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Life simulation (or artificial life games) is a subgenre of simulation video games in which the player lives or controls one or more virtual lifeforms. A life simulation game can revolve around "individuals and relationships, or it could be a simulation of an ecosystem".
Life simulation games are about "maintaining and growing a manageable population of organisms", where players are given the power to control the lives of autonomous people or creatures. Artificial life games are related to computer science research in artificial life. But "because they're intended for entertainment rather than research, commercial A-life games implement only a subset of what A-life research investigates." This broad genre includes god games which focus on managing tribal worshipers, as well as artificial pets that focus on one or several animals. It also includes genetic artificial life games, where players manages populations of creatures over several generations.
In the mid-1990s, as artificial intelligence programming improved, true AI virtual pets such as Petz and Tamagotchi began to appear. Around the same time, Creatures became "the first full-blown commercial entertainment application of Artificial Life and genetic algorithms". By 2000, The Sims refined the formula seen in Little Computer People and became the most successful artificial life game created to date. In 2007 also came the game Spore in which you develop an alien species from the microbial tide pool into intergalactic gods.
Digital pets are a subgenre of artificial life game where players train, maintain, and watch a simulated animal. The pets can be simulations of real animals, or fantasy pets. Unlike genetic artificial life games that focus on larger populations of organisms, digital pet games usually allow players to interact with one or a few pets at once. In contrast to artificial life games, digital pets do not usually reproduce or die, although there are exceptions where pets will run away if ignored or mistreated.
Digital pets are usually designed to be cute, and act out a range of emotions and behaviors that tell the player how to influence the pet. "This quality of rich intelligence distinguishes artificial pets from other kinds of A-life, in which individuals have simple rules but the population as a whole develops emergent properties". Players are able to tease, groom, and teach the pet, and so they must be able to learn behaviors from the player. However, these behaviors are typically "preprogrammed and are not truly emergent".
Game designers try to sustain the player's attention by mixing common behaviors with more rare ones, so the player is motivated to keep playing until they see them. Otherwise, these games often lack a victory condition or challenge, and can be classified as software toys. Games such as Nintendogs have been implemented for the Nintendo DS, although there are also simple electronic games that have been implemented on a keychain, such as Tamagotchi. There are also numerous online pet-raising/virtual pet games, such as Neopets. Today online games which allow you to raise show dogs or sim horse games are also quite popular.
Some artificial life games allow players to manage a population of creatures over several generations, and try to achieve goals for the population as a whole. These games have been called genetic artificial life games, or biological simulations. Players are able to crossbreed creatures, which have a set of genes or descriptors that define the creature's characteristics. Some games also introduce mutations due to random or environmental factors, which can benefit the population as creatures reproduce. These creatures typically have a short life-span, such as the Creatures series where organisms can survive from half an hour to well over seven hours. Players are able to watch forces of natural selection shape their population, but can also interact with the population by breeding certain individuals together, by modifying the environment, or by introducing new creatures from their design.
Another group of biological simulation games seek to simulate the life of an individual animal whose role the player assumes (rather than simulating an entire ecosystem controlled by the player). These include Wolf and its sequel Lion, the similar WolfQuest, and the more modest Odell educational series.
E.V.O.: Search for Eden (1992, Enix) - an arcade game which portrays an evolving organism across different stages. "Evolutionary points" are earned by eating other creatures and are used to evolve.
Evolites - Simple Evolution Simulator (2006, Reflect Games) - a simple life simulation where you indirectly control the fates of a countless number of tiny, unique creatures, known as Evolites. As the Evolites evolve naturally, various tools are at your disposal to save, destroy, create, and interact with them. You may let things run their course, or you may directly intervene, and make sure that only your chosen strain of Evolites survives!
flOw (2006, Jenova Chen) - a Flash game similar to E.V.O.
L.O.L.: Lack of Love (2000, ASCII Entertainment) - a role playing game; the player assumes the role of a creature which gradually changes its body and improves its abilities, but this is done by means of more varied achievements, often involving social interactions with other creatures.
Spore (2008, Electronic Arts) - a multi-genre god game. The first and second stages are biology-themed, although the second stage also has more role playing game elements.
Creatures (artificial life program) (1998-2002, Creature Labs) - an early 'artificial-life' program, the Creatures franchise features creatures called 'Norns', each of which has its own 'digital DNA' that later generations can inherit. The Norns are semi-autonomous, but must be trained to interact with their environment to avoid starvation.
Academagia - a fantasy magic school life simulator made by a father for his daughters, and released to the public due to demand.
The Princess Maker series - by Gainax, a raising sim which the player have to raise an adoptive daughter until she reaches adulthood. The final result varies from a ruling queen to an ordinary housewife, or even a prostitute if the player looks after her poorly
Real Lives - an educational life simulator by Educational Simulations where the player is randomly "born" somewhere in the world and often must deal with third-world difficulties such as disease, malnutrition, and civil war.