Tardigotchi, augmented virtuality


Affection for living creatures has been widely exploited in video games. From the early abstract cellular automata, through to the seminal “Little Computer People” video game (1985), the mass popularity of Tamagotchi in the nineties, and the latest wave of the Nintendo DS “Pets” series, our protective instincts are invariably present when it comes to small digital creatures – often mimicking the way we relate to real animals. This phenonema occurs in spite of the fact that we are aware that these animals are only the execution of code on a small screen (but aren’t we only running DNA code on a piece of land?). Developed by the S.W.A.M.P. collective, Tardigotchi is definitively connecting living organisms with living code. Here a brass sphere houses a tardigrade microorganism and its (only partially autonomous) avatar on an LED screen. The resulting digital life-form is expanded to its organic counterpart in a masterly and controversial hybrid. The actions impressed on the avatar have real consequences on the microorganism, feeding the avatar in turn feeds the tardigrade, while sending an email to the avatar triggers a heating lamp giving warmth to the tardigrade, which the avatar virtually enjoys too. The fictitiousness of the screen in this pet-loving care relationship is no longer an excuse to underestimate it. Here the “game” is not simply played out on screen, but is fully plugged into reality like in a cyberpunk (or better steampunk) novel. Rather than call it “augmented reality” Tardigotchi should be defined as “augmented virtuality.”