Here is a hugely passionate area of creative interest to me: desktop pets, screenmates, screen buddies, desktop buddies, desktop mascots, screen crawlers, virtual pets, virtual companions, screen wanderers, digital pets… (those are all the things they are called, ur welcome!)
I love designing them and think they are intrinsically fascinating.
I make maybe one a year, and this next project I’m working on will involve one as well. There’s something special about filling the virtual void with warm, silly, supposedly pointless simulated companionship. It’s like having a fireplace lit in the corner of the room. It’s weirdly comforting.
I recently assembled a collection of most of mine from the last few years here:
A lot of them are open source on my github so you can install the same thing on your website to entertain visitors with.
The intention of this post is to also talk about designing these virtual friends. I feel like I have a lot of experience with that, so maybe it will be of interest to people.
I would also like to share some history of desktop pets, why I think they’re important to the “software ecosystem” (for a lack of a better term), why I think they kind of went away, and the future they may have among indie devs today.
We’re very used to interacting with a desktop a certain way. The digital realm is one of extreme functionality, where maximizing productivity is king. The laws of user experience teach us as much.
So you throw in a weird little character into that mix. Something that gets to crawl around and get in your way. It wakes you up to seeing a desktop in a totally different way. It’s YOUR own space, and you can run things that inconvenience it a little.
There can be character to it that counteracts the polished glossy brand of the platform holder.
After all, we still call it “Home”. There are still icons of a “Home” that are used when pointing to your user directory. You get to run what you want on it, and you get to populate it with whatever absurdities you can find.
At one point the vision for computers was more democratic. This space belonged to you too.
Before we had what seems like an escalating nightmare of in app advertisements, heavy handed commercial branding, tracking, advertising on the desktop, notarization laws… there seemed to be a time where you felt like you truly owned your system. You could customize it and make it a home.
I see a strange irony in how people used to say “Don’t download Bonzi Buddy! It’s adware!” when (today) our web and desktop environments are so much worst of a privacy nightmare. Some of our current, completely normalized, practices of user tracking would legitimately qualify as extreme “spyware” back then.
Between the push and pull from platform holders slowly turning the desktop into an environment that only they own, that only things licensed from them can run on, that only things that adhere to their quality guidelines can exist on, that only allows licensed software from certified developers rich enough to pay for that… contrasted against shareware creators making the space interesting with things like desktop pets, experimental software, digital pranks, or parody software… I kind of view creating a desktop pet to inhabit this polarized space as an act of rebellion against that ever impending content monopoly.
The idea of making something that is meant to just simulate an inhabitant in a polarized virtual void is special for how it keeps the dream alive.
I’ve been trying really hard to pinpoint my earliest encounter with these silly digital characters.
I remember there being a program that released little roaches that scurried around the screen. They would hide under windows. You would forget they are there until you closed or rearranged your windows. It made the space more than a coldly functional one.
WINROACH.exe is up on archive if you’re curious, although the bug infestation is just not the same when confined to an emulator.
Picture source: The Cyber Vanguard
I remember there being a lot of silly little extras, toys, pets, clocks, screensavers, that people built to fill the void. I think these where so popular because they counteracted the digital loneliness. It’s charming when you get to have something occupy some corner of your screen that you occasionally glance at.
X11 had an ant hill simulator.
I vaguely remember things like the Cat clock.
and of course there is XRoach because roaches seemed to be a popular one.
12-Ants is another interesting bug memory. I’m not sure if it’s this one specifically that I remember, but it’s the closest that my digging got to “the ants”. This one is a utility that places ants on your screen.
I love how these programs describe themselves. If you read some of these old descriptions you kind of get the NEED from people to put something, anything, playful in their desktop home. We want occupants for our virtual space. It’s lonely here.
Image from the archived page of Neko for Windows.
I think a special mention should be made for Neko (you can read the wikipedia page on it here). This was a desktop accessory of a little cat that would chase your mouse around. It would catch up with your mouse, and sleep under it.
There’s a very old web version of that available here, that’s like looking back in time:
I love how various developers try to keep these alive. This site pursuing reviving eSheep, Neko, and Pingus is a fun look into the past (the site has these characters running around on it too).
The roaches also frequently come up as an initiative by developers to bring back, for example: http://www.jroach.eu/
While I’m here dropping random references, this site makes a vague reference to “that orange” that some of us might remember.
Softpedia has this small collection of classics.
