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Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 19:41 GMT
Virtual love seduces Japan
Girls using internet-capable mobile phones
I-mode internet-capable phones are needed for virtual love
We've had the robot dogs and fish, Tamagotchi, the portable cyber pet, and virtual popstars. Now it's the girlfriends and boyfriends who are virtual.

Known for their love of gadgets, the latest rage among Japanese men and women is virtual romance by e-mails sent by mobile phones.


I really like you... we can still be friends

Virtual girlfriend
Put simply, virtual romance is all about seducing a virtual man or woman, who operates in real time, and developing a relationship over a period of time.

Games such as Falling in Love by Mail, My Prince and First Love Game are just a few of the dozens of online games developed for the i-mode internet-capable phones.

The idea is not entirely new in Japan. A few years ago, Japanese school girls were gripped by Operation Boyfriend Makeover - a computer game in which a virtual boyfriend had to be constantly nurtured.

The girls were given a year to turn him into the hunk of their dreams.

Hard time

The new generation of games are not dissimilar and require constant dedication. The most popular ones are also gender specific.

Robot dog
Robot pets have proved very popular in Japan
Bandai Network's Mail de Koi Shite (or Falling in Love by Mail) is targeted towards men who are given the choice of seven virtual women, including a school teacher and a nurse.

During a three-month email courtship, the user must seduce his cyber-love by scoring as many points as possible by finding out as much as he can about his "girlfriend" - apparently not always an easy task.

She might get irritated because she doesn't receive as many emails as she wishes and give the player a hard time. But that doesn't seem to stop many of them from wanting to continue their affairs.

After a certain amount of emails has been sent, the girlfriend delivers her verdict: "I really like you" and the more disappointing "we can still be friends" are on the cards.

Ideal men

Girls searching for love seem to have an easier time, as their game begins with a request for the ideal prince.

In the game called My Prince it is up to the virtual boyfriends to seduce the player, who will receive emails from several "equally interesting" candidates.

In this version, subscribers are allowed to exchange mail with up to three princes, who presumably will fight over her, and can also break up with them.

The company says the princes are there to support their real-life partners, for which purpose a hotline is established allowing exchanges at any time.

Given the sometimes rocky road to love in the real world, many users find virtual partners even more desirable than the flesh-and-blood variety.

There have even been requests from some users for subscriptions to be renewed and romance kept alive.

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See also:

30 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Glimpses of a robotic future
12 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Sony upgrades robot pet
23 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's web phone revolution
16 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Robofish splash down in Tokyo
11 Oct 00 | Business
Japan's m-commerce boom
28 Dec 97 | Teenage trends
The teen dreams of Japan
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