-mail that will drift around the world's computer networks before landing in a random mailbox. Unlike conventional e-mail software, which is a tool for effective business communications, this playful software is not designed for convenience at all. Rather, users delight in the impish behavior of their virtual e-mail pets or look forward to receiving responses from people around the world.

Delivering Mail and Mischief
"Pet-mail" software lets users raise electronic creatures, which then deliver mail that the users write. One such application, PostPet, offers four types of animal companions: bears, cats, rabbits, and turtles. Released in November 1997, PostPet took less than a year to reach the 100,000 sales mark--quite impressive for the entertainment software field, where a product is considered successful if it sells 10,000 copies.

Although e-mail pets do deliver mail written by users, they also have minds of their own. When they go out to deliver a message, they do not "come home" to the user's computer until the recipient has seen the message. When they get tired, they go to sleep. In the process of running the user's e-mail errands, they learn about the world around them and develop an independent spirit. Sometimes they even go out to play, picking up bits of rubbish or learning silly dances in the course of their wanderings. When a computer user has not received any e-mail for a while, the pet might tease its owner by saying, "You don't have any friends, do you?!" The pet may even take matters into its own hands by sending mail to people on the user's address list, saying "My owner is kind of a nerd, but I hope you'll be nice to her."

It looks as though news of PostPet has traveled across the ocean; the creator has received many inquiries from people outside of Japan. Other developers are now creating English- and German-language versions.

Digital Day Care and E-mail in a Bottle
Other entertaining mail software packages have followed rapidly on the heels of PostPet. One is Super Tamagotchi, e-mail software featuring Tamagotchi, the virtual pet that has launched a consumer craze around the globe. Super Tamagotchi went on the market in March 1998 and took just three months to sell 250,000 copies. Like the PostPet creatures, Super Tamagotchi delivers e-mail. However, a Tamagotchi neglected by its owner will send garbled messages, or even forget the messages altogether. Busy owners who do not want to neglect their pets can send them to on-line day-care centers.

Another fun e-mail software package, available on-line, is Bottle Mail. With Bottle Mail, you never know just where your e-mail is going, or when, or to whom. It's just like putting a message in a bottle and casting it into the sea. The software is designed to bring about chance encounters between people all over the world.

Enjoyment, Not Efficiency
The original purpose of e-mail software was to enable users to exchange information with maximum speed, accuracy, and efficiency. Pet-mail software, which deviates wildly from this purpose, has proven unexpectedly popular. According to one editor of a computer magazine, "As the Internet and e-mail have caught on among a wider variety of people, the range of uses has expanded as well. Instead of simply transmitting information, people are actually taking pleasure in the act of communication itself."

In the past, virtual pets offered only a closed relationship: the one-on-one interaction between a pet and its owner. But PostPet and other pet-mail packages open up a whole new realm of possibilities for friendship through on-line interactions. Therein, no doubt, lies the software's appeal to the digital community.

Back to Main Index

Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs


Japan Information Network