I can’t vouch for how safe they are to download, but it’s interesting to see them again, and the extent that people will go in order to preserve them.
What caught my eye is that sheep.
That silly attempt to turn your computer into a pasture on which these sheep could roam.
I think it’s so fun when people share early experiences with desktop pets.
For example, at a game conference this person told me how his mom ran the sheep. She didn’t know how to close the program, so she just got used to having sheep everywhere while she was using her computer. I’m floored by this. I think it’s the best story ever when describing the experience of screenmates!
The sheep are here now. There’s nothing we can do. We must adapt.
Just the idea that you could get used to sharing your desktop with something (other than errors, Cortana, and advertisements) is so amazing. We’re actually tolerant to a lot of weird stuff when it comes to computers.
SCMPOO still live. Not only in memory but in all the preservation efforts, and attempts to make new software that mimics them.
You can download eSheep (64bit) on the Microsoft store.
And this is so fascinating to me. These sheep just won’t go away. I really don’t think this is just because of nostalgia. “Nostalgia” is lazy reasoning to explain the continued success of something, and kind of writes it off. I’ll get into more modern examples of screenmates later but…
I think computers are intrinsically lonely places. We will always seek the comfort of companionship here.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the peak of desktop pets was. If you keep digging you see that we’ve always been adding some kind of silly presence to our virtual spaces.
The 90’s – early/mid 2000’s where probably the most interesting time for these characters.
Dogz, Catz, and Oddballz are probably the most popular mainstream example.
One that I think is really interesting to point out is Shimeji.
Shimeji (still alive here) was a small animated character pet that you could run on the desktop. It was an open source program so fans could modify it to create character specific shimejis for their fandoms.
I paraphrase all this heavily since I only watched this happen way back, and never really got into it myself, so some of this might not be recalled correctly. You can read the wiki here.
BUT I think the fact that you could modify the source AND that people actually did that is an important note to make. I think that the really successful desktop pets allowed for that community to grow around them. This is also why Petz was so wildly successful as contrasted to other desktop companions. Community around these are really important. Fans modifying these keep them current and culturally relevant (example: modifying your pet to reflect fanart).
When we talk about desktop pets the most common example to come up is the Petz series by PF Magic… Dogz, Catz, and Oddballz to be exact.
Petz where a very unique type of screencrawler. Upon running (adopting) they would start growing, and would eventually reach an adult size. The programs gave you toys, appropriately themed for what pet you had.
Oddballz is probably my favorite example for how strange it was. These where pets that didn’t reflect anything in the real world. Instead they where weird alien creatures, some more nightmarish than others, and the toys used to play with your pet where all very strange too. There was this weird type of gun with which you could “zap” your pet, and transform it into smaller things like a worm…
Overall the level of interaction to these is important to note. They seemed very vibrant and intelligent for how much you could do with them.
Some desktop pets are treated as the “toy” in themselves. Just having them is the novelty in itself, and not much interaction is allowed. Others give you toys (extended features) with which you can interact with your pet. With any of these (ranging from cockroaches, to ardvarks) I think the most important aspect is the community that surrounds them.
The Petz series also allowed for customization. Dogz had a massive community surrounding customizing your dogs. I remember you could find the wildest modifications of them. There where so many personal websites dedicated to just that. Imagine browsing geocities and instead of finding a website for someone’s real dog, you find this huge webring of sites dedicated to these virtual dogs. The dedication was amazing.
Again, using these as a way of creating fanart is an important thing to note. I’ll build on that later…
Considering all these examples so far, I think it’s obvious that there isn’t just “one type” of desktop pet. I don’t think there necessarily is such a thing as a “bad” virtual companion either… Just a misplaced one.
For example, I think we didn’t like Clippy for how intrusive that was. Clippy’s intention wasn’t clear, and that didn’t fit with the feature set of the software it was part of. Therefore Clippy became a nuisance.
Every desktop pet is different, and all demand different levels of attention. When you design them, you have to communicate the type of attention it will require, and honor that. This so people know under what context they can incorporate that desktop pet while they are working, browsing the web, or whatever…
There are ones that will run on their own, as part of your screen, without interaction from you (Sheep, Roaches, Neko). Then there are ones that demand a proper amount of attention from you like an actual pet (Dogz).
There isn’t necessarily any BAD way to design them. The best are ones where the dev knew what the focus should be.
Sheep wouldn’t have been as successful if they demanded your full attention. They’re fun because they can mind their own business.
