Daily topic of the Week: Could “pet games”, where the player is the pet, work out?

Everyone is familiar, to some degree, with the “pet game” phenomenon. Nintendogs and Tamagotchi would be the most notable. Hell, even games more mainstream such as pokemon are pet games to a limited degree, at least. They’re devoid of the caring and demands of a pet game, but still asking you to collect grow and play with your creatures.

What if there were games designed solely for the purpose of the player taking the role of a more intelligent beings pet? Would it work?

I think its fair to say that at the moment if you were to look at the phenomenon (I’m not going to say “genre” because pet games don’t necessarily have to be a conventional videogame, although all my examples are, tamagotchi are debateable) as it is now, the games are separated into games where the player nurtures a cute ball of fluff, feeding, playing with and scolding the creature until it no longer does something annoying. Then you can ogle at its cuddly-wuddly loveliness all you want.

The other half would be things like monster rancher and Pokemon. These strip out most of the cuddles and replace them with training your creature(s) skills and stats to compete in (usually) martial contests. Again, these games’ goals are to have the player eventually have some “Ultimate Pet”.

The concept in my head is somewhere both in-between and inclusive of these two types of games. This is the bit where I tell you what the game would be like. This isn’t the idyllic version, not because it’s not the best I’ve come up with, but because I’m still in half a mind of whether there is such a thing.

First off, and I can’t emphasise this enough, the game world will not make sense to you.

Does a cat understand what a lightbulb is, or does it simply acknowledge its existence and simply recognise light sometimes comes from there? Does a dog know whats going on when a small child kicks a ball into a goal and suddenly starts whooping with joy? No.

This will be like that, but with the intelligence and complexity involved scaled up. The player will not be a dog or a cat or anything you’ve ever seen before. The reason is its simply not true to the experience if the player knows how things work.

If a dog uses its full brain capacity as a pet, so should you.

The player will be expected to have roughly human level thought capabilities. I’m not saying you will be asked to do math, but that you should have decent reasoning, communication and problem solving skills. This is because it simply won’t work if you have to pretend to be a dog or something, your simply not. Pretending to be something less intelligent than you would create a situation for the player where they don’t know what their character is supposed to be able to figure out. If you simply have the creature be as smart as the player then that problem is gone, what you figure out is what your character has also figured out.

Your “master” in-game will be doing things that are simply beyond you, both in an understanding sense and in interactive sense. Your master might suddenly keel over, turn to jelly, split into five clones, stand back up and then give you a treat. Which would make as much sense to us as to when we take off our jacket does to our cat.

“Progress” in the game would most likely be measured by simply how good of a pet you can figure out to be. For example, relatively early on in your pet life you might figure out that when your master says a particular word, he is calling you (The “word” could just sound like a noise to us, or it might even be some freaky, lightshow, gesture method of communication).

Everything is alien to you. Even yourself, you cannot understand as much of yourself as humans understand animals. For that reason your body will also be alien. You might be playing as some quadrupedal tiger tentacle thing, or an enormous purple ball of fluff on wings. The master’s species don’t necessarily have to be bigger than you, they simply need to have a degree of power over you, and will be smarter.

The reason your not a human is because I can easily envisage it simply seeming like a game where humans are captured by another race. “Oh no! what do we do”, the answer would almost never be “Just be a pet”. The player needs to be detached from preconceived notions of what they are in the world. By not being something recognisable, the in-game world can do that shaping in a much more dynamic and interesting way.

From here I’ll simply list out some of the more technical aspects of the game to build the picture then finish with a small thought on the feasibility of the game being successful in any way.

– The player could pick and choose aspects of the game before starting. EG: Their species, their masters’ species, a rough choice of the area they are in (obviously there are massive differences for a pet being in a farm type thing, or purely domestic.) You could leave your masters temperament random or set it to kind or hateful, or whatever you want.

– The player (depending on species) might remain with its siblings and parents. These could be AI controlled. They could even be human controlled and the game could play like a sort of MMO. The players would share their experiences and thoughts on the world with each other (this would be OK seeing as the characters, as I have said, would be of human intelligence, so it would be only natural for a species like that to do it in some form anyway)

– Communication between your own species should be easy. You could have a in-game system like text chat or, in the case of AI, prescribed sentences or whatever. When said these should then be “translated” in assorted howls/twitches/scents etc for in-game effect. It should be easy for an adult creature because we can communicate easily, most species can (at least in conveying important messages).

– Communication with other species (EG: Your masters) will have no help. Obviously they will make an effort to teach you commands for what they want you to do. Since your smart yourself you should be able to pick up some other telltale things overtime but don’t expect their language to be “just another dialect”. The smartest dog in the world will never understand the english language. Therefore you will never be able to fully comprehend your master’s communication.

– The player should ideally be able to control as much of the creatures motions and “expressions” as possible. A keyboard could allow for a decent go at this, but seeing as this is a purely theoretical game I’m pretending that the player has a great amount of control.

– There will never be a goal published right there on the screen for the player to complete (unless the master decides to do something like that, you never know). All goals are made by you. You can strive to have your masters affection or to excel in whatever duties you may have been assigned (you may be a police dog, a messenger, a hunting animal or something like that) Obviously you may be a very powerful animal (a dragon-like thing is a good example). You may wish to try to escape, you may even succeed and even join up with others of your species. You’d still be the game’s equivalents of packs of wild dogs but it may be a good change. Or you might just want to devour your asshole of a Master. It’s up to you. Just like it’s up to your dog whether he does what you want him to or not.

Would it work? If the whole thing was proposed as a “simulation” of sorts then I’d say it would be a very interesting and possibly successful piece of work. It wouldn’t be a particularly fun “game” but it would be thought-provoking and definitely rewarding to understand what is being proposed to you in-game and then doing it to please your master. If this was ever made I’m sure it would sure as fuck get a load of attention at the very least.

Anyone else out there have any thoughts? I feel like I could go on a bit more but I’m tired now.



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2 Responses to “Daily topic of the Week: Could “pet games”, where the player is the pet, work out?”

  1. Shnyker Says:

    Interesting. As I told you in steam, your examples are exaggerations of your ideas. But that is really the only way to truly confound players. You’ll have to remove menus you know.

  2. Smedlorificus Says:

    Your master’s acquaintances could be scary monsters, and their communication appear like some kind of attack on the master. This might lead to you biting the master’s nephew when he comes over to tea, or wagging your tail (I’m using dog examples for convenience) at burglars when they try to rob him, as dogs are known to in real life.

    You’d need lots of things that are fun for the player to do. Some of these would be punished if the master catches you doing them (real life example: chasing cars) and others rewarded. I’d randomise the good and bad behaviors at the start of each playthrough.

    More things I’d simulate:
    Crapping on the carpet!
    Communication difficulties! (my dog moves his metal bowl around the kitchen when he’s thirsty. The noise this makes alerts us that he’s thirsty, so we give him water. I think he does this deliberately, but I’m not sure)
    Impossible problems that seem soluble! (watching a small dog jump at a door handle is hilarious)
    Running away, and then trying to find your way home!
    Scavenging in bins!
    Herding sheep!

    The main problems I see are:
    Making the fun stuff fun.
    Making the player feel loyalty to the master.
    Making the scary stuff seem threatening.
    Making the master’s scolding have a real negative consequence.

    Overall, I think it seems like a game I’d play as a free game of some kind, but I might not pay much money for it. Then again, I mightn’t have bought The Sims based on a post like this either.

    Now, good people of the internet, have fun picking apart what I’ve just said.

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