With Sega announcing that there would be a number of Dreamcast games released on the Playstation Network and Xbox Live, it got me thinking about one of the less appreciated games on the Sega Dreamcast and why it deserves a tour de force style return to the console. While games where the act of ensuring the safety and comfort of a digitally living creature have been in short supply since the Tamagotchi and Seaman have virtually fallen off the map of the gaming community in the last decade or so, there’s little viable reason to deny a resurgence to the genre.
For the unaware, the Tamagotchi was a tiny digital pet contained within a easily accessible electronic device that more often than not dangled from the keychains of their owners. It was the responsibility of said owners to ensure the happiness and well being of the pixelated animals. Everything from feeding the damn things to showering them with electronic affections continued to extend the Tamagotchi’s lease on life. However, if you neglected them for a significant amount of time, they’d die and you’d be forced to start again fresh.
While some developed strong attachments to their creatures, some did not and it’s easily explicable as to why. Because it’s difficult to care about a creature that can’t do anything more than convey it’s emotions through blips, beeps and boops. It’s unfulfilling for any owner raising a pet when they can’t be rewarded with any sort of affection, real or otherwise, which creates a half-life on the value of the ‘animal’ owners have purchased into their care.
Realistically, it takes a brilliant amount of design on the part of any creator to develop a digital creature that is both compelling enough to pull players back in after setting down the controller multiple times as well as offer a rewarding interaction that serves as a convincing doppelganger of genuine love similar to that of a puppy, kitten or other small animal capable of unconditional affection.
That’s where the transitional jump between the technology that birthed the Tamagotchi and Seaman become impressively apparent despite the digitized creatures doing nothing more than existing on a screen. Because there are people who are genuinely pulled in by the prospect of taking care of a creature that doesn’t breath, eat, or exist in any other plane besides the one created in a relatively imaginary fashion. In a way, it presents a minutiae of existential paradoxes that beg the question of why people are so capable of becoming accustomed to taking care of a digital life.
The primary answer is that there is little genuine effort that goes into the act. A puppy, kitten, bird or lizard all require a vast amount of sporadic physical activity that various based on the animal in question. Obviously, you wouldn’t ordinarily walk a lizard, bird or kitten, but they would still require a modicum of attention on average that would take precedence over regularly scheduled activities. Puppy’s require regular walks, feeding and daily amounts of attention that may, more often than not, cut into your schedule in ways you hadn’t previously imagined. However, the payoff is vastly different than that of a ‘Gotchi or a Seaman.
When feeding a Tamagotchi, players are rewarded with a pixel heart beaming from the tiny digital animal and upon teaching a Seaman additional vocabulary to add to it’s vernacular, you are privileged to hear it repeated back to you. Both have exceptionally redeeming qualities and have the ability to make a player feel rewarded by the respective games they’re playing, but ultimately are not real.
Conversely, players will consistently be greeted by a puppy that will grow, change, learn and be completely 100% interactive from day one. If it’s hungry, it will bark until fed by it’s owner. When scratching it’s tummy, it will demonstrate its happiness by thumping it’s leg and frequently, it will herald your arrival home with a wag of it’s tail and barking. While undoubtedly more time consuming and far less ignorable – there are few replacements for unconditional love – which many animals are all too ready to offer.
No doubt, Seaman is a fun game and laudably so. Years after the fact, there are still gamers who will happily sit down and play through the game in it’s entirety, raising one from birth until it’s released into ‘the wild’. Nevertheless, it is still just a game.
So, for those who have the wherewithal to take on the helm of raising a pet, more credit, power and kudos to them – because while some undertake it with a grain of salt, there are those who do so with the same level of responsibility of soon-to-be parents expecting their first child. In the meantime, I’ll happily curl up with a controller and boot up Seaman.
Thus, in the event Sega did in fact release Seaman in the first, or even second wave, of future Dreamcast titles slated to arrive on either the PSN or XBLA, no doubt there would be those lining up to give it a whirl. And even if they didn’t, it’s still nice to occasionally load Seaman into my Dreamcast, allow myself to be lulled into a state of ‘vegging out’ and feel the joy of an optimistically overjoyed pet owner without actually having to indulge in the ownership of a pet.
At least until I finally give in a buy a Golden Retriever.