PF Magic’s pets where smart because they designed them with the intent of being something you play with. It’s not something you can just run while you work, and kind of ignore.
Clippy didn’t fit.
There’s a breadth of approaches.
I think truly unique ones happen when they are given some level of awareness of their digital environment. I loved the roaches for how they acknowledged the existence of windows. These blend in with your virtual space.
Understandably this is getting long already, and I barely covered just a fraction of these!
I’ll talk a little about the transition to online virtual pets (how they left the desktop), and then how they might be coming back today… As is probably obvious by now, screenmates are no small phenomena.
Image via this reddit post.
Neopets are “the big one”. I’m sure everyone knows this and is probably more qualified to talk about these than I am. I never got into this since this was also in the heyday of my net-art work, but I’m amazed by how many people will fondly look at Neopets as the space where they fell in love with creative work on the computer. Many will point to Neopets as the place where they learned CSS out of need to customize their pet pages. Like that’s how they got into programming. It’s amazing to hear.
Roll call! Do you remember 2Advanced Studios, v4 Prophecy from 2003? And the countdown timer?!
— FWA ? (@fwa) March 31, 2019
Around the time of Neopets, everything creative was moving to the internet. The internet was where you wanted to sink anything creative into.
The Flash scene was pioneering every possible vision for the future of the web, from birthing casual games, to elaborate websites, to you name it… I get that it has such a bad reputation now that nobody dare really talk about how vibrant that was (disturbingly enough most of that history has been lost), but if you really want to understand that boom you have to acknowledge the role Flash played as well as the community that drove it.
Flash birthed the casual game, and browser games. What we have now is nothing compared to the massive industry online games where. This was huge, and seemed unstoppable at the time. I remember selling one dumb thing I made to Addicting Games for 5k so they could add it to their network (I kept the rights). At the time that was almost underselling your work. These portals where huge.
“The Flash website” (over the top websites, heavy on motion graphics, and experimental navigation) was hugely popular. EVERYONE talked about “the latest site”. Winning a Favorite Website Award (FWA now) could tank your host by the massive amount of visitors coming in to see it. It was career defining. People payed sound FX artists and composers to make soundtracks for “the Flash website”. Coding these was a big industry. There was strong intersection with online advertising (any big brand wanted one of these sites for their online campaigns)… All of these have been lost. You’ll be hard pressed to find an example, or even a trace of the agencies that where on the cutting edge of them… like try digging up any trace of an old 2Advanced site, GMUNK’s online work, Terrorpilot, Abnormal Behavior Child… You can’t.
I get so much arguing with people about this (like I don’t know what I’m talking about), but I *was part of all that and still am building for the web today*. I can easily say that there’s a big difference in the web today. A lot of that momentum is gone, and belongs to social media and online ads now.
Either way… That’s some context, so we can understand virtual pets in the browser.
We might have smaller examples today, but when I say “virtual pets in the browser” I mean bigger initiatives that people even considered commercially viable.
Personalization was very important, and I think that’s a big factor as to why online pets became the focus for a very long time. People loved including them as a character for their websites, myspace, friendster… Companies liked making them because it was an interesting model to explore for “generating revenue” and all that.
For example, here’s a very old one: https://web.archive.org/web/20080422064603/http://www.layoutcodez.net/pets/ (you need Flash, see the screenshots)
You customized these pets (there where so many of these services it was ridiculous), then you added them to your website with the generated embed code.
Neopets comfortably fit into this boom.
With the loss of personal websites, and the transition to social media as our primary mode of interacting with the web, a lot of this was abandoned.
We don’t really surf the web anymore. We scroll through social media.
It’s almost pointless today to make stuff for the web targeting personal websites (i.e. “this is a small virtual pet for your website!”)
The novelty website, the ones we loved finding and sharing, is kind of a dying browsing habit under context of Twitter.
I think this shift (from desktop to web, then the change of the web) is what explains the “loss” of virtual pets as a thing we loved, shared, and talked about. They where already too much of a novelty. They didn’t adapt fast enough.
So FINALLY here’s the exciting part, and why I think they’re kind of making a comeback.
I’ve been making virtual pets since the time of Neopets. My earliest ones where browser based (for reasons just explained). After that I transitioned to the desktop, and placed my focus there. I make about one desktop pet a year. It’s something I’m deeply passionate about, and each of them has a lot of love poured into them.
