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
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
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
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.
Edited 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.