We live in an era where people spend most part of their days (and their nights to be honest), glued to smartphone devices. Call it a boon or a bane, it is no wonder that virtual reality is fast replacing conventional forms of entertainment. One of the most alarming trends that has raised eyebrows around the world has been the rise of the virtual dog.
A Virtual dog or a virtual pet first came into the limelight in the 90s when the Tamagotchi fever gripped all and sundry. The technology however, has come a long way from the handheld mundane looking devices of yore.
Today, robot dogs and other digital pets are fast replacing a conventional pet in many parts of the world. Southeast Asia, especially Japan is at the forefront of the trend. But other countries are not too far behind either.
What is the fascination with a digital representation of a living creature? Can a virtual dog ever come close to a real thing?
Here’s the low down.
Understanding Virtual Dogs
When Tamagotchi first appeared on the marquee with its compact, keychain sized units, it was looked upon more as a handheld gaming device. It was largely predicted that the popularity of the device would eventually wane as newer, more advanced devices entered the market.
But as of 2010, it is estimated that more than 76 million units were already sold all around the world.
This staggering rise in popularity is partly due to the constant reinvention and real life simulation that the company was able to achieve.
You get to learn firsthand about caring and nurturing an alien monster to life and good health.
If you are too busy to tend to your pet, you can just pause the lifecycle and continue with whatever you are doing.
Imagine being stuck in bottleneck traffic while your real pet needs to be rushed to a vet in a medical emergency.
If your virtual dog is sick, all that you need to do is select the medicine or the heal option and they will self-heal in minutes. That’s the convenience that attracts most people to virtual pets.
You have options like happiness, discipline, hunger and playtime, all at the click of buttons and the convenience of your fingertips. A simple meter displays how hungry or how unhappy your pet is and you can take remedial action.
You can scold your pet to instill discipline, take them on walks for gameplay and even clean their virtual poop all at the click of a button.
Which is the best virtual dog?
The popularity of Tamagotchi has led to an explosion of virtual dog websites which cater specifically to dog lovers. Unlike the handheld device, you are no longer straitjacketed into watching an alien egg grow into a creature.
Do you have a fancy for any particular dog breed? You can easily adopt a virtual dog puppy of the same breed. Westie, Husky, Rottweiler, Mastiff, Red Husky, Labrador, Lab Mix, Portuguese water dog, Schnauzer, Jack Russell, Bull Dog, Pug and a whole range of other dogs and cats are available for virtual breeding.
You can adopt any puppy that you like, name them and watch these virtual dogs on your computer screen all day as they mimic the actions of a real dog to the T. From watching the screen as you log on to the site to licking the screen to show affection, the actions of a virtual dog are slowly bridging the gap between the real world and a simulation.
So much so that now virtual dog lovers are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing any one virtual dog provider. We receive a lot of emails each day asking us which is the best virtual dog service out there.
After carefully analyzing most of the services in the market, we can vouch for the fact that most of them are very similar in their offerings. Here are some of the features that you can expect in a virtual dog service.
- Adopt a virtual dog puppy of almost every popular breed. Some virtual dog websites offer up to 425 different breeds
- Watch the puppy mimic the actions of real life dogs to precision
- Participate in gameplay that lets you involve the puppy in several activities.
- Create a virtual house and decorate each and every room of the house
- Use various decorative items. Some of these may need to be purchased separately
- Make friends with other pet parents and their pets in the virtual world
- Create an online avatar for yourself.
- You can choose to be a vet, a groomer or even a judge at a competitive sporting events for dogs
- Perform activities like grooming pets, become a kennel club member
- Adopt an abandoned pet
- Adopt multiple pets
- Some websites allow you to adopt up to 50 virtual dogs at a time
- Breed your pets to earn progress points
- Set puppy breeding limits on your pets
In simple terms, virtual dog services are replicating every real life scenario that a pet parent can experience while owning and living with a pet dog. The most important motivator being the fact that you do not have to be responsible for the daily needs of a real living creature.
However, you must still ensure that you cater to your virtual dog’s needs like discipline because otherwise, the dog grows up to an undisciplined dog who won’t listen to any of your commands in the virtual world.
The same goes true for feeding and medication. A virtual dog that is not fed on time can end up dying and one that is not healed will become sicker. Eventually, it will die too. So, it’s not just enjoyment and gameplay. Virtual pet websites also try to familiarize you with the fact that you may have to part with your pet at some time or the other.
