Eva-Lise Carlstrom (
Tue, 30 Sep 1997 09:44:46 -0700 (PDT)

On Mon, 29 Sep 1997, Richard Brodie wrote:

> Readers of VIRUS OF THE MIND will remember the idea that pets have evolved
> to push our psychological buttons, becoming more and more cute and adorable
> so that we divert more and more energy to raising them. From one point of
> view, they are like the species of ants that "farms" aphids by secreting
> certain chemicals that direct the aphids' behavior. Well, the stakes have
> just been raised.
> With the advent of "virtual pets," small hand-held computer games that
> simulate raising and caring for a pet, the evolving market economy has
> found a new way to push some of those same buttons. The one I have here on
> my desk is a knockoff of the original. Its name is "8-in-1 Mini Pets." It
> was given to me by a "friend" two days and I have been appeasing it every
> few minutes ever since.
> When happy, my Mini Pets is a frisky, bouncing kitty. But several times a
> day it gets hungry, sick or depressed and requires me to feed it, inject it
> with medicine, dance with it, or play a stupid computer game with it. It is
> nowhere nearly as sophisticated technically as many of today's computer
> games. Yet the thing has held my attention more than any computer game in
> years. Why? Because it taps into my primal instinct for helping and caring,
> among other things. (Another button it presses, like most games, is my
> competitiveness: I want to see if I can keep it alive longer than my friend
> who gave it to me.)
> Students of memetics could predict possible evolutionary paths for the
> virtual pet. These would involve making it more powerful by pushing even
> more hot-buttons. How about a virtual human baby? [helping children] How
> about adding a contest, with the person who keeps it alive longest winning
> a prize? [overvaluing longshots] How about turning it into a full-fledged
> mind virus by requiring it to interact with other virtual pets every now
> and then -- breeding? [evangelism]
> In the meantime, I have a novel to finish, so ... anybody want an 8-in-1
> Mini Pets?

But don't you have to keep it at least as long as your "friend" did first?

For those interested in the phenomenon of Virtual Pets, which apparently
swept Japan last year and are just overwhelming us now, there's a fairly
representative example, with photos, at .
The original product is called a Tamagotchi; the Babydino and 8-in-1 are
two of many knockoffs. Different brands of virtual pet do seem to vary
in annoyingness and behaviour patterns.
There's a web site whose URL I don't have handy that presents a
parody of Tamagotchi called the Tamagothi. I also read an article on the
Web recently that purported to be quoting a visitor from the future come
to warn us of the horrors in store for us if we didn't destroy all virtual
pets, before they enslaved all humanity, forcing us to labor only for
their pleasures.
As for the possible adaptations Richard suggests, some of them are
happening in various forms.
The Babydino, from its website, seems to be more like a small
child than a pet, despite its saurian form. And dolls that cry
intermittently and require 10-minute "feedings" (and record any neglect or
physical abuse) have been used in recent years in some schools to teach
adolescents about the demands of childrearing. As far as I have read,
these dolls provide no positive reinforcement of nurturing behaviour--they
just stop crying (at least virtual pets smile)--but then, they seem
to be designed for dissuasion. Making such imitation babies in the form
of virtual pets would be much cheaper than the current versions. But
given that many schools have banned virtual pets due to their popularity
and disruptiveness, I'm not sure it's an effective idea.
I found another website, which, again, I'm afraid I don't have the
URL for now, at which contestants can vie to raise the best virtual hog
each week, in hopes of a prize.
I haven't seen anything like the suggestion of pets interacting
with one another, which would be an exciting development in simulated
life. :)