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Learn to leave your virtual lover

As if adolescent angst were not enough, a new source of anxiety is on its way from Asia: being jilted by your virtual lover.

Tamagotchi - those watch-sized virtual pets which were liable to die on inattentive owners - are last year's craze. In its place comes My Lover, otherwise known as the tamasmootchi.

Tamagotchi infuriated teachers around the world when their plaintive beeps disrupted lessons. My Lover - launched less than a fortnight ago at the Hong Kong Toys and Games fair - is already worrying educators and youth leaders that teenagers could be "overwhelmed" by their demanding toy.

The tamasmootchi has to be courted to win its affection, kisses and eventually its "hand" in marriage. Unless lavished with love, taken to the cinema, out to dinner or just to watch the sun set, the virtual lover can become angry, depressed and sick. An inattentive owner could find their virtual lover driven into the arms of another.

"Real love is about care, affection and understanding," said one primary school head. "It is shallow and superficial to believe that love is gained by buying things for your partner."

Mervyn Cheung, an educationist who is also a member of Hong Kong's obscene articles tribunal, said such toys could "overwhelm" young people. "With love and dating as the topic, they may take the game too seriously," he said, adding in the South China Morning Post, "and as it also involves marriage, I think users should at least be 18."

With an eye on disapproving parents, the young owner earns kiss-points by studying, and working hard to make money to buy the gifts. "Teenagers are always looking for love and this game can give them some experience, teach them how to respect others," said STE marketing manager Stanley Chan. The virtual lover is about to go on sale in Hong Kong for about pound;6 - just as sale of the once-popular Tamagotchi are in decline. It will be exported to Europe and the US later this year.

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