First, it was the Tamagotchi, Bandai’s handheld keychain digital pets, that was the craze all across the world. Now, it’s Neko Atsume, a cat collecting game app created by Japanese game developer Hit-Point for the iOS and Android mobile devices, that’s hot and trending all over the Internet. People talk about it all the time on Facebook and Twitter. They write about it on their personal blogs. There’s even a Reddit community that’s dedicated entirely to the discussion of all things Neko Atsume!
Neko Atsume has been downloaded about 5,5 million times since October when it was introduced, 40-percent of which by people from outside Japan, according to game creator Yutaka Takazaki during an interview with CNN. “The game is designed in such a way that players do not have to take too much time or energy nor be a hardcore gamer. We created a game that even children can understand and play,” he said of the app that is presented almost entirely in the Japanese language. “Honestly speaking, I don’t understand why it became so popular,” he adds.
Neko Atsume is easy to play. The objective of the game is simply to collect and keep as many “stray” cats for as long as you can within your virtual house and backyard. There are 45 different cats to collect, including some rare ones like the baseball-capped Tatejima-san, the samurai Osamurai-san, the two-tailed Nekomata-san, the cafe maid Cafe-san, and the celebrity cat Amesho-san. The cats can be enticed to appear on your mobile device’s screen with food and toys, some of which are free and some of which you “buy” online. When cats leave your digital playing space, depending on how well you have cared for them, they will “pay” you with either silver or gold sardines. With the sardines, you can in turn buy more food and toys for the cats. You can take pictures of the cats as they play, eat and sleep. You can keep the pictures as souvenirs as well as share them with your friends via social media.
The Japanese people seem to have always been fascinated by cats. Most shops and stores in the country still have those maneki-neko, or “beckoning cat” charms on display for good luck. There are also a number of islands there – the most famous of which is Tashirojima in Miyagi prefecture – which are known cat sanctuaries. And of course, Japan’s most famous pop culture icons are still Hello Kitty and Doraemon.
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