I’ve been fascinated by the evolution of video games ever since I first played Oregon Trail and Lemmings on my Mac Classic. I’m not a hardcore gamer, but I follow all the major titles and I love seeing how the medium grows and changes with each new technological advance.
There is one element of the gaming experience, however, that seems to be lost in many major titles. Some manage it admirably, but a surprising number make either a partial effort or none at all, which is a shame, considering how much immersiveness and enjoyment this one little aspect can add to any title.
I’m speaking, of course, of the ability to pet the dog.
This isn’t just a selfish wish, either: being able to pet the dog is beneficial to gamers of all demographics—and could potentially increase the overall popularity and value of the game itself. Consider the following.
It’s a good dog.
I don’t need to know a thing about the dog in your game, or even the game itself, to know it’s a good dog. Because it’s a dog—and thus is good.
If I see a friendly pupper hanging out in real life, of course, I always ask before petting. The dog might be skittish around people, or might be a service or support dog—in which case we have an extremely good dog on our hands. Plus, it’s just good to ask. But that’s the real world. Most dogs you encounter day to day already have someone letting them know they are appreciated.
But in the world of video games, where you might encounter a wild pupper or a giant lonely bird-doggo, you have no guarantee that the NPCs are pulling their weight when it comes to dog-petting. If I can’t do it, how can I be assured anyone is?
Letting me pet the dog makes for more immersive gameplay.
Story-based games pride themselves on being versatile and immersive, allowing the player a massive degree of control when it comes to the outcome of the narrative. Games like Detroit: Become Human may boast upwards of forty endings reached via a combination of moral choices, skills, and the occasional panic-induced button mash.
But if a game really wants to put me in a character’s shoes—if it really wants to make me feel like I’m there living that life—I’m really going to need “Press X to pet” over pretty much any dog I see. Because I don’t care what kind of character I’m playing, I would never pass up that chance. Forcing me to walk straight past the good boy takes me right out of the moment.
Games where you can pet the dog perform better.
SIE and Sony’s long-awaited The Last Guardian pairs you up with Trico, a giant creature that’s equal parts dog, cat, bird, and wonderful perfect friend. Early in the game, all you can really do to interact with Trico is feed him, climb him, and call for him—and in the end, the most reliable way to interact with him is still the first.
As the game progresses, though, you get to a point where you can pet him. In fact, interaction with Trico comes to be how you get anything done, from directing him to carry you up the side of a building to leading him through hordes of guards.
Basically, The Last Guardian is a game where the main mechanic is petting the dog. And look how much people like it.
We’re nearly to a point in the video game console cycle where we’ll have to wait for the next system to come out before games can technically evolve any further. Graphics are getting weirdly close to realistic, decision trees for choice-based stories seem almost infinite, and creative game mechanics are being explored and implemented at an insane rate. If we haven’t plateaued yet, we’re about to.
In that in-between time, while we wait for the next big technological leap, there’s at least one thing designers can do to improve experiences across the board. Seriously, just let me pet the dog.