Thursday, June 6, 2013

Why It Hurts To Say Goodbye

I'm using this blog as a "bully pulpit" to look into the phenomenon of Pet Society. We are now one week away from the scheduled shutdown of this very popular game. There are many groups on Facebook (one with over 32,000 members!) protesting this closure and searching for what can be done.
Even Forbes has taken notice of this intense international alliance of players who stand by their pets.

Art by Greta Crippa

This drawing captures the emotional bond so many players have found with their online pets. Some of us who pretend to be respectable adults have "come out" to speak about our support of this game, and inflict our tweets and postings upon the world at large. Our voice, what we have to say, may matter. It may register that something special was going on with this particular game; that Playfish managed to capture "lightning in a bottle." 

Whether artistically sophisticated or simply direct in message, many players share a bond with their particular pet. Some describe themselves as "pet parents".  Others, like this tweet, capture another facet: "I have loved her since the minute she was born. Please don't take her away."

Whether you are six or 70, no matter what language you speak, or how many college degrees you have, the feelings of love and anger and loss are much the same. My own sense is that through some magic, Pet Society was designed to create little creatures that are as individual as human beings, with the happy, creative, curious, and self-reliant attitude of well-behaved two- or three-year olds. (Minus the colds, whining, and temper tantrums.) 

The pets are naturally cheerful and self-reliant. They are not emotionally needy, pressing their face up against the screen from time to time, demanding your attention (as in another competing game, now gone). They do need to be fed and washed, like real toddlers and pets. In a properly set up room, with plushies to carry and objects to bounce on or ride, they can amuse themselves indefinitely. 

Whether you've done "inner child work" or not, playing Pet Society is likely to awaken memories of being young and innocent and full of creativity and fun. Being a grown-up all the time can be wearying. The financial responsibilities, the natural concerns for the well-being of those around you, the stress of illness and impending death, the very viability of the planet we live on: it's a sobering burden we confront each day. Many of us no longer have real children in our lives; they have this way of growing into responsible adults and taking a very long time to produce children of their own to be doted upon.

When we touch base with our "inner child" we remember why everything else we do matters. Deep inside, I still have the curiosity and love and joy and perplexity of my two-year-old self.  I experience this connection through playing with my pet, so losing my pet becomes like losing part of myself, part of who I am. That is my best intuition as to the dynamic that is going on here. When a game becomes more than just a game, it's worth taking notice. But that's another blog post.

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