Some time ago I wrote about how caring for some virtual pets helped to heal my heart after I lost a beloved pet cat which I had grown up with. Though the creatures I cared about were virtual, the nature of caring for these cute things is what helped to slowly mend my heart and I promised I would share more on the different virtual pets I’ve had in my life. Although nothing compares to the true love and joy you get from a real animal, a virtual pet can still bring up the same nuturing emotions inside you and can still pull on your heartstrings if you see it upset or watch it display care and loving emotion towards you.
I’ve had some form of virtual pets in my life ever since I was a teenager at school and I thought it might be nice to see if anyone else out there has ever owned or interacted with any of the same virtual creatures. Even though the following list isn’t very long, the virtual animals and creatures I’m going to talk about have all had a positive impact on my life 🙂
This has to be the most famous virtual pet to have ever been created and possibly began the trend for virtual animals, and I was part of the craze that swept the world when Tamagotchi was first introduced! The cute little alien creature that you hatch from an egg on a small screen and then play, feed and clean it before it flies off home after a few weeks (or as some told themselves – dies 😦 ), was something almost everyone wanted back in the late 1990s. I’m not sure how I first heard about the tamagotchi, but it wasn’t long after its release that the nation went crazy for these things. The news was filled with how many kids were begging their parents to get this for Christmas (if they hadn’t already). Never one to give into the hype I was interested in the concept of the virtual pet to care for, but it wasn’t until I started seeing more and more of my school friends with these things that I started to get drawn into the desperate urge to get hold of one myself!
One day, finally getting my hands on this thing I started it up and instantly fell in love. Small enough to fit into my school skirt pocket, or when in class my pencil case (carefully concealed from the teachers of course) this cute electronic pet instantly became my pet away from home, my cat still being the most important in my overall life of course. 😉 Looking after this strange alien creature that looked cute and waiting to see what it would turn into (each tamagotchi was different and grew up differently according to how you took care of it) was not only exciting but it helped me at a time I was struggling at school. Bullying was something that I encountered a lot of at this time, as well as some difficulties with some of my lessons, having spent a lot of time away ill, so having the little tamagotchi with me throughout the school day was something I could spend a few minutes in every day focusing on and forgetting about all the bad stuff that was happening.
Some of my friends had gotten other virtual pets, they were similar keychain sized toys but with dogs or other animals in them rather than an alien creature that could look like anything, but I felt oddly proud to have an official tamagotchi, because it was the ‘it’ toy, the one that had started off the craze for virtual pets, and for once I was part of a craze that swept the world, and I usually am not the type to be part of the hype/’it’ crowd so I ended up feeling weirdly cool, lol.
Unlike many kids who found themselves traumatised when their Tamagotchis finally went home, I didn’t because that’s what I told myself the Tamagotchis were doing. In reality after caring and looking after this virtual creature for anywhere between 2 to nearly 4 weeks, feeding it, playing with it and cleaning up its poops, one day the thing would just disappear off the screen only to be replaced by what looked like an angel in the stars. Of course so many took this to mean that the Tamagotchis had died, and I’ll admit, the shock of first seeing that screen was pretty big, but I’d read somewhere that the Tamagotchis were supposed to be alien creatures that simply ‘went home’ after you raised them to adulthood so that’s what I told myself had happened…It was better mentally to imagine that creature far away in another galaxy than imagine the thing had actually died! 😮 (According to something I read recently the Japanese version of the game showed an angel above a gravestone when it ‘died’ 😮 😦 )
Back in the year 2000 I first saw these new virtual pets when a school friend was using a free period to play rather than revise! But it wasn’t until a year later that I finally decided to go online myself and get my own. Neopets are a range of different animal-like creatures that you interact with, playing, feeding and generally caring for them them online. The website, which is still around today, lets you create a pet, or adopt one, and customise the way it looked before going out into the big wide world of Neopia and getting involved with the many different activities. The pets themselves don’t move and only interact as static images on the screen with captions, but there is lots for them (and you) to do including exploring Neopian lands, owning a shop, building a home, and even battling your pets (don’t worry they aren’t really harmed or anything). But you can also just care for your pets and have fun looking after and there was something about this that pulled at my heartstrings when I created my first neopet (pictured here) as I thought it resembled my cat quite well.
