There are a preponderance of households all round the world that share their space, their food and their love with some kind of furry friend. Animal companions have been shown time again, in study after study, to reduce stress and cultivate health. The act of stroking a pet is an intrinsically restful one, and cannot even be outweighed by the time and expense incurred in looking after the little beasts. These critters become a part of our lives, and we dote on them like small children. But we wouldn’t feel the same way about them if they were only virtual – would we?
But it seems that we would. While children traditionally beg their parents for a pet to play with, these days it seems they are asking for something else too – a computer, complete with Internet access, to allow them play with a pet of a slightly different shade. A Neopet.
And with 25 million members spread all across the world, the people that bring us Neopets are clearly on to something. Combining aspects of the real life world and the virtual one, the Neopets universe seems to have tapped into something. While users fall predominantly into the age group we would expect, typically sitting in the under eighteen age group, Neopets appeal to people of all ages. Offering all the qualities of the typical household pet, with a few traits only to be found in the realm of computer-dom, Neopets seem like a fun way to cultivate a relationship with our furry friends, without having to deal with any of the practicalities of supporting and looking after a real world pet.
The Neopian world, however, does have what some see as a more sinister side. An Internet world directed at children where unknown individuals can log on and talk to whom they like is undoubtedly a concern for many parents, but what has gained the most publicity regarding the Neopets site is the exposure children encounter there to seemingly limitless advertising. Although real money transactions are forbidden in the Neopian world, many of the games played there involve the winning of Neopian currency, which can then be used to purchase items for your pet. Some argue that this introduces children to the value of money. Others are more concerned that the value of money is spoiling a nice game by introducing corporate sponsorship in child-friendly guises.
But there is little doubt about one thing – Neopets are just, according to the people who own them, as addictive as the real thing. Think you can’t get attached to a computer image? Think again – get a Neopet.