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PaigeFTW: The Failure of Pet Simulators

Like all ’90s kids, I had a Tamagotchi.

We all let those poor things live the same cursed life, didn’t we? We took tender, loving care of them for the first three days, as they transformed from amiable blobs to ugly teenagers to … well, whatever their adult form turned out to be (I always got the duck-looking Tamagotchi).

But once those three days were up, our interest flagged. We no longer wanted to play with Tamagotchi. And soon they died, either unloved or unfed, surrounded by poops.

Pet simulators may no longer come in the same form as our egg-shaped Tamagotchis, but they have never waned, either. Nintendogs is a death-free Tamagotchi, when you think about it. We are walking dogs, feeding dogs, grooming dogs — right until the moment we got bored, and our dogs disappear into the ether, having run away from the neglect.

I also toyed with Hatchi, a Tamagotchi clone for mobile phones, but even he failed to rouse my interest for longer than a week.

For all that video games are able to simulate life, replicating the love of a pet remains out of reach.

It is easy — trifling, even — to capture the thrill of romance as a dashing hero sweeps you, the player, off your feet. But romance simulators stop at the catharsis. You are a couple now and forever, flush with young love. You don’t need to engage in the long, less glamorous work of being in a relationship.

That is why the romance simulator works.

That is also why the pet simulator does not.

Owning a pet is not glamorous. This is not a separate person with his or her own hopes and dreams. Owning a pet is monotonous, an endless cycle of feeding and pooping and playing. But the virtual pet can’t even be, well, pet. And without that cathartic love, what’s the point?

Poor Tamagotchi.