Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Petting Zoo

When I read stories like"MGA launches Rescue Pets world," it's difficult not to respond cynically to the manipulation of youngsters who hunger for flesh-and-blood domestic animals in their households. Rescue Pets sponsors my, in which children who buy a plush animal also get a key code for access to a series of online games. Of course, unlike real rescue pets there is no engagement with community issues like neutering and spaying. As an augmented reality experience, Tamagotchis were probably more compelling, and it looks like Neopets has a much more engaging social network than the "safe" and "private" rescue pets environment. Exhibits like "Dogs" and "Cats" at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum do far more in encouraging children to engage in real thought experiments about symbiotic relationship with other creatures by using a simulation of pet owning delivered via computer display.

Of course, Donna Haraway, the author of "The Cyborg Manifesto" published "The Companion Species Manifesto" as a sequel to her work, but virtual pets seem still to have very little appeal to adult users. Those who don't own pets as adults often do so by choice, however, unlike their more powerless counterparts who are children. I've never been a pet owner, and once penned these curmudgeonly lines as the beginning of a sonnet in my previous life as poet and a Regents Fellow in Creative Writing:

"I think that parents buy their children pets / to teach them about death. Maybe my heart / is incapable of being warmed, a tart / intransigent organ that can not get / a throb of pleasure from a celluloid set / with man's best friend. But if you really start / to think about how people die so far apart / that not even a hospital door will let you in . . ."

Thus, my own children have always had to make do with the much less satisfactory alternative of a virtual pet, for whom a lot of family travel and a yard always full of my husband's art supplies, isn't a health danger. I'm glad, however, that they've largely outgrown virtual pets given the opportunistic products now on the market.

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