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Dog playing video games with controller. Photo: Getty Images.
Dog playing video games with controller. Photo: Getty Images.

Pop CultureMarch 20, 2019

Can You Pet The Dog? is the most wholesome thing in gaming

Dog playing video games with controller. Photo: Getty Images.
Dog playing video games with controller. Photo: Getty Images.

The internet is a place where the darkest seeds of the world take root – but there’s light there too. Sam Brooks talks to the person behind one of those lights, the Can You Pet the Dog twitter account which documents dogs you can pet in video games.

When I see a dog, there’s one question I find myself asking: “Can I pet it?”

Even as someone with a mild allergy to most furry creatures, and an aversion to those with teeth that can harm me, I just want to pet dogs. Whenever a dog comes into the office, it’s an immediate friend.

But seeing a dog in a video game is another matter entirely. A video game doesn’t care whether I want to pet the dog or not. For me to be able to pet the dog, it requires a few people behind the scenes to have thought about it, actioned and animated it. Given that a lot of video games rely on shooting, you’re probably more likely to be able to interact with a dog in a violent way than you are a good way.

How am I supposed to know whether I can pet a dog or not?

Enter Can You Pet The Dog, a twitter account that popped up on March 6 with this heartbreaking tweet:

You can do almost anything in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. If you see a mountain in the distance, chances are you can climb to the top of it. If you can pick something up, you can use it as a weapon. If, for some reason, you jump from a mountain while holding a chicken, you can glide to safety while that chicken flies.

But, as Can You Pet the Dog tells us: You cannot pet the dog.

The beauty of the account is not showing you what you can’t pet, but what you can. And in a few short weeks, the account has amassed well over a hundred thousand followers, people who are either hungry to know what games let you pet dogs or just to see calming, beautiful images of pixels petting other pixels.

For example:

Even in Metal Gear Solid 5, one of the most graphically violent games I’ve ever played, you can pet the dog.

I interviewed the creator of the account – who wishes to remain anonymous at this time – about why they started the account, the logistics of running such an account, and the surprisingly poignant philosophy behind it.

Why did you start Can You Pet This Dog?

I was playing The Division 2 and became disappointed when I discovered I was unable to pet the frightened stray dogs roaming around the ruined landscape of Washington, D.C.

To make matters worse, there is only one way to interact with dogs in The Division 2: You can shoot them, and they die. I saw others making these same complaints, and started the account in an effort to explore and highlight pettable and non-pettable dogs in video games.

Why do you think it’s important to be able to pet dogs in games?

I ask this jokingly but also seriously, I think there’s something soothing and genuinely healing about being able to action compassion in a video game – especially when so many video games revolve around actioning violence instead.

In real life, petting a dog is a pure act.

Neither party gains anything tangible from the exchange, but petting feels good for precisely that reason: it is a stolen comfort without real “meaning.” The same goes for virtual dogs.

In games, the player is often faced with questlogs and checklists that essentially boil down to a list of demands: Mine 20 gold nuggets, collect 50 dragon hearts, shoot 100 aliens in the head, and so on.

A pettable dog allows the player to forget about their imaginary chores, if just for a moment, and indulge in something that feels nice just because it feels nice.

On a practical level, how do you gather footage from each game?

Whenever possible, I try to record footage myself. It often takes a considerable amount of time to reach key points in games where dogs become pettable, so I have made use of walkthroughs and downloadable save files.

If for some reason I cannot record footage myself, I sample clips from YouTube, embedding source links in the media itself in case they are redistributed elsewhere.

What kind of responses and interactions have you had from people following the account, and what are some of the requests you’ve had?

Reaction has been overwhelmingly positive so far. I receive dozens of requests per day in replies and in direct messages. Some of these submissions offer unique suggestions for pettable dogs I would not have discovered on my own — the 90s point-and-click FMV game Phantasmagoria was a particularly great one.

Overall, these messages and requests come in from people who simply want to see their favorite furry friends recognized and cherished by everyone else. Initially I thought the pettable dog in the popular Metal Gear Solid 5 would not warrant much of a response, since D-Dog is so well-known in gaming circles. Yet, the MGS5 post remains one of the account’s most popular to date.

Petting a dog you are familiar with can be just as rewarding as petting a new dog, if not more so.

Is there a favourite dog-petting interaction you’ve had?

Recently I have enjoyed re-exploring the interaction in Okami, a game where you play as a goddess that resembles a wolf. You cannot pet other dogs in this game, to my knowledge, but you can use magic to inspire humans to pet you. It is an odd but welcome reversal.

That said, I cannot stress this enough: Some dog interactions are more well-rendered than others, but they are all equally good dogs.

Keep going!