Do check them out! There’s a full list of all of them here: https://itch.io/c/753745/alienmelons-desktop-pets-virtual-companions
My recommendations are Electric Love Potato 2.0 (A potato companion for your desktop with lots of features. It will make fan art of you), Runonce (A virtual companion that you can only run once and then never again. It’s an existential exercise in loss and love), Frog Pets (Truly weird and Seaman often comes up as a comparison), and Cyberpet Graveyard (A collection of unlovable, and unwanted desktop pets for which something went truly wrong)…
Image from Wikipedia’s Tamagotchi page.
Imagine my delight when I started seeing virtual pets pop up among other indie developers!
There are more and more appearing on itch.
I would also like to point to the success of Neko Atsume as a reason that people really DO want virtual pets, and that these things (even the silliest and seemingly most mundane takes on virtual companions) can be ridiculously successful. I mean, try pitching a cat game where you can’t really interact with the cats, but you can only cat watch. It sounds like it wouldn’t work, but it does.
Virtual pets are still alive and well among indies today.
Maybe desktop pets (proper) are struggling, but there’s growing interest. I think that’s hopeful!
The forms they take on today, and the obvious sources of inspiration for each, is really interesting. It’s very diverse and speaks to all the ways desktop pets have been expressed in technology.
It’s interesting how a lot of the newer virtual companions on itch draw an obvious inspiration from Tamagotchi. If the introduction to a virtual companion was through hardware, rather than a desktop, then you see pets that are isolated in their own window and you interact in kind of that insular “aquarium” setting.
A really interesting example that kind of reminds me of Tamagotchi, with a theme of urgency applied to it, is Post Apocalyptic Pet Simulator.
It’s a self-contained pet that features all the functionality for giving your pet love and attention. It’s coupled with the premise that asteroids hit Earth and you rushed to the bunker with your dog to avoid the radiation. With the resulting end of civilization you have to maintain your friendship with your dog. Your supplies run short so you have to risk going out to get more. If you do you get a message describing what you found, or how you where robbed. Keeping a pet in this context is hazardous.
I think this example is really interesting for the sense of urgency that it creates. You have to keep your pet alive while taking a risk to get the precious resources to do so.
Your pet dying isn’t just an annoying hunger bar anymore. There’s a bigger reason why you don’t want it to starve.
This encourages you to view this pixelated avatar as something even more special.
I never really liked Tamagotchi for how easily they died. I don’t think I understood why.
In context of something like this, life and death make more sense, and you are encouraged to take part of that urgency. It’s a really interesting take on a virtual pet.
Similarly to Tamagotchi-like pets is Pet Rock.
It’s an adorable little thing, packaged in a small window. The premise for this pet is that it’s a rock. The rock is alive tho and you can even customize it.
You can play with your cute rock and feed it. Although very simple, it’s a fun little thing to run and goof around with.
Pet rocks are probably a fun type of desktop pet to make because the idea in itself is ridiculous enough to warrant a curious laugh before downloading a random piece of software from the internet. Like: “Haha, a what!? Ok fine. I’ll try that.”
In Electric Love Potato 2.0 the potato will occasionally be threatened by a hazard. An alert with a countdown will pop up telling you that your potato is being pursued by some random threat, and the potato is panicking with “Oh no… Oh no! Help?!”
If you ignore the window, the potato will eventually succumb to this threat and be transformed to a rock. After this, your desktop pet is just a rock. You can go about your daily desktop tasks by having a rock in the corner of your screen that only occasionally twitches.
Pet rocks are good for laughs.
Love My Pet – Pet Keeper Game is also another very cute Tamagotchi-like pet that allows for a bit more. Aside from feeding, washing, and two small games you can play, the app also allows you to decorate the room.
Borb the Birb is a really interesting browser example of a virtual companion that’s very unique and surprisingly involving for how simple it is. It’s browser based, so there’s no point in me spoiling it for you. Use mouse and keyboard keys to do things.
I think it’s sweet because, as the page describes:
“made as a birthday present for a friend, and for myself, and anyone who might need some self-care”
I feel like this describes the purpose of virtual pets. They’re little gifts to people.
It Needs Care is another browser pet that’s much more involving, but also worth checking out. This one is more complex, and has a story to it too.
“You were chosen to test the brand new virtual pet toy from “Ikura” corporation. The fate of your future best friend is in your hands now. We hope that you’ll get along well.”
