Can virtual pets replace your furry friends?

19 May 2011

I’m not 100% sure Yorkshire Terriers can ‘do’ smug expressions, but that’s the best way I can describe the look on my dog’s face some 14 years ago. I’d just brought home my first Tamagotchi.

Concerned dogs protested outside the launch of the original Nintendogs

Rover took his eye off the cat in the garden for long enough to eye-up my new virtual pet and decide it was no match for him. All that beeping for attention seemed a little primitive when he could bark or lick my face to wake me up if I was asleep.

It took about a fortnight before I became sick of the dog-shaped face on my LCD screen and I discarded my virtual pet. Rover had seen him off easily.

But virtual pets have come a long way in recent years and Rover’s smug expression has been replaced by one of worry.

Nintendogs & Cats for the Nintendo 3DS is to the Tamagotchi what a Ferrari is to a push-bike. Annoying beeping sounds on a cheap screen have moved on to lifelike 3D animations of a variety of breeds of dogs and cats.

The onscreen Nintendogs & Cats respond to their name being called, recognise you through the Nintendo 3DS camera and even lick your face. Although I am less keen on the face licking, too many bad memories of early wake up calls…

When it comes to costs, there’s no doubt it’s cheaper to run a virtual pet than a real one. Once you’ve bought the game, that’s pretty much the end of the expense, without the need for food or vet bills.

There’s nothing like walking the dog as an excuse to get you out of the house. Most of the time I’m only too happy to accompany Rover for a couple of laps around the park, but there is the odd morning in February when I just don’t fancy it… but I wouldn’t have to get out of bed to play Nintendogs & Cats.

However, as excellent as playing with a virtual pet on the Nintendo 3DS is, it’s unrealistic to expect it to replace your living and breathing furry friend.

While virtual pets can be loyal to the point of recognising you and shunning strangers, they don’t tend to come bounding to the door when you arrive home tired after work.

But I do think virtual pets have a practical use, aside from the fun of playing the game.

If you are a parent who is constantly being hassled by your son or daughter to get them a puppy, but you worry that you’ll be left doing the hard work, then maybe Nintendogs & Cats provide a good halfway house.

Think of it as an audition. If they maintain their enthusiasm for getting a puppy or kitten once they get a taste for the training and hard work involved on a console, then maybe your kids could be trusted not to leave you doing all the dog walking.

Perhaps you’ll even get a Rover of your own and, I guess, I would begrudgingly recommend it.

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