I remember a time when most of the games I played utilized a pet system. On some occassions, playing a game meant checking on my virtual buddy and repeatedly staring at the clock to ensure I wasn't late for its hourly feeding. As tedious as it may sound, it was an integral part of extending the life of some games.
Having a virtual pet that you can tame, feed, and grow has always been attractive to me and a lot of gamers I come across. World of Warcraft's pet battle system and Pokemon training conversations rank high on my covention topic list. While in a lot of aspects, pets in video games act as mere vanity, they come as an accesory people want to get their hands on--some willing to dish out real cash in whatever game's cash store or dump extra hours of gameplay into providing for them. But why is this?
Well, I think it's just another part of the fantasy experience to own a virtual pet, especially in a living space you inhabit albiet virtually, and invest a ton of time in to. I mean, there are very few reasons to NOT own a pet dragon or little robot (unless games allow for destructible housing furniture, but thank goodness that hasn't become a thing yet). Pet systems in games can range anywhere from the typical feed-and-play to being utilized in the primary gameplay experience as a combat buddy.
Phantasy Star Online integrated pets directly into its battle systems through use of Mags. They do not aid you in combat as the form of a soldier or anything, but rather, they serve to follow and augment the player. Feeding them certain foods gave boosts to your attack power, mind power, or accuracy and eventually, they physically evolved, doubling-up as a vanity item for players to show off. Having a fully completed Mag was rewarding and was worth showing off, especially since they start to get picky about certain foods and take longer to level as they grow. It took a toll on your resources as a new player but the boost to your power (and visual appeal) was worth the effort. PSO was also a rather simple game with very little complexities, but the added bonus of having a pet system extended the games depth.
The Sonic Adventure series had the ever-so-popular Chao Garden, which was a completely optional part of the game (unless you were me), where all you did was raise a creature known as Chao. They could evolve into all sorts of different types and be used in racing competitions. The Chao garden had zero benefit on the player in-terms of the core gameplay itself but I spent many hours inside the Chao Garden even long after I completed the game to 100 percent. It had a simple design, yet it drew me and all of my friends into it. Now you can guess where my gamer name originates from.
In Pokemon games, the pet system is a direct part of the gameplay experience--you battle with them and you progress with them; the players themselves do not become stronger. You can play the game all the way through with minimal effort, raising pokemon as you go. For some, especially those among the elite group of gamers who compete in battle competitions, poke-training is taken to a whole new level. While Pokemon itself is a linear RPG, it's still a pet-based game and that means being able to raise them how you want. I've seen gamers put in an absurd amount of time catching the right type of pokemon and then breeding them and taming them accordingly. It's very intense min/maxing but there are a good chunk of trainers who don't mind it at all and find it fun.
In all the games I play--ones that happened to have a pet system--I've never been dissappointed and was delighted for its existance. Also, when games utilize pets as combat buddies, I tend to care more about their well-being and spend a few moments checking to make sure they're OK. When you give me just another human "partner", I am of the gamer lineage who is guilty of letting them die (so long as they can be revived) or forgetting about them completely in the heat of combat. Maybe I'm a cold-hearted monster, but at least Peta isn't on my skin. Now that's worse.
I understand taking the time to do extras like this take away time spent on creating better graphics or animating other character gender, but I think games with pet systems just last longer. Do you guys have any fond memories of pets in games? Perhap's you've owned a Tamagotchi or other portable, digital pet? Comment below and tell us!