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A Quick Look at the Evolution of Virtual Pets

A digital pet (tamagotchi) on a keychain, on a table

What are Virtual pets?

The concept of virtual pets has undergone a remarkable evolution since its inception in the mid-1990s. From pixelated creatures on keychain devices (Tamagotchi) to sophisticated AI-driven entities in immersive environments (Peridot), virtual pets have become an integral part of digital culture, reflecting advancements in technology and shifts in societal interactions with the digital world.

The Early Years: Tamagotchi and Digivices

The journey of virtual pets began with the iconic Tamagotchi, released by Bandai in 1996 (Japan first). These egg-shaped keychain devices housed an LCD screen in which a digital creature lived, requiring feeding, cleaning, and play. Its success sparked a trend, leading to various iterations like Digimon (Digivices) and Giga Pets. These early virtual pets were limited in interaction but offered a novel experience of nurturing and responsibility, engaging a generation of youngsters and tech enthusiasts alike.

Expansion into Video Games and Online Platforms

As technology advanced, virtual pets found new homes in video games and online platforms. The late 1990s and early 2000s saw games like 'Neopets' and 'Nintendogs' offer more nuanced interactions and deeper emotional connections with virtual pets. These platforms allowed customization, social interaction with other pet owners, and an expanded range of activities, making the experience more immersive and personal.

The Smartphone Era: Apps and Augmented Reality

The advent of smartphones introduced virtual pets to mobile applications, significantly broadening their accessibility and interactivity. Apps like 'Talking Tom' and augmented reality games such as 'Peridot' transformed virtual pet care into a more dynamic and socially engaging activity. This is especially so for augmented reality games, as users get to interact with their pets in real-world environments, blurring the lines between virtual and physical realms.

AI-powered Virtual Pets

Today, artificial intelligence is revolutionizing the virtual pet experience. Peridot has onboarded the use of generative AI to allow the digital pets to perform surprising interactions and exhibit diverse personalities.

Some companies are even exploring the therapeutic potential of AI pets for companionship and emotional support, especially for those unable to keep real pets for various reasons.

The Future of Virtual Companionship

The evolution of virtual pets mirrors the technological advancements and cultural shifts of the past few decades. From simple digital creatures on keychains to AI-powered companions, virtual pets have transformed from a novelty to a complex form of digital companionship. As technology continues to advance, the future of virtual pets promises even more personalized and emotionally resonant experiences, further blurring the lines between the virtual and the real, and expanding the boundaries of digital interaction and companionship. Otherwise, they are also a good way for youngsters to gain some experience in raising pets, without putting a real animal's wellbeing on the line.


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