Storobia Archive

Virtual Pets

Virtual Pets - or cyber pets - have been around a long time. I remember playing with the first version of Catz over ten years ago and I'm sure there had been others before that. As computing power has become more affordable and AI more advanced, so the virtual pet has become increasingly popular.

What Is A Virtual Pet?

A virtual pet is a simulation of a pet creature running on a computer. Sometimes the creature concerned are from the real world (cats and dogs are, of course, popular, as are more exotic animals such as monkeys). Sometimes the creature is a variant of a real world animal. Other virtual pets are totallly imaginary.

Unlike a Robot Pet the virtual pet has no "body" (although it may be embedded in a portable unit). Instead the body is simulated by the computer and displayed on the screen. The virtual pet is thus a piece of AI software that simulates the pet creature. Sometimes this simulation is stand-alone however it is increasingly common for the pet to also have a virtual world in which to "live".

A key feature of a virtual pet is interactivity. Virtual pets respond to user ineraction and usually have needs that must be taken care of. Very often neglecting or mistreating the cyber-pet will affect its mood and/or health.

There are three basic types of virtual pet currently available:

Stand Alone

The stand alone virtual pet is embedded in a dedicated piece of hardware, usually small and portable. This allows the pet to be taken anywhere to be played with and cared for. Stand alone virtual pets are the type most likely to be available to buy in the toy store. The most famous example is the Tamagotchi.

Desktop

A desktop based virtual pet is installed or downloaded on a local computer. Usually the program comes with a simulated environment, occasionally the pet will run free on the desktop. Example of the desktop cyberpet include Petz (Catz and Dogz) and the Creatures series. For handheld games consoles a good example is Nintendogs.

Online

Online virtual pets exist in an online simulated world. Given the resources available on a server these worlds can be larger and more sophisticated than those available on PCs. The online nature also allows for interaction between different users and their pets. This, of course, raises safety issues and parents should ensure that they are comfortable with any site their children use. The most well-known online pet community is probably Neopets.


Although these are the three main categories, there are always crossovers - for example the Webkinz where a real-world (non-cyber) fluffy toy can be "adopted" on the web. I expect to see increasing levels of such crossover in the coming years with sophisticated virtual pets that can be transferred and roam between various websites, home PCs and portable devices.

If only we could get the W3C to define a standard!



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