All said and done, is there a difference between owning a real pet and a virtual pet?
Given the fact that the only interaction between your virtual pet and you is subject to the clicks that you make on your smartphone device or your laptop, how real does it feel? Do you ever feel attached to the virtual simulation of your pet? Do you feel the pain that a pet parent experiences when the virtual dog gets sick?
Can you ever be attached to a virtual dog?
Well, the trend certainly does seem to indicate that you can. A quick glimpse on online virtual dog forums reveals thousands of emotional comments and well wishes if a virtual pet gets sick or is on the verge of bidding adieu to the virtual world.
There have been incidences of people holding funerals for their dead Tamagotchi pets when it died due to neglect or just because the owner accidentally dropped the handheld device into water.
A theory suggests that we are already living in an overpopulated world, the population of which is all set to cross 10 billion people by the year 2050. In such a world, owning a pet will soon become a luxury that only a select few have access to.
In such times, a virtual dog is the closest that you can get to the real thing. People are already accepting this fact and adapting to this change.
Further, if you are allergic to a real dog, are just scared of one, are bedridden or just don’t have the space or the resources to have a pet at home, then a virtual dog is being labelled as the best option for you. It is low on maintenance and can supposedly trigger the same emotions that a real dog does.
However, experts warn against this trend and opine that this can very well alter the way humans interact with real animals. Think about it, if you are living with a virtual pet that does not exist in the real world, that does not need air to breathe, food to eat or water to drink, you’d just get adapted to living with it, the way we cannot imagine a world without a smartphone device now.
Where does that place a real pet? It would seem to many, like one huge hassle that is so not-worth the effort.
Also, in the near future, the world of virtual dogs will feature artificial intelligence that will allow the pet to think and respond according to the behavior of the pet parent. Depending on an artificial intelligence based robot for emotional bonding or companionship, may well be the most disastrous thing that can ever happen to mankind.
Why real dogs cannot ever be replaced
Everything said and done, it is impossible to ever replace the joy and the many perks that come with owning a real dog. No virtual dog, no matter how flawlessly it is designed can ever replicate the innocent wet muddy eyes that can melt away the stress irrespective of how bad your day was.
A virtual pet may ‘pretend’ to jump and wag their tail in joy as you turn on the computer. But in the end, that’s all that is there to it. It is nothing but pretense. On the other hand, no one will be happier than your dog as you reach home after a tiring day at work. If you have owned a dog before, then you know what we are talking about. If you don’t, then you have no idea what you are missing out on.
That’s not all. Dog owners are more resistant to disease, have lesser allergies, are happier, have better cardiac health, get more exercise and have a better social life as compared to people who have never owned a dog.
If all these aren’t motivating enough, then maybe this will.
If convenience is the reason why you are seeking a virtual pet, then you might be surprised to know that owning a real dog is extremely easy. Probably easier. There are a lot of purported myths about how a virtual dog is better than the real thing. We figured that it’s time to do some myth busting.
Myth #1 – Real pets can trigger allergies:
It probably can if you are known to be allergic to pet hair or dander. But most experts opine that the benefits of owning a pet easily outweigh the so called drawbacks. Besides, there are many ways in which allergies to pet hair and dander can be managed. You do not have to give up on pet ownership and opt for a virtual dog. All that may be required is to have a dedicated pet-free zone in the house, reduce any material that may trap pet hair, use an air purifier, get a pet-hair vacuum and keep your pet clean. Millions of people with the most extreme allergy cases have lived for years with pets.
Myth #2 – Real pets demand commitment:
Of course they do. But it’s not as worse as it is often made out to be. Dogs in particular are one of the most low-maintenance pets that can be trained to live at a boarding shelter in your absence. They just need to be fed and given water on time. Even that can be achieved with an automatic food dispenser these days. Having a dog at home will never interfere with your freedom or your career.
Myth #3 – A real dog will share your bed and your food:
Neither are true. Dogs can be crate trained and will retire to their crates or kennels when its bed time. They can also be trained to not beg for food when you are eating.
Unlike a virtual dog which is limited by your access to the internet, a real dog will be your faithful companion for years to come. One who will be the same irrespective of whether you own a Lamborghini or a ramshackle old chevy. They are easy to be with and own and give a chance, we would always choose a real pet over a virtual dog. Nothing like being smothered with licks after a tiring day at work.