Neopets has always been a free site to use but after a few years started using ads to generate money and now offers a few premium features to those willing to buy extras online, but the basic service, which I use, is still free and you can enjoy all the main features of Neopets without ever having to pay, the only downside I’ve personally found is all the ads sometimes slow down some of the online games. Neopets was a site I frequented almost obssessively for a couple of years, visiting every waking moment I could when my family first got the internet for our home. It became a place I found friends (when I found myself feeling lonely) and it’s the first place I really started to gel with people and very popular! 😮 I even learned a lot of html coding there too (it’s the language we all used at the time to created snazzy backgrounds to our profiles or our Neoshops.. 🙂 )
But caring for the Neopets was the main reason I still loved to visit, trying to get them to be the happiest and smartest neopets of all of Neopia and although they didn’t interact in a very realistc way, it was still enough to make me want to visit and want to care for these cute creatures. I still visit Neopets today, on occassion, my profile says I’ve been on the site now for 22 years! But although I don’t have quite the obssession I did back then, it’s still a fun place to go whatever your age and I still love to see the happy smile on my pets’ faces.
Tamagotchi on PC
Unlike the small keychain toy which was so popular that many of the other girls in my classes at school had them confiscated for concentrating on their pets rather than their work, the Tamagotchi for the PC was a similar virtual pet that lived on your computer so you had to use it when you had lots of access to your PC. I was given this ‘game’ for Christmas soon after my family got our first PC in the early 2000s and I couldn’t help but fall in love with Tamagotchi all over again. I hadn’t played on the little keychain toy for a while when this one appeared and I was so happy to get hold of it as it was in colour and had some features that the original handheld toy didn’t.
The program which installed directly onto the PC ran in a similar way to the original toy. You got an egg, hatched it and then cared for this little Tamagotchi who would eventually grow up into an adult form and one day leave. There were a few things that were better about this PC version, one of the most obvious being how colourful everything was. The original Tamagotchis worked on a very basic screen so they only showed up in black and white, but this game was in colour, and had so much to see in the background of every screen.
Along with the colour there were more games to play with your Tamagotchi, a screen saver of it so you could watch it while you were idle at your PC and crucially a crèche you could leave your pet at if you had to spend the day away, although why the crèche couldn’t clean up their little poops I don’t know! 🙄 But by far the best feature was what happened at the end of a Tamagotchi’s life with you and it helped to get rid of all the trauma that I had felt when I first saw that ‘angel’ Tamagotchi on my little handheld. Although the same angel was displayed, you could then click a postcard from your Tamagotchi, sent from the planet which they had apparently gone back home to, and written to you about how much they loved their life with you and what they were doing now. It’s what all the kids back in the late 1990s should have been able to see or read when they first ‘lost’ their pets, it made me smile and feel like I had done something good rather than feeling upset about losing a pet.
As I previously detailed in my post about mending a bereaved heart, I first came across Chao (pronounced “chow”) when I had lost my beloved cat, and childhood best friend, and had gone shopping one day in an attempt to find myself something to take my mind off of my broken heart. I picked up the PC videogame ‘Sonic Adventure DX’ and started playing when I got home. In the game there was the usual platforming levels of any Sonic game but in between these action packed stages was a map and a small garden you could visit known as a Chao Garden. Upon entering the first time I was greeted with two cute eggs and a small garden filled with trees and a pool. It wasn’t long before the first of the two eggs hatched and what I saw made me instantly smile.
Chao are these cute little creatures that look like a blob with a head, legs, arms and a small ball hovering above their heads which changed shape according to what a chao is doing. The chao are these small creatues that just sound and look so cute as they walk and interact with your character. They act like babies, cooing a little like a baby too, and they respond pretty much like a young animal or baby would, enjoying loving interactions like petting them and holding them (which I suppose is like cuddling them). As you play and interact with these chao, you can feed them and also give them small animals that you find in the action stages of Sonic (so more platforming fun to play) and you can watch them level up and take on some of the animal’s characteristics. As chao grow up they then enter an adult stage in which they can end up looking very different to each other dependent on what stats they have. You can end up with these cute baby-like creatures having peacock tails, parrot wings and penguin feet (and that’s just the possible bird attributes). The chao can also learn abilities like drawing on the floor or singing and can even run after your character wanting to be picked up and held. All this leads to your heart melting and I just loved spending ages in these chao gardens raing these cute creatures.
Unlike the Tamagotchis before, when the Chao reached the end of their lives, they disappear into a cocoon and can re-emerge as baby versions of themselves again, essentially reincarnating themselves but only if you cared for them well. This feature of them coming back and not dying is what helped me all the more and I spent hours of my days just raising these cute chao creatures and watching them interact with the character in the garden. They really helped me get over my grienve of losing my own pet cat that I’d had my whole life growing up and helped me to find a reason to smile and care for something (and myself) again. Today I still own both ‘Sonic Adventure DX’ and it’s sequel ‘Sonic Adventure 2: Battle’ and the two games give me hours of chao fun. The second game added a kindergarten for the chao and it somehow makes them all the cuter and more realistic as cute baby-like creatures too.