So these are all interesting for how complex or simple the premise to them are. I love how people explain them. The way that these pets receive a rationale for their existence. It’s so interesting to see how that’s approached.
I think it does help to add a story to the pet. It’s much more involving and people view that pet through the lens that you describe.
A long time ago, when I was just getting into chatbots (NLP and that type of AI), there where a lot of discussions on how adding a believable avatar to your bot (one that moves and reacts to you as a digital simulation) helps people get more attached to talking to the bot. I had a character that I made called Minibyte (a weird round cute green floating alien) and built a personality for it. It was an ALICE bot with very customized AIML files.
It was interesting to see the difference between people that chatted with it through just a text interface, and the people that chatted with it in the environment that I made for it WITH the animated character. The people that had the character would spend up to an hour chatting with it. JUST text didn’t do that.
SO I think the same logic applies to virtual companions. If there’s a story to it, the interaction becomes much more interesting.
Stories for them can get fairly elaborate. I think there’s a sweet spot that you maintain when you design all that, where it’s just the right amount of complexity. If it’s too complex then it turns into a game, and the effect isn’t exactly the same. Interacting with it is then more about “beating the game” rather than enjoying the presence of something wacky.
An interesting example of all this in reverse, where the virtual companion is given a story but no avatar is MartinTelecom’s Pet Simulator 1988. Here you type commands in a frenzy in order to keep your pet from perishing or becoming an outcast from neglect.
Desktop Goose and the Electric Love Potato running on the same desktop. :)
All these more recent examples are not exactly “desktop pets proper” in terms of freely roaming your own desktop. All of these exist in their own separate window, independent of the desktop.
I tried really hard to find recent examples, and (other than my own work) I only really found three (Desktop Goose, Desktop Awoo, and Love Squid).
Yes. I checked outside of itch too.
I don’t know why devs haven’t really been making screen roamers as much as tamagotchi type pets. It might be a point of reference (you make a pet based on what you know, and if you are mostly familiar with tamagotchi, why do roamers?)…
I think it also might be the use of technology. Unity doesn’t necessarily yield itself to this as well as other options. You can argue that, but show me examples then.
Aside from my own work, the most known current example of a desktop pet that properly fits in the traditional category of a DESKTOP pet is Desktop Goose.
Here’s a small story, and this has a happy end, so bear with me…
When I was showing the Electric Zine Maker at IndieCade a guy approached my sister (she was helping me show it there) and asked her if she heard of Hypnospace Outlaw. He told her that my work looks just like it, and then took a picture of my booth and said that he’s sending this to the dev. He didn’t check it out, or engage with it on a level beyond that.
I’ve been pretty outgoing about my feelings of being told my work looks just like that game because I’ve been making the exact same thing for MUCH longer. Unfortunately when I do it, it doesn’t count as much. Being here, and not being a white cisgender man, means that you will literally get laughed out of the room for something that you’ve been doing for 10+ years, and a guy doing the exact same thing, that might have even been inspired by your work, will NOT be laughed out of the room, and even get a publishing deal for it as well as getting established as the “pioneer” of that thing. This dynamic happens all the time. It’s a constant crushing reality.
I get equated to Hypnospace Outlaw all the time now, on a level where people try to tell me that I’m unoriginal for “taking that style”.
So when Desktop Goose blew up in popularity, and people started saying that its dev is “bringing desktop pets back”, you can imagine that it stung a little. I got worried that the same would happen again. I’ve been making these since Neopets. It’s not like I’m a secret. It’s just that when men do the same thing it tends to count for more…
The dev DM’d me, completely out of the blue, and told me that he was contacting journalists to see if they can rectify to include me as the pioneer of this kind of desktop project, and asked if it was OK to tweet a supportive tweet of my work.
I’m not sure if journalists actually did that (updated any articles, apparently it takes an act of god), but the fact that he cared enough to make that effort meant a lot.
It blew me away in a really touching way. I wish more men here had that level of unsolicited self-awareness.
So that was really touching…
All that aside, I think Desktop Goose is an interesting phenomena for a lot of reasons. It is inspired by (based on) Untitled Goose, so you could maybe say that it’s “fan art” in the form of software. This alone is an incredibly cool concept.
Earlier in this post I made a strong point to say that “fan art” is a big reason some of these other desktop pets lived as long as they did. The same correlation could be made here, and I think it’s really important to examine.
