For all the talk of violence in videogames, which can be traced mostly to lawmakers desperate to find a scapegoat that will allow them to do nothing in the face of a crisis, I’ve found an ocean of calm on the internet. It’s a Twitter account that asks a simple question, can you pet the dog?
Beyond being a fun gimmick, the popularity of it suggests something that all of the people who are decrying the existence of games are missing. There’s a push for gentler, kinder entertainment, something that can put people at ease. And what’s more gentle or kind than petting a dog? Very little, of course, because petting dogs is just the easiest way to improve your day. If you can’t have a dog, due to where you live or your lifestyle, being able to pet a fake dog on your television is the next best way to do it.
There’s a reason why, back over a decade ago, Nintendo’s big hit for its then-new DS handheld was Nintendogs, which gave people the chance to raise a virtual dog. It worked because that console had a touch screen, and while a stylus on glass was not the same as a big fluffy good boy, it was a tactile way to interact with a virtual pet. Just pressing a button is not the same as petting a dog.
This makes me wonder why the big push for gaming has not moved to more dog-centric activities. In a world where this form of entertainment is under attack, it feels like the time to push into new frontiers of digital interactivity.
While games have, for the most part, been aligned to competition, whether through actual sports or multi-player combat - what is Fortnite but the world’s most elaborate version of tag? – there’s a space for other options.
The thing is we’re often seeing games that go in unexpected directions suddenly become hits. They will create virtual building blocks, gardening simulators or fictional surgery and suddenly they’re unexpected hits. Who could have predicted someone wanted to do something that didn’t involve shooting something?
Which is not to say that shooting virtual people is bad, just that there are already a ton of opportunities to do so and we might be running out of ways to make it entertaining. Instead, we need to focus on making new ideas that will satisfy the itch to do something non-traditional and maybe kinder and gentler. It’s clear that there’s a desire for a new experience, and in an attempt to defer risk, too many companies are keeping with tried and tested formulas. There is a lesson here, that for all the technology, we want something pure and good in our digital lives.
People just want to pet the dog.