Digital pet

Digital pet
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A digital pet (also known as a virtual pet or artificial pet[1]) is a type of artificial human companion. They are usually kept for companionship or enjoyment. People may keep a digital pet in lieu of a real pet.

Digital pets are distinct in that they have no concrete physical form other than the hardware they run on. Interaction with virtual pets may or may not be goal oriented. If it is, then the user must keep it alive as long as possible and often help it to grow into higher forms. Keeping the pet alive and growing often requires 'feeding', grooming and playing with the pet. If the interaction is not goal oriented, the user can explore the character of the pet and enjoy the feeling of building a relationship with it. Often these games use realistic visual effects or interaction to make the pet appear alive and give a sense of reality to users.

Digital pets can be "simulations of real animals, as in the Petz series"[1] or "fantasy ones like the Tamagotchi".[1] Unlike biological simulations, the pet does not usually reproduce.[1] They generally do not die.[1]


Types of digital pets

Web-based digital pets

Virtual pet sites are usually free to play and accessible to all who sign up. They can be accessed through web browsers and often include a virtual community, such as Neopia in Neopets and Marada in Marapets. In these worlds, you can play games to earn virtual money; which is usually spent on items and food for your pets. One large branch of virtual pet games are sim horse games.

Some sites adopt out pets to put on your webpage and use for roleplaying in chat rooms. They often require the adoptee to have a page ready for their pet. Sometimes they have a setup for breeding one's pets and then adopting them out.

Most sites use quests in order for users to make points and receive items. Some quests can give stat points to your pets for when they are battling. Such sites that use quests for a primary foundation on the site are NeoPets, IcePets and MaraPets. These sites, and their clones, have a single non-dynamic image for each pet and its various colors, leading to a lot of similarity in the pets.

There are also Simulation Sites- A kind of virtual pet- where the webpage attempts to simulate a real-life discipline, such as horse dressage or pedigree dog showing. Often these sites will also have a breeding aspect, including genetics and markings. Other simulation sites focus mostly on the markings. Some have done away with the showing aspect and created a great fantasy or comedic website, based around a nonexistent discipline or creature. An example of this is Woolly Hooves, a simulation game where the player gets his/her very own elemental llama, and goes on to hike, explore and complete less single-objective quests than some sites in a bizarre yet endearing world. A few more websites with a similar genre include Mweor, Khimeros, Wajas, Tygras and many more.

Software-based digital pets

There are many computer and video games that focuses on the care, raising, breeding or exhibition of simulated animals. Such games are described as a sub-class of life simulation game. Since the computing power is more powerful than with webpage or gadget based digital pets, these are usually able to achieve a higher level of visual effects and interactivity.

Pet-raising simulations often lack a victory condition or challenge, and can be classified as software toys.[1]

The pet is capable of learning to do a variety of tasks. "This quality of rich intelligence distinguishes artificial pets from other kinds of A-life, in which individuals have simple rules but the population as a whole develops emergent properties".[1] For artificial pets, their behaviors are typically "preprogrammed and are not truly emergent".[1]


The concept of raising artificial creatures in a video game originated in the late 1980s. The Megami Tensei series of role-playing video games, first released by Atlus for the Nintendo Famicom console in 1987, allowed players to capture demons as pets and use them in battle.[2] In 1992, Chunsoft's role-playing game Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride featured an influential monster-collecting mechanic, where monsters can be defeated, captured, added to the party, follow the player character around as a pet, and gain their own experience levels. The game influenced later franchises such as Pokémon, Digimon and Dokapon.[3]

PF Magic released the first widely popular virtual pets in 1995 with Dogz,[4] followed by Catz in the spring of 1996, eventually becoming a franchise known as Petz. Digital pets were further popularized by Nintendo's Pokémon series, debuting in 1995.

Digital pets were a massive fad in Japan, and to a lesser extent in the United States and United Kingdom during the late 1990s. There have been significant improvements of digital pets since Tamagotchi's success when it was released in 1996, from dot-images (such as Tamagotchi) to rendered and animated 3D games (such as Nintendogs). Today, there are also "Digital Pets" which have physical robotic bodies, known as Ludobots or Entertainment robots.

The idea of an animal companion composed of technology rather than flesh has also inspired a lot of fiction, such as the anime based on the virtual pet series "Digimon" (itself a contraction of "Digital Monster").

The popularity of virtual pets in the United States, and the constant need for attention the pets required, led to them being banned from schools across the country, a move that hastened the virtual pet's decline from popularity.

