It’s official. My kid’s very first pet is a … catmonkeydog.
In case you didn't know, catmonkeydogs are the perfect pets. You know why? Because you don't have to clean up their poo, that's why.
That's because, well, catmonkeydogs don't technically exist. But don't tell my 3½-year-old son that. He's convinced they exist. Almost.
The thing is, my son Oz recently started carrying around a half-dead beetle he found belly-up and twitching on the sidewalk. He had said he wanted a pet and apparently he figured this was close enough.
I begged to differ and, as luck would have it, I had a copy of Sony's "EyePet" game for the PlayStation 3 on hand. Clearly my son needed a creature to dote upon and I figured a digital pet was better than a dying one.
You see, "EyePet" is a pet simulation game that makes use of the PlayStation Move motion controls that Sony launched over the weekend. It's a game that not only lets kids raise a virtual pet of their very own, it uses augmented reality to make it appear as if that pet is romping around with you right there in your very own living room.
Though I do try to limit how much video game and screen time my son is exposed to, avid gamer that I am, I have allowed him to play child-friendly apps on the iPhone and iPad. (And, OK, I admit, I let him play "Plants vs. Zombies" once and he's loved it ever since).
"EyePet" — which is Rated E for everyone — seemed like the perfect introduction to console gaming for my budding gamer/wanna-be pet owner. (It also seemed like the perfect way for a family living in the middle of a city to dip their toe into pet ownership.)
So, with the beetle put safely outside "to get some fresh air," the boy and I plopped ourselves in front of the TV together and fired the game up.
Let me explain quickly: PlayStation Move controls are comprised of three parts: the PlayStation Eye camera, a motion-control wand and a navigation controller. "EyePet" makes use of the camera and the wand controller. That is, it uses the camera to bring your living room right into the game itself and to read your physical movements while the motion controller becomes a virtual tool that can be used in the game in a variety of ways.
Pet adoption officially gets under way at the EyePet Institute where a professor walks you and your child through a few instructions — you'll need to lower your PlayStation Eye camera, point it toward the floor and then clear your living room of clutter (talk about a good way to get your child to clean up).
Sony's "EyePet" creature will melt your heart ... unless your heart is made of rock. Did I happen to mention that, although this catmonkeydog-thingy appears to play in your very own living room, it will never chew up your furniture?
With the camera properly situated — voila — you and your living room are suddenly front and center in the game. And that's when a giant egg appears to drop right there onto your floor — or at least, if you look at your TV screen that's what appears to happen.
You're asked to pick up the Move motion-control wand. When you look at the wand on screen, it appears to have a hair dryer-like attachment on the end of it. The Professor asks you to move it around the egg to help it warm up and then he asks you to tap on the egg to help crack it open.
It doesn't take long before your EyePet — in all its big-eyed, fluffy-furred, cute-overload glory — pushes its way out of the egg. It looks like a cat, a dog and a monkey rolled into one. And, I have to say, my son's eyes absolutely lit up upon its arrival.
When we were asked to give it a name, Oz decided to name it ... well ... Oz.
Of course, our digital pet's arrival came with some confusion as well. Oz (the human one) could look at the TV screen and see the EyePet seeming to walk around in the living room right there with him. He could even see it sit right there in his lap. But then, when he looked down at his lap in the real world, the critter was nowhere to be found.
"Mommy, I want to hold it. Why can't I hold it?" he asked me. Augmented reality is something his generation will probably see a lot of — but those first moments with it can certainly be disorienting.
The confusion didn't last too long. Our little humans are pretty smart critters themselves and Oz sorted it all out in no time.
And so the Professor walked us through what we'd need to do to take care of our digital pet. Feeding and bathing — yes. Plenty of exercise and play time — check. Poop scooping — no way.
As Sony's funny man/faux spokesman Kevin Butler says, "Watch your back puppies!"
Oz was able to pet the virtual Oz by simply waving his hands near its furry head. He could get it to playfully pounce around by tapping the floor with his fingers. And he could get it to jump into the air by wiggling his fingers above the animal's digital head. Meanwhile, he used the motion-controlled Move wand as a variety of toys — a hoop to jump through, a fishing pole with a toy fish at the end, a trampoline to bounce on. On screen, the wand transformed into a shower head for washing our pet and a dryer for blowing him dry.
Ultimately, "EyePet" consists of a variety of mini-games masquerading as pet care. And the more you play, the more games, activities and, yes, even clothing you unlock for your pet.
All in all, Oz and I have had a great time playing the game together (together being the most important word here). With the cold fall months upon us, it's been the perfect mom/son rainy day activity and it's been an easy first step toward pet ownership — one that doesn't require me to vacuum hair off all our furniture.
But I have to admit, for Oz, the shine has begun to wear off our new-found friend a bit.
When we played the game most recently, we did a quick check up of our EyePet's health using the Move wand as a kind of X-ray machine. I explained to my son that it was his job to take care of his pet — virtual or not — and that meant his pet needed a bath and some food. Alas, my son wasn't too excited about performing these newly assigned chores.
So guess who wound up bathing and feeding our catmonkeydog? That's right, Mom did.
Turns out caring for a virtual pet is more realistic than I might have thought.