Cyberpets superseded as girls seek perfect boy for virtual romance

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The Independent Online
He is your ideal man. You can mould him into a gorgeous hunk and be the envy of all your girlfriends - and all for less than pounds 20. The catch? He only exists in cyberspace. Glenda Cooper, Social Affairs Correspondent, looks at the latest craze to sweep Japan - the virtual boyfriend.

It has been described as "boyfriend tamagotchi" - a virtual beau whom girls can make into the hunk of their dreams.

But like the virtual pets that took Britain by storm earlier this year, you have constantly to look after your boyfriend to keep him happy and make sure he grows up nice and polite. Or at least that's how it works in Princess Club Pocket 2, "Operation Boyfriend Makeover" - a game aimed at high school girls which is played on the hand-held Gameboy console.

According to Atlus, the company that developed Operation Boyfriend Makeover for Nintendo, you have a year to turn your virtual boyfriend into a desirable Adonis so you can look good together on graduation day.

There's a note of warning however - if you screw up, he could end up with a greasy biker or, horrors of horrors, a boy who likes to pick flowers. In the words of the press release: it's a "love love romance game [sic] ... that will make you giggle".

So how do you do this? Basically Operation Boyfriend Makeover works through conversation and role-playing.

You meet your virtual boyfriend at school, listen to what he says, spot the hints that he may be about to do something naff, and advise him not to. You even guess where he might hang out when he's not in school, and go there.

You pick up information about him through your virtual girlfriends, to see whether he has the right sort of hobbies and personality. You give him presents, hoping that they will be the right sort and he won't throw them back in your face.

Players also get to compile a photo album of key romantic moments with their virtual boyfriends, and to swap notes with their virtual mates to see who has the cutest guy. You do get to go on a date together, but feminist thinking hasn't made much headway in Operation Boyfriend Makeover so you can't ask him out - you have to manipulate the conversation in such a way that he asks you out.

Dr Mark Griffiths, senior lecturer in psychology at Nottingham Trent University warned that virtual boyfriends was not necessarily a "healthy thing".

"How do people then cope in the real world?" he asked. "Virtual relationships do not work like real relationships ... By producing the ideal date you're conditioning someone as you go along, turning them into someone you want them to be."

There are no plans yet to bring the pounds 19 game to Britain.