In order to better understand the development of the virtual pet, from its inception to models available in the current market, I will be conducting a number of case studies. These studies will be based on first-hand experience where such is possible, or in the case of historical models I will draw on existing studies and research.
The case studies will focus on three keys points derived from the principles governing my project and the design requirements for my own experimental virtual pet. The key points addressed will be the illusion of life, interaction design and social factors; taken together, these three points are intended to examine the ways that virtual pets aim to engender emotional engagement with their users.
The Illusion of Life
Originally coined by ex-Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson, and used as a title for their seminal work on Disney animation, the illusion of life will be used here to address how effectively a virtual pet creates the illusion that it is a living virtual entity rather than a toy or a game.
I will look at the visual design of the virtual pet in question, the consistency of its animation and behaviour, and identify patterns that might suggest a independently thinking creature rather than a predictable program.
Here I will consider the specifically interactive elements of a virtual pet; how does the user interact with the program, and how does the pet respond to that interaction? Interaction design considers UX and UI elements and control of the game interface as well as the pet itself. I’ll be looking specifically for interactions that foster and enhance a sense of engagement between pet and user, and which add to the illusion of life outlined above.
I will also be considering elements external to the software itself, loosely gathered into social factors. This will address the state of the virtual pet market at the time of launch, considering the pet in question within the cultural zeitgeist. I will look at social and market trends, such as the Tamagotchi craze of the late 1990s or the trend towards free-to-play, microtransaction design of recent years.
Here I will also consider the physical presence and delivery platform of the virtual pet; whether it’s a stand-alone portable unit, like a Tamagotchi, a physically simulated toy like a Furby, or an app built for PC or mobile devices.
By addressing these three key areas I should be able to build up a better picture of the history of the virtual pet and its place in modern commercial design, whilst identifying successful design elements that I can include and develop upon in my own virtual pet design.