I personally think fan art is really important to the life expectancy of the original IP that it is based on. Fan art is kind of an expression of love that fuels interest in something. A lot of artists get their “break” from making fan art, so it’s kind of a beautiful upward spiral that happens between fan art and the creator of a work that is admired.
If we look at software, and view it as something that could be fan art as well, that gets really interesting when talking about Desktop Goose! I think this is something that’s missing when it comes to desktop pets. A desktop pet that expresses fandom does catch on much stronger. Again, see Shimeji and how people would modify it so they could have a Dean Winchester or Sherlock Holmes on their screen.
If we had desktop pets based on more popular IP’s maybe desktop pets would be more of a thing. Maybe that could bring them back.
I really don’t think Desktop Goose would have taken off to the extent that it did if it weren’t for its association with Untitled Goose.
Saying something is “fan software” is a really novel idea, and I hope more of that happens.
I genuinely think that MORE like this could bring desktop pets back.
For a concept like desktop pets to “stick” we need original ones AND familiar ones. Fan culture gave them a space where they could incorporate into people’s digital lives in a way that made sense.
When there where communities that modded them to look like whatever they wanted, and allowed for changing them into their favorite fictional character, they where much more popular.
That familiarity makes their incorporation into your virtual space sensible. Of course you would like to have your favorite anime character be part of your digital space. It’s a way of customizing the virtual home that is your desktop.
I sincerely hope that more devs go out and make their own Desktop Goose.
I don’t think desktop pets (proper) ever necessarily went away. I made mention that there where plenty of devs working to make updated versions of those roaches, SCMPOO, or Shimeji.
I think with shifting interests between desktop, web, and mobile… and what it even means to occupy a virtual space on these platforms, they just changed too.
We will always have them in some form or another. As a either a “throwback” to a digital era (desktop), or as something completely new designed to fit in the platform that we are using.
We might not have need for them on personal websites anymore. We might not even have that many personal websites anymore… But as long as there is a choice to customize our digital space, to be able to run whatever we choose in our space, build whatever we like for our digital spaces… as long as our digital spaces ARE our own. They will be here too. We need them to fill that lonely void.
If you liked this post please consider downloading and sharing some of my pets. Thank you! :D
Thanks to ProcyonViolet for pointing me to this!
Here’s a wonderful desktop pet (proper) called Homeless Pigeon:
It’s a recent desktop companion that adds this adorable pigeon to your screen. It will roam while you work or try to browse the web, and be a cute pigeon pest.
This one is beautiful!
Talking Moose (for Apple) is also a classic that didn’t make it on the list.
You can download that here.
The original author shared some information on emulating it on old hardware here.
Thanks to mietek for this link
Thanks to Duffadash for pointing me to Froggy:
And these… Another really old type of use for desktop companions, probably worth mentioning, is “virtual girls” (NSWF): https://archive.org/details/virtuagirl2vol1
I vaguely remember there being a Laura Croft that people had?
While I’m here, and I feel remiss for not including it, there’s also Frog (link here).
A frog pet that can jump onto window elements. You can have more by running the app multiple times.
Folks have been making some wonderful recommendations. If you want more you can check out replies to this Tweet.
Thanks to gaming_nihilist for sharing this one…
A desktop toy that was made to promote the Jurassic Park Scan Command game. He is called Spino and the download still works:
Oh and cool story! This post helped find the Crash Bandicoot Desktop Character xD
It’s now up on archive here!
I have some *very* important news: @alienmelon found the Crash Bandicoot Desktop Character I had been looking for for like seven years lmao ?
— Jessica???? (@ticky) March 18, 2020
Screenshot from this goldmine of an old site.
I’m so happy about that! This was really cool.
While I was digging for the Crash Bandicoot screenmate, like a good internet archeologist, I found these…
There’s a wonderful collection of REALLY old screenmates on these sites. Some are still downloadable. You should grab them…
This site in particular still works (you can still download most of what’s here):
Also, this site has more. Most of the links here don’t work, but it’s a great frame of reference. You can see how many screenmates where actually fan software (Southpark, Simpsons…)
Here is also more. I have a feeling that some might work if you try the link through Archive’s Way Back Machine…
And finally there’s a literal ton on this old Geocities.ws site: http://www.geocities.ws/junkgetsbigger/jgbmates.html
(Some of these might also work through Archive)
I made an itch collection of ALL my itch finds here: https://itch.io/c/733669/desktop-pets-virtual-companions
This will be regularly updated.
Thanks so much everyone for your interest in this!