It's a plastic pet that sits in the palm of your hand, a cyberspace hatchling that responds to love, attention, snacks, and discipline. It's Tamagotchi!

Tama-what?!

Tamagotchi, the virtual-reality pet by Bandai that has quickly become a popular plaything and hot collectible since its 1996 debut in Japan. Available in the United States since the spring of 1997, Tamagotchi reportedly means "lovable egg" in Japanese.

According to legend, Tamagotchi are tiny creatures who hatch from virtual eggs after travelling millions of light years through cyberspace. In fact, the tiny toy is a small, liquid-crystal display protected by an egg-shaped plastic shell, sort of like a calculator or digital wristwatch with a cute personality.

How does it work?

Once the egg "hatches," the owner must raise the creature by pressing a small set of buttons to simulate meals, medical care, play, and discipline.

Ignore your pet and it will beep for attention. Treat it poorly and it will grow up surly or sick. Neglect it too much and it will die. Don't worry, though, every Tamagotchi can be restarted again and again with the simple push of a button.

Treat your Tamagotchi right and it will grow up strong, intelligent, and wise. A healthy and happy Tamagotchi will live for a number of virtual "years" before expiring. How long will yours?



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