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
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:
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.
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 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
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
If only we could get the W3C to define a standard!
This is an old page archive from Storobia.