memorable cast of characters
There’s a large variety microscopic ‘monsters’ that will popular our microscopic world, but our initial focus is on tardigrades (aka water bears, moss piglets, ‘slow steppers’). These will be biologically accurate but some degree of anthropomorphism will be necessary. We could start with one or two and then have more hatch out of eggs. Fewer work better because we want to make them scarce (so we have to track them down) and we want users to make a personal connection to them, get to know them as individuals with their own personalities.
Tardigrades leave clues about their presence: droppings, half-eaten food, destruction of environment, they lay eggs and shed their skins as they grow. Although tardigrades can be carnivores, it might be best if they just ate vegetative matter and bacteria in our world to save us having to create extra life forms that the tardigrades must kill to eat. In virtual reality this could be terrifying for our young users. Equally, our environment should not contain any of their natural predators (amoebas and even other tardigrades!). Although later on we introduce an element of conflict, for example you might have to defend your tardigrade pet from predators.
There are over 900 described types of tardigrades so there’s plenty of scope in deciding what ours should look like. To survive extreme conditions tardigrades are able to enter a state of cryptobiosis, curling up in a ball called a ‘tun’. If the user doesn’t give the tardigrade what it needs, it will move into this state. If that happens the user will have to engage in a series of actions to revive it.
There will be tardigrade eggs that you can protect and experience the birth of baby tardigrades.
Why tardigrades and other microscopic creatures? They’re like dinosaurs - monsters that kids can feel safe about, that allow them to control and manage their fears. Dinosaurs feel safe for kids because they are extinct. Microscopic creatures are safe because although they appear as big as a dinosaurs, they are in fact in the palm of our hands and extremely small. The cuteness factor plays a big part. Tardigrades look like friendly loveable pigs or pudgy babies. Once young users are comfortable with this world, we can safely introduce other creatures that might be a little more scary-looking (spider mites, parasites etc), so tardigrades become the entry point to interacting with a whole range of other creatures.