The Rise And Fall Of Virtual Pets
Back in the festivities of Christmas Day 2003, my eight-year-old self opened a present which I had been awaiting for months. Opening my first ever Tamagotchi, my excitement may as well have caused me to poop candy canes.
But wait. This Tamagotchi was pink, yet the one that I had chosen (due to a lack of a pink Tamagotchi in the shop) and seen bought was blue. Further candycanes ensued. I had not just one, but two Tamagotchis. What more could I want in life? This is where my love of virtual pets began.
Where it all began – The Tamagotchi
I took straight to caring for my newborn virtual pets: feeding them some milk or indiscernible food, clearing up their poo and disciplining them to ensure that they grew up as well-rounded individuals. Boy, was I proud of my babies.
My love for them continued to grow when I discovered that upon entering the “child” stage, Tamagotchis could be connected via infared, meaning that they could exchange gifts (or if you weren’t so lucky, something more unpleasant), and build relationships with each other.
Adult Tamagotchis of opposite genders who became good enough friends could go on to become “lovers”. When this happened, the Tamagotchis had their own babies who took over as the main Tamagotchi when the adults passed away to the afterlife of virtual pets. This simple concept absolutely delighted me as a child – attempting to get my Tamagotchis to fall in love with my friends’ Tamagotchis was the epitome of bonding.
The creation of the Tamagotchi was only the beginning of the craze for virtual pets. Fast forward a couple of years and Neopets were stealing the hearts and minds of children all over the world. If you were to mention Neopets to somebody, the likelihood is that they will think of the website, neopets.com. For me, the discovery of the fantastical Neopets started with a handheld portable Neopets game, somewhat similar to a Tamagotchi. The Neopets website only opened up a whole new world of possibilities for owning a virtual pet.
The website allows users to own up to four Neopets of their choosing, who they must care for and with whom they can travel the virtual world known as Neopia. I don’t know if things have changed nowadays, but when I was an avid Neopets user, everyone’s main aim was to buy an exotic paintbrush which would transform your Neopet into a different theme, such as cloud-patterned.
The true beauty of Neopets is its complexity. Each area on the map has its own unique shops, characters, and challenges. You can interact with your Neopets in various ways, such as reading them a book and even enter them into battles against the Neopets of other players. Players can also run their own shops, selling items for Neopoints (the Neopets currency). Aside from the world of Neopia, there is a games section where people can play games to earn Neopoints, or simply for fun.
In 2005, a big new competitor came onto the virtual pets market – Nintendogs. These set of games for the Nintendo DS were massive, and any ambitious kid wanted to own every type of Nintendogs game available. The reason Nintendogs was so well-loved is because the simulation was much more realistic.
Virtual owners could use the Nintendo DS stylus to pet their dogs, teach them tricks, wash them, feed them, play with them and take them for walks, and the Nintendogs reacted in ways similar to a real-life dog. The cute graphics, collectable items and competitive nature of the game (you could enter your dogs into agility trials, disc competitions, or obedience trials) made it very engaging. As with other virtual pets games, Nintendogs has a feature allowing you to interact with other players, which is a very appealing feature.
I absolutely loved these various virtual pets when I was younger, so why do children now appear to be much less interested? I think that one of the aspects which has caused a decline in their popularity is that they require so much attention. As with a real-life pet, virtual pets require regular attention on a daily basis to ensure that they are fed, entertained and well.
In an ever increasing fast-paced world, the commitment of putting time aside each day for virtual pets may bore some children. When I was in work experience helping out in a class of eight- and nine-year-olds, I discovered that the game of the moment for them is Minecraft. This gives me the impression that the younger people of our generation would prefer to play as a “hero”; exploring, creating, and building new things rather than maintaining something which ultimately stays the same.
This may be a good thing, showing that kids are progressive. But there will always be a place in my heart for a good ‘ol fashioned virtual pet.
Do you still love virtual pets? Let us know in the comments below.