This article on ‘How Petting Dogs Took Over Video Games’ was available a week earlier through the Gamerbraves Newsletter. Sign up for free to gain access to more articles about news and trends in the gaming industry and community.
One of the big highlights of Pikmin 4 at the Nintendo Direct was that there would be a new dog-like alien that will help you throughout the game.
It’s interesting to note as this would be the fifth Nintendo game in the last five years that has the player character interacting with a cute dog, the others being Fire Emblem Engage, Astral Chain, Luigi’s Mansion 3, and Yoshi’s Crafted World. From there, it dawned upon me that a lot of recent games in general allow you to play with or pet dogs. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Hades, Monster Hunter Rise, and even the upcoming Final Fantasy XVI among many others.
It’s a small action yet so many games seem to feel a need to include it. Ghost of Tsushima even went back and added a patch so you could pet the dogs in a post-launch update (although you could already pet foxes in that game). So where did this sudden love of dogs come from and did it all stem from one Twitter account?
‘Can You Pet The Dog’
Many games have allowed you to interact with pets. Pokemon alone has sold millions based on this premise and the earliest known game that allows you to pet a dog dates all the way back to 1986 with King’s Quest III. That being said this recent trend from the last few years is heavily tied to one place in particular.
‘Can You Pet The Dog’ was a Twitter account set up by journalist and content creator Tristan Cooper in 2019. As the name implies, its primary focus is to list down every game where you can or can’t pet the dog (or any other animal that appears in the game).
God of War Ragnarok does indeed feature a pettable animal, but since it involves a late-game spoiler, I will refrain from posting about it for now. In the meantime, here is an early-game clip of Atreus petting one of his wolves, Speki. pic.twitter.com/uAz3ZMTiHi
— Can You Pet the Dog? (@CanYouPetTheDog) November 11, 2022
In an interview with the Washington Post, Cooper states that he came up with the account one night as a joke after wishing he could do something to help the stray dogs the player comes across in Tom Clancy’s The Division 2. Despite such humble origins, the account has not only grossed over 500k followers but seems to be influencing more games to add dogs.
Even more Dogs
Since the account started in 2019, even more games have been adding various furry friends that players can pet. Just this January alone, Fire Emblem, Hi-Fi Rush, and Forspoken all had pet petting options, and if that is not enough several games, particularly indie games often tag the Can You Pet The Dog account letting them and their followers know that yes, you can pet the dog in their game, in hopes of getting a retweet.
One developer Size Five Games even tried to troll the account in their game Lair of The Clockwork God by featuring a dog you could pet but making it incredibly difficult to do so. That didn’t stop Can You Pet The Dog from reporting on it soon after.
I’m actually quite angry about this because the dog, and the convoluted difficulty in petting the dog, was *entirely* put in the game with the specific intention of trolling @CanYouPetTheDog into declaring you could not pet the dog.
And…he just…he tweeted it out. https://t.co/Ib2OmTREGA
— Dan Marshall (@danthat) March 19, 2020
So is this the cause of the dog petting phenomenon? It’s hard to say. Cooper has never taken credit for it and points out that “Video games had pettable dogs long before I logged onto Twitter, after all, that’s the whole reason I created the account.”
It is undeniable however that it has become quite the trend in part due to the Twitter account. With 500k followers, a retweet alerting people of the new title’s pet representation can be quite the endorsement for AAA and indie games alike. That isn’t to say that every game that includes cute animals was inspired by Twitter though.
People Love Animals
When asked if ‘Can You Pet The Dog’ inspired the feature in Ghost of Tsushima, Creative Director Jason Connell said the following: “The Twitter account you referenced is just further evidence that people love animals, even in video games.”
While neither a confirmation nor denial, he brings up a good point. Ultimately there have been dogs, cats, and other animals in video games for years. Putting the success of Pokemon aside, the idea of raising a pet in a video game has been heavily popular with hits like Tamagotchi and Digimon in the 90s, as well as Nintendogs and NeoPets in the 2000s. We can’t confirm that this is the sole reason for the recent trend but it’s pretty apparent that people have always liked taking care of virtual animals.
You could argue that with the higher graphical capabilities of modern games and the easier entry point to making games, it only makes sense that we get more dogs in gaming. We can animate them more nicely and make them look cuter and fluffier to better simulate the experience of bonding with a living creature.
It’s what comes naturally. A lot of people own a pet in real life so replicating a similar experience in a video game, even through a small petting mechanic, can give players a sense of familiarity that makes the game more relatable even if said dog is giant and has three heads.
When it comes down to it, more games are including dogs to pet for the same reason a lot of recurring mechanics appear in-game video games, because people like them. In the middle of a deadly campaign for the fate of the world, sometimes it’s nice to have a few short minutes of brevity by petting a pup.
It is interesting to see how companies, are reacting to the influence of content creators and accounts like Can You Pet The Dog as well, however. They may not have started the trend but their presence certainly amplified the reach of it and if they’re able to use that reach to highlight more obscure titles with small animals in them, that’s not a bad thing either.
If you think about it, perhaps we as gamers are united by our love of dogs and other cute critters. If a game does indeed let you pet the dog, we gotta play it, we also gotta tell other people to play it. That is the power of the animal kingdom and having a cute dog that you can boop on the nose.
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