Companion Animals and the Digital Dogs We Love
Article may contain spoilers for MGS V, Haunting Grounds, Final Fantasy VIII, Dark Souls and Fallout series.
EDITOR’S NOTE: With the release of Watch_Dogs 2 I asked Tahlia to prepare a piece about dogs and their importance to players and people.
You know when you’re watching a horror movie, you see a dog and you’re like “heck nah I’m not getting attached to that little guy he’s gonna die.” because chances are that beloved family pet will be one of the first to go, usually depicted via some off-screen yelping and a bloodied collar found by our frightened protagonist?
Do you see a film like Marley & Me and go “Nope, nope, nope. I am not prepared for the wave of feels this movie will surely elicit?”
Firstly, congrats on your empathy. Secondly, even if you’ve never had a pet dog in your life, such depictions in media are still almost guaranteed to bring the feels. What is it about dogs that causes such strong feelings of attachment?
I wanted to put the spotlight on a handful of video game dogs and explore how games made them wag their way into our hearts.
The Grower – D-Dog – MGS V: The Phantom Pain
I’ve written about how we can perceive value based on the amount of invested time and effort we put in. Helping something grow ranks pretty highly on the ‘effort x time = value’ scale. Houseplants are one thing, but a sprightly pup who depends on you for their physical and emotional well-being is another. D-Dog starts out as an adorable puppy you rescue. Back at Mother Base he responds to “Venom” Snake in a playful and affectionate way, yapping excitedly and jumping in Snake’s arms. D-Dog is in stark contract to the strict militia relationships surrounding him. He may be a dog but he’s a humanising presence. He grows over time and eventually becomes an invaluable asset on missions, particularly if you prefer the stealth approach. In this case your good deed and patience is rewarded with a loyal companion. This relationship highlights a, dare I say, softer side of Snake that you mightn’t otherwise see.
The Guardian – Hewie – Haunting Grounds
Waking up caged, naked and in a bloodied basement after a car accident isn’t many people’s idea of a good time. In survival horror game Haunting Grounds, you take on the role of Fiona who does just that. To find her way out of the strange mansion she’s found herself in where everyone would like to see her blood spilled she’s going to need help and that help comes from Hewie, a white German Shepherd. In a game that focuses on the survival aspect of survival horror where “combat” means running and hiding, having a fiercely loyal dog at your side sure takes some pressure off. Hewie — like D-Dog — is another rescue example.
Fiona hears his pained whines and frees him from the cruelly placed barbed wire around his neck. The two lost souls immediately bond. His loyalty is shaped by how the player treats him – positive reinforcement and regular treats of jerky may see Hewie attack enemies of his own free will, whereas kicking him and feeding him onions may see him ignore your commands and cries for help.
*I built a positive relationship with Hewie and everything following makes that assumption.
In one playthrough I accidentally kicked Hewie and despite having made substantial progress since my last save, I turned that console off quick-smart. No playthrough of mine was going to have a black mark against my relationship with Hewie!
A downside to Hewie’s fierce protection is the inevitable beating he’d get from an enemy. Hearing Hewie’s cries and seeing him limp pulled at my heartstrings. He tried so hard to take care of Fiona that I’d find myself saving the attack command for dire circumstances, providing he hadn’t torn into them himself already. The relationship I’d built between Fiona and Hewie came with a price that I felt personally responsible for.
Wandering through a place where everyone wants you dead is a harrowing experience, but I always felt safe in-game with Hewie by my side. On occasions we were separated, my anxiety skyrocketed. Maybe that’s a product of my personal experience with dogs, but knowing someone had my back in this game made exploring it that little bit less scary.
Cannon Fodder – Angelo – Final Fantasy VIII
I really thought Angelo would play a larger part in FFVIII when she was first introduced. Angelo is Rinoa’s dog who serves as her first Limit Break, but can also interrupt a battle to jump in and do some damage or provide support and healing. In the few scenes she appears in it’s clear Angelo has a strong bond with Rinoa, whining when separated and searching for her at parties. Sadly that’s about as far as interactions go.
Still, having a dog act of their own free will to jump into battle to defend their human would usually result in a “YESSSS GOOD DOGGO.” Angelo was extra special in this regard as she engaged in battle at opportune moments due to her actions being influenced by the party’s crisis level.
The Frenemy – Sif – Dark Souls
A compulsory boss, Great Grey Wolf Sif is far from your usual eager-to-please companion, but many players of the Dark Souls series have lamented over being forced to kill her. Her loyalty to her previous master, apparent inner turmoil at wanting affection but needing to stay true to her task and realistic painful limping left players feeling awful for ending her life. In this instance the displays of positive attributes associated with dogs – loyalty, desire for human connection – connected her to the player. Even if she was an antagonist.
Wasteland Companion – Dogmeat – Fallout Series
Tell me there’s a game where I get to have a companion animal and you’ve pretty much sold me. As was my experience with Fallout 3 where my personal goal was to find Dogmeat.
Again we see a canine companion serve the function of personal assistant; performing tasks, collecting items and attacking enemies. It seems a common trend with dogs in games is to have them be industriously functional in order for them to gain favour and as such be seen as a positive attribute. If the other end of the spectrum is a companion who offers no interaction short of being your shadow I can understand the need to provide ways to interact with something to build a relationship.
After all, the NPC’s who say the same line over and over are often held in lower regards to those who aid you on a quest or sell you required items. Usefulness and mutually beneficial relationships are required for positive interactions it seems.
Walt – Valiant Hearts
In Resident Evil 4 you come across a white dog resembling Hewie caught in a bear trap. You can free him or kill him – if you free him he appears later to help you with a boss battle.
Science has proven that dogs really do love us and I can only hope to see more games further exploring the relationships between humans and our four legged friends. You know I’ll be all over that.
With slobbery love from PowerUp! dogs Kit, Tia and Willy.