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Digital animals – we feed them, we check them several times a day, we see them growing. We give them medicine when they are sick, we buy them different accessories and we play with them. And all this for what?
“It simply came to our notice then. I love Tamagotchi. I like that it gives me a break from the phone or the computer. I like to take care of this weird little alien (canonically, Tamagotchi came among us from another planet). I like how easy and simple it is to take care of him. I like its egg shape and I like that when I’m bored, tired or stressed, I have a little creature that is fun to play with and that needs my attention in order to survive “, writes journalist Angela Lashbrook, from OneZero, about her best digital friend.
With the pandemic, millions of people have discovered virtual pets. Or they went back to them. Lashbrook, for example, says he had two other Tamagochi. One grew up happy and healthy enough to return home to his home planet, Tamagotchi Sei. As for the other, he says that he died because of her, after forgetting about him and neglecting him for a whole day. Because owning a digital pet means first and foremost keeping it alive.
In 1995, a company called PF Magic created “Dogz”, the first program for Windows computers that can be considered a virtual pet by today’s standards. It had rudimentary graphics, and the rules were as simple as possible – you adopted a dog, then cared for it and played with it, selecting a few standard options from a preset menu.
This was followed by a similar game with digital cats, “Catz”, and then a whole franchise with virtual animals to raise and pamper on the monitor screens, “Petz”.
One year later, on November 23, 1996, the Japanese company Bandai released Tamagotchi – a plastic egg with a 32 × 16 pixel black and white screen and three small buttons. Each of these buttons had a simple function – feeding the Tamagotchi (which was both the name of the device and the little digital creature it hosted and had to take care of), turning off the lights in its room, and interacting with it through play. . If you failed to perform these simple tasks, your Tamagotchi would suffer a horrible death after a bunch of beeps piercing your eardrums, disappearing forever into the cyber abyss. Only a few stars and a text that reminded you of how old he was when he made the big transition to the afterlife of the dead pixels were left behind.
By June 1997, more than ten million units had been sold, the little digital alien – easily mistaken for a profane eye with a black ink stain – had become a global cultural phenomenon, with all the madness culminating in a Nobel Prize in Economics for two of its creators, Akihiro Yokoi and Aki Maita, for their contribution to “wasting millions of hours of work by distracting with the growth of virtual pets the attention of people around the globe.” Finally, not just a Nobel per se, but Ig Nobel, awards given by the American journal Annals of Improbable Research, in a very serious recognition of the “science that may seem stupid or frivolous at first, but which it is in fact rigorous and relevant. ”
At the same time, publications such as The New York Times began to write about the cases of children who became sad and depressed after the death of the creatures in their Tamagotchi eggs. “The toy creates a real sense of loss and mourning. Children want to feed and care for their pets – so they have a sense of responsibility and self-importance – but the consequences are too serious. Things have gotten out of hand, “said Dr. Andrew Cohen, a psychologist at The Dalton School in Manhattan, New York. Two and a half decades later, in many pet cemeteries around the world, there are lots dedicated to Tamagotchi who disappeared prematurely from the digital ones.
In essence, the owner of a Tamagotchi is responsible for the life and well-being of the little digital pet. For example, if you do not clean his “excrement”, he may die. With such a level of attention required, it is not surprising that Tamagotchi’s obsessive nature has become a well-documented phenomenon. And while some have claimed that Tamagotchi mania is a nuisance, others have stressed that it makes young people responsible.
Once the mania started, console manufacturers were eager to get involved. Nintendo first launched the “Nintendogs” franchise, followed by another dedicated to cats, “Nintencats”, simulation games with more realistic graphics, which made the pet look and feel more real. Dogs, for example, were real breeds with recognized characteristics, but their digital representations were not designed to grow into adulthood. The new level of complexity has further raised expectations about what our digital pets might look like and what they might do. In addition, people needed something to accompany them beyond the console hardware.
