PLEO lifeform is a toy in Italy and a pet in Japan

January 30, 2009

in experience, japan

The PLEO lifeform by Ugobe has very different meanings in Italy and Japan. During my sabbatical in Japan in 2008, I was exposed to a gazzilion video-advertising in the subway and, specially in the JR Yamanote Line, a recurrent one was promoting the PLEO dinosaur.

The curious thing is that in the video, this “intelligent” life form (or robot for a more banal description) was showcased interacting with an adult woman. It apparently reacted to the woman’s loneliness by coming near to her and asking for a caress, just like a little dog would do. In all three scenes of the advertising, PLEO’s interaction with the human resembled that of a pet and its owner. At the time I remember thinking that it was pretty weird and sad at the same time that a toy should replace a living creature and it reminded me of the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Ship by Philip K. Dick, where normal people (read “not rich”) cannot afford to buy live pets so they use robots instead so as to save their social status.

What could be the advantages of replacing a dog, cat or hamster with PLEO? Well, you don’t have to feed, clean, or take out for a walk the electronic dinosaur. It is always in a good mood and if you have to travel, you can just keep it in the closet instead of having to take it to your sister’s place.

I was surprised when I came back to Milan that the same object was sold to a very different target: In many shops PLEO was being sold in the toys department and the obvious destination of it was a kids room, not that of his parents. PLEO is clearly being marketed as a toy for kids, just like any other (if maybe more basic) robot or remote-controlled car. Products like Lego Mindstorms are in the ambiguous sector destined  to children and adults at the same time, but PLEO was not even near of this category in Italy.

This is an interesting article on PLEO by Michael Singer full of details.

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