Video games have tried to simulate owning and loving a pet for years. The millions upon millions of Tamagotchis, Nintendogs, and Petz sold worldwide are proof of the demand for pet simulators. While lacking the visceral charms of real animals, these games have their advantages, most notably the fact that virtual animals cost less and don’t leave a mess behind them. And as the technology behind video games develops at an exponential rate, the simulations grow more immersive, to the point where a player may some day become as attached to the programmed animal as they would be to a real dog or cat.
The latest innovation in pushing flesh-and-blood pets in obsolescence is Microsoft’s Kinectimals. Announced this week at the Electronic Entertainment Expo ( E3 for short, and the biggest annual show in the video game industry ), the new XBox 360 game allows the player to interact with 40 different kinds of digital kittens, including wild species such as lions, tigers, cheetahs, and snow leopards. The ability to interact with these animals without risk of being horribly mauled is already an appeal, but the most interesting feature is how the game lets you play with the animals.
As the game’s title suggests, Kinectimals is a showcase for Microsoft’s Kinect controller, a motion sensor similar to the Nintendo Wii. When you play the game, you move your body, and the kitten moves with you. If you jump up, the animal will jump next to you. And if you make a running movement, the animal will run alongside you, and so on. You can pet your Kinectimal, give it commands with your voice, and roll around on the floor with it. And if you go away from the screen, the animal will even look around for you, disturbed by your absence.
The game will be released in November 2010, and while it may not be a substitute for an actual cat, it will be very exciting for the millions who already enjoy pet games. You can see the live demonstration here.
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A freelance writer/cartoonist living in LA, with my fiance' and our wonderful cat. You can see my work at www.rubysworldcomic.com and rubynation.smackjeeves.com