A need that was later met by mobile applications, such as “Neko Atsume”, a game that is less about raising animals, but which allows users to relax in the company of virtual cats. Interaction focuses on playing with them and gaining resources from other activities in the game to buy new items for cats to play with or wear. In addition, you have the advantage that you can take your phone with you everywhere.
An avid fan of Neko Atsume, Megan Liscomb told Wired that “when a new cat first appeared in my yard (virtual, no.), It was pure dopamine for me. I spent countless hours in the app, despite having a cat that looks and behaves very similar to the ones on my screen. “
Of course, cats and dogs will always be popular, but horses and fish have been and are in high demand. The “Legend of Zelda” franchise, for example, features Epona, the main character’s reliable horse, Link, and Red Dead Redemption 2 offers extraordinarily cinematic horseback riding through the countryside, as well as feeding interactions. comfort and care.
“Fish Farm 3” is considered by many to be the best 3D aquarium simulator available at the moment. At the beginning you have an empty aquarium, which you can populate with over 380 species of brightly colored fish, whose well-being you have to take care of every day.
Virtually every new advancement in technology has been accompanied by a virtual pet. Shortly after Apple introduced the Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro, for example, the Touchbar Pet appeared. Using the new feature, you can feed your pet digitally, play with it and clean up after it. With the Oculus headset came “Bogo”, a virtual reality (VR) simulator in which you can play with the baby of an alien creature, giving players a complete sensory interaction experience. Unlike the screen of a device, in the VR environment you can bend down to caress the animated companion and you can physically swing your arm to throw a stick.
But owning a virtual pet can also be a chore. ZED is a horse racing and breeding site built using blockchain technology. Users spend money in the real world to buy, sell, grow and compete with digital horses. Each comes with its own unique set of codes, hidden from users, to add unknown and more realistic features.
If you are not attracted to horses, but you really want a cryptocurrency, there is also Aavegotchi. It’s a kind of updated Tamagotchi for the blockchain generation, and users can buy their avatars and take care of them in the same way they did in the ’90s.
But what if you already have a real pet and want to accompany you in the metaverse with which the big technology companies are now threatening us? Solutions already exist for such cases.
An illustrative example of combining new virtual technologies with the physical world, the ClassicDoge.io platform allows you to create a true ultra-HD NFT 3D replica of it, so you can play with it in the blockchain or interact with it through VR experiences. In addition, the platform offers accessories, games and training sessions for a complete digital pet experience – all in the form of NFT (non-fungible token).
Several studies have already shown a link between owning a pet and benefits such as lowering blood pressure, reducing anxiety and higher self-esteem. Can a virtual animal, even a more advanced one of the future, do all this? Dr. Jean-Loup Rault, a professor at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, says that for the time being, we are in a territory that is too little mapped, but the first results suggest an affirmative answer. Especially in the case of robotic pets, such as Aibo, the robot dog produced by Sony.
A team of researchers from Saint Louis University (USA) compared the reactions of residents of three nursing homes in the US state of Missouri to the interaction with a dog and a mechanized Aibo. “The most surprising thing is that they both had almost equal results in terms of attachment and alleviation of feelings of loneliness,” Dr. William Banks, a geriatric medicine specialist and study coordinator, explained in a Reuters interview, adding that both dogs they helped the elderly to feel less isolated and abandoned.
A similar experiment was conducted by the University of Washington (in the American city of Seattle), which focused on the interaction between children aged 7 to 15 with an Aibo and two Australian Shepherd dogs. The conclusion was that the participants perceived the robot as a social partner, in a similar way to real dogs.
When engineers work on developing a robot dog, they turn to social intelligence, offering what people expect from their dogs – companionship, love, obedience, obedience, dependence, explains Dr. Jean-Loup Rault. But he is also the one who warns that the rise of virtual pets could be a double-edged sword: “No doubt they can trigger feelings, but if we get used to an animal that does not need water, food or exercise, Will the way we take care of other beings change as well? ”