We connect with animals by interacting with our cute furry pets. Or perhaps you prefer nature documentaries of animals living out in the great wild. Many of us like to relax by connecting with animals in some way, whether real or virtual. Moreover, the concept of a virtual pet is being studied in relation to mental health and personal wellbeing.
Let us introduce you to the world of virtual pets through smartphones and games. They have interesting healing effects on our mental wellbeing.
The Many Benefits of a Virtual Pet
In recent years, many facilities offer animal therapy programs as an effective way to for patients to relax. However, they face challenges with risks such as animal allergies and pet loss. Unfortunately, allergic reactions and farewells are not easy to avoid and can be extremely painful.
With this in mind, animal robots are introduced to the market as a way to try and solve these issues. For instance, maybe you have already heard of the adorable dog robot or the fluffy seal robot. These animal robots are available at a hefty price tag. In addition, they can be a hassle if you ever need techincal maintenance.
Following this, some researchers in Japan asked the following question; can a virtual pet through smartphones and games have the same effect as real animals?
How Effective is a Virtual Pet?
A psychological research team at Kurume University measured a group of participants’ moods and emotions in advance. Then, they divided them into the following four activity groups.
- Group A：Play games that interact with a virtual pet.
- Group B：Play completely different games, such as puzzle games.
- Group C：Watch videos that show beautiful landscapes.
- Group D：Relax in a quiet room.
Afterwards, the team measured the participants’ moods and emotions again. Results indicated that virtual pet games were most effective for resolving fatigue.
‘Active Encouragement’ Helps Recover Fatigue
Researchers suggested ‘active encouragement’ as a factor to why virtual pet games were more effective on fatigue than other methods.
When you interact with a virutal pet onscreen, the pet responds with a reaction. On the other hand, watching beautiful landscapes are considered a passive activity. This is because the viewers do not actively engage with their screen.
An onscreen virtual pet responds to a player’s initiation to interact, therefore helping players to recover from fatigue.
A Virtual Pet is a Friend for Life
In the experiment mentioned above, the difference between other games and virtual pet games were the potential ‘sense of disappointment’ during their play. For example, in puzzle and action games, there would be some type of mission or goal. When players could not accomplish this, there was a negative reaction. On the other hand, players that interacted with virtual pets were content with just watching a dog walk around onscreen. This mistake-free activity made them feel less tired than other goal-driven games.
Today, there are many virtual pet games available to us. So if you only have small pockets of time available and are looking for a way to relax, an onscreen pet might be worth giving a shot.
Sato, A., & Tsuneo, K. (2009). Healing effect of virtual pet. Kurume University psychological research (8), 39-44.