A Mad Magazine cover parody on regular issue #362, October 1997 shows a gun being pointed at a virtual pet and the line "If you don't buy this issue, we'll kill the virtual pet!" Illustrated by Mark Fredrickson, the cover was a double parody, also referencing the January 1973 issue of National Lampoon which depicted a gun being held to a real dog's head and the line "If you don't buy this magazine, we'll kill this dog." [5]

Common features of digital pets

There are many common features between different digital pets, some of them are used to give a sense of reality to the user (such as pet's responds to "touch"), and some for enhancing playability (such as training).

Communicating with digital pets

With advanced video-gaming technology, most modern digital pets do not show a message box or icon to display the pet's internal variable, health state or emotion like earlier generations (such as Tamagotchi). Instead, users can only understand the pet by interpreting their actions, body language, facial expressions, etc. This helps keep a pet's behavior seem natural, rather than calculated, and fosters a feeling of a relationship between user and digital pet.

Sense of reality

To give a sense of reality to users, most digital pets have certain level of autonomy and unpredictability. The user can interact with the pet and this process of personalizing can make the pet more distinctive. Personalizing increases the feeling of responsibility for the pet to the user.[6][7] For example, if a Tamagotchi is unattended for long enough, it will "die".


To increase user's personal attachment to the pet, the pet interacts with the user. Interactivity can be classified into two categories: Short-term and long-term.

Short-term interactivity includes direct interaction or action to reaction from the pet. Example: "touch" a pet with mouse cursor and the pet will give a direct response to the "touching".

Long-term interactivity includes action that affect pet's growth, behavior or life span. Example like training the pet may have good effect on pet's health. Long-term interactivity is quite important for a sense of reality as the user would think that he has some lasting influence on the pet.

Two kinds of interactivity are often combined. Such as playing with a pet (short-term interactivity) may make the pet more optimistic.

Example of common features

  1. Responds to calling
  2. Responds to touching
  3. Training the pet
  4. Supplies or toys for the pet
  5. Dressing up the pet
  6. Competition or trial amongst pets
  7. Meeting other pets
  8. Complaining when it needs care

Ethical Concerns

Digital pets and children

While users can do whatever they want with their digital pets nowadays, it may encourage young users to form bad habits. It is arguable that a relationship with a digital pet cannot compare with a real relationship with an animal, because a real relationship teaches children that their desires can't always come first.

Digital pets over real pets

Some people suggest that digital pets are preferable for a number of reasons. Having a digital pet in place of a real pet ensures real pets don't have to suffer, and it is arguably training before adopting a real pet. PETA has suggested that robotic animals can help people recognize that they are not up to the commitment of caring for a real animal.[8] Another cogent argument is that the digital pet can successfully substitute a real one for children who cannot care for a real pet, such as those who suffer from allergies.

Impact of virtual reality on digital pet

Some people suggest that the simulated experience of digital pet lacks the constraints of the real world[9] that allows us to apply substantive ethics. The virtual environment failed to simulate real social consequences.

Another problem with digital pets is the "virtual slavery". A robotic pet could be made in the shape of a human, a problem raised by the fiction Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.

Relationship with digital pet

There is research concerning the relationship between digital pets and their owners, and their impact on the emotions of people. For example, Furby affects the way people think about their identity, and many children think that Furby is alive in a "Furby kind of way" in Sherry Turkle's research.[10]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Rollings, Andrew; Ernest Adams (2003). Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design. New Riders Publishing. pp. 477–487. ISBN 1-59273-001-9. 
  2. ^ Kurt Kalata & Christopher J. Snelgrove, Megami Tensei, Hardcore Gaming 101
  3. ^ Gaming's most important evolutions, GamesRadar
  4. ^ Rita Koselka (1996-12-02). "Save on dog food". Forbes Magazine: 237–238. 
  5. ^ MAD Cover Site, MAD #362 October 1997.
  6. ^ Frédéric Kaplan Free creatures : The role of uselessness in the design of artificial pets, 2000
  7. ^ Frank, A.; Stern, A.; and Resner, B. 1997. Socially intelligent virtual petz. In Socially Intelligent Agents.
  8. ^ G. Jeffrey, "If you kick a robotic dog, is it wrong?" in The Christian Science Monitor, Feb of 2004
  9. ^ Critical Thoughts About Tamagotchi, 1997
  10. ^ Katie Hafner, What Do You Mean, `It's Just Like a Real Dog'? , 2000

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