I first spotted the Eye Pet for the Playstation 3 in a well known music store in London where it was on display and fully interactable for any customers walking past the television screen. I instantly fell in love with this thing and found out more about it online, and it wasn’t long before I was soon sucked into the craze of this cute bundle of fur and silliness. The Eye Pet is something that looks part monkey and part something else with its cute face and fluffy fur but there’s something so weirdly cute about the thing that you just instantly fall in love with it when you see it.
The Eye Pet begins life being hatched out of an egg before existing on your television screen and interacting with you directly. I waited until the the move edition came out (where I could use the Playstation Move controller) which was a good thing too as it’s just easier to interact with it on screen. The Playstation 3 requires a camera called a Playstation Eye which hooked up to the console puts you on the screen, and the little Eye Pet runs around on the screen in what looks like the space in front of you. Unlike other games this one really feels interactive with you feeding, playing and petting the pet right in front of you in an almost augmented reality (albeit a mirror image of you and your home on your television).
What made looking after this pet feel quite real is the way it instantly reacts to anything you do. Move your hand and it reacts, be too loud and it can react too, stroke it on screen and it might roll over expecting more (similar to a dog). And unlike previous virtual pets, this one requires washing and grooming often, as its fur would get dirty and full of fleas. But even this is done in an interactive way with you spraying a shower over your pet, lathering up the shampoo and then drying it off, with the hairdryer’s direction affecting which way the Eye Pet’s fur blows. Playing with and feeding the pet was fun too, as you could feed them food in a specific way and play interactive games where the pet would move according to whatever way you interacted with it on screen. And the pet was fully customizable with cute outfits to wear and fur colour changes which made it feel all the more like a real live pet.
Unlike other virtual pets before this one felt so realistic on screen and the idea of being able to interact with it using the camera and just my hands made me feel a part of the pet’s life, directly affecting it’s behaviour, even if it only interacted when the game was switched on and went into a sort of hibernation when I turned the game off. It helped me to smile and really gave me a reaon to laugh so much when I was suffering depression through being put on the wrong medication by doctors which had started to affect my mood, and my own smile and laughiter has even been captured and permenantly importalised on screenshots from the game which are taken automatically at key moments like the hatching of the Eye Pet.
Other virtual ‘pets’
Although the above have been some of the virtual pets/creatures that have had the most impact on my life, helping me through times when I’ve felt depressed and helped me to smile and give me a reason for getting through each day, there have been other virtual ‘pets’ in my life since, smaller ones that while they haven’t had such a drastic impact on my life or emotions, they have nonetheless still been a positive experience and have made looking after them fun.
Pets like those found in all ‘The Sims’ games have been fun to care for, especially those that I interact with one-on-one in the ‘Apartment Pets’ version of the sims game for Nintendo DS, and even something as simple as a game called ‘Virtual Families’ which creates little virtual people to live on your computer who exist and grow in real time (even if your computer is turned off 😮 ) is a fun virtual ‘pet’ of sorts to care for as they can get ill and need your help to succeed in life.
Some pets I never got hold of such as the famous ‘Furby’. These came out around the same time as the Tamagotchi, but they were too expensive at the time for my family to afford and the idea that I could accidently upset the Furby or neglect it and cause to ‘grow up’ badly was enough to scare me into not really wanting one in the first place. Although I have to admit that to this day I’ve been curious how much fun it would have been to own one at the time.
Is owning virtual/robotic pets worth it?
There have been many more virtual pets I’ve tried and some have had a greater impact on my life than others, but I doubt I’ll ever stop seeking out these virtual creatures because they give me a reason to smile and even though they are just cleverly programmed animals/people/creatures they still behave as if they are real. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with anyone, adult or child enjoying the fun of a virtual pet, as long as you remember that they are virtual and know and understand the differences between virtual pets and real life ones. Virtual/robotic pets can fill a void for people who need something to love and care for and where a real live pet can sometimes be impossible to get hold off, as is the case for a lot of families and those who might live in flats/apartments for example.
Having a virtual pet, even if you just spend a little time with it, is something that can build a person’s and even a child’s nurturing abilities and teaches them to be responsible and loving towards a creature that is (usually) cute and loveable. These robots or virtual creatures may not be the real thing, but they create the same emotional responses in people, and I believe they can fill that void that so many are after and can even help those suffering from bereavement or loneliness to get through what is a very difficult time for them. These creatures helped me through my dark times, through my own bereavement, through times I was depressed and helped me to smile and feel a sense of worth again. And if a bunch of programmed zeros and ones can do that, then what really is the harm, if it means I can find a purpose and can start functioning as a person again. 🙂
Have you had any virtual/robotic pets? Have you or your children ever wanted to look after such a creature? Do you have any real live pets and what do you think of virtual alternatives? Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