How Do Computer Pets Compare To The Real Thing?


Image by James Grant.

For today’s post, I’m going to take you from the bleeps of the early 90’s right through to cyber animals of the present day. Just how accurately do computer games portray what’s involved in keeping a real pet?

Could a computer game ever create a perfect pet simulation? Well actually, these computer games might be closer to reality than you think…

1. Dragon Quest V (1992)
Usually credited as the first game to use the idea of monster slaves that dance to your bidding, Dragon Quest V was an innovative game that laid the template for all the Pokémon games and clones thereafter.

Western audiences only met the Dragon Quest series when it was introduced to Game Boy Color as ‘Dragon Warrior Monsters’, in the same year as Pokémon. It was ironically described as trying to do “what Pokémon did, but better” by IGN.

The pets were not particularly realistic, but at least in Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest Monsters they had the option of disobeying your commands until you trained them properly – this is much more realistic than Pokémon’s legions of unquestioning minions.

2. Tamagotchi (1996)
Ah, Tamagotchis.

These pets were famously addictive because of the guilt-trip they laid on you after leaving them alone just for a few hours.

They were undoubtedly needy and distracting just like real pets…but unlike real pets, all of their needs could be fulfilled by pushing a button.

They’d also disobey you if you annoyed them by paying too little attention to them or failing to attend to their basic needs – sort of like real pets.

3. Creatures (1996-1998)
In all the games released in the same year as Creatures, pets in games were largely your slaves.

From Diablo to Pokémon, summons and monsters were kept as pets with few conditions, if any. They were mysterious allies who appeared at the push of a button, did exactly what you wanted them to do, then ran off again when their presence was no longer convenient.

Creatures changed the whole game. With DNA, sophisticated learning patterns, and unique creatures each time you played the game, Creatures and Creatures 2 spawned a huge online cult following at a time when huge online cult followings only really existed for established subcultures.

Creatures was a huge success, and completely revolutionised what people expected from A.I. in games. It wasn’t possible to forcibly feed them at the touch of the button; they had to be taught to care for themselves.

In many ways it remains the most accurate pet simulation to this day, barring the absence of any dog dandruff.

4. Black & White (2001)
Black & White was wildly ambitious and almost perfectly-executed, but with just enough game-play problems that it could never quite live up to expectations.

It was based on a sort of Terry-Pratchett Small Gods-like premise, where gods could grow and be shaped by the beliefs and perceptions of their followers, except this time with war and fireballs.

The stars of these games were giant and mythical beasts that could grow stronger and taller and more evil as you trained them (sure, you could train them to be good, but that was really difficult. Leave them alone for two seconds and they’d absent-mindedly eat all your villagers).

In practice, these creatures wandered about the map willy-nilly whilst you tried to fry your enemies with lightning and wondered why your villagers had stopped praying to you (they’d all been eaten).

5. The Present Day – Nintendogs (2011) to Dwarf Fortress (2002-Ongoing) to  The Sims (2000-Ongoing)
Possibly because of the unsatisfying implementation of creatures in Black & White, developers have mostly steered clear of pet sims that sought to accurately simulate animal behaviour.

Nintendogs is more about competition than actual training or being interested in your pets as anything other than a means to an end.

Dwarf Fortress was then a vastly complex spiritual successor to the renegade genius, Peter Molyneux in the school of games-making, it has the complicated A.I. but it’s more of a city-building/RPG/strategy game than a true pet simulation.

Finally, The Sims shows up everything wrong with crude pet simulations, although it makes up for it in other ways. Sure, the ‘pets’ in this instance are humans, but they’re far more stupid than the Norns from Creatures, and are barely more sophisticated than a Tamagotchi.

To conclude, this present generation of games is in desperate need of new sophisticated pet sim. But what do you think that game would look like?

How would it improve on the pet sims of the past?

Louise Blake writes for Anicura, who offer a range of skincare products for real life pets. Do not spray their products on your electronic pets however – that does not work so well.

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