More Games Need a “Pet the Dog” Feature

It can be funny how much of an impression fairly small features can make. They usually aren’t enough to elevate a good game into something great or a bad game into something good. Nor is their absence enough to really hurt an experience. Still, they can make a enough of a difference that they leave one wondering why more games don’t incorporate them somehow. A typical example of this kind of feature is a dedicated mini-map (which is still strangely absent from a lot of expansive game), but today I’ll be focusing on something from Ghostwire: Tokyo: dogs and being able to pet them.

I started up Ghostwire: Tokyo over the weekend and I immediately got drawn in by its haunting vision of Shibuya (a location many will remember from games like Persona 5 or Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE). Wandering the quite literally haunted streets in the rainy night has been something fun all on its own, even without fights against “Visitors”.

See, in Ghostwire: Tokyo, Shibuya is sealed within a kind of spiritual barrier that’s at least partially merged it with the “other world,” allowing Japanese yokai spirits to “visit” from the other side. There are no people for them to scare though, as they’ve all been transformed into spirit forms, leaving the streets largely empty. This doesn’t mean that Shibuya’s streets are devoid of life though: the animals are still there, and they’re doing their best to deal with the situation.

This means that players can encounter many dogs and cats as they make their way through streets and alleyways, and the game actually encourages interacting with them. Cats can be pet, and will usually point the player towards odd happenings in an area if you read their thoughts. In true aloof cat nature, they won’t really acknowledge your presence, even if you pet them. Dogs though, dogs are usually very happy to see you. Petting them triggers a little interaction animation where you give them a good face and head pat. They’ll even lean into it! 🙂 More than that, you can read their thoughts, which are usually directed at you.

They’ll say stuff like: “PET ME! PET ME! PET ME!”, “I hope [their owner] will come back soon.”, or “You’re kind of scary, mister!” You have the option to feed them too, prompting a “thank you!” of some sort, and then they’ll lead you to a buried trove of money. It’s just plain fun if you like animals, and I absolutely love that there’s a real gameplay reason to do so rather than it being there “just because.” It’s something that I think a lot more games could stand to include in some way.

I mean, they don’t have to make it terribly relevant like Ghostwire: Tokyo does, but I feel like having it in there goes a long way towards making the world feel more real. Part of it is making the animals into something more than moving window dressing, but another part is that this kind of feature enables a way of interacting with the world that’s different from the essential gameplay loop. What

I mean is that most games only allow the player to touch the world through normal gameplay, namely fighting enemies, picking up items and talking to NPCs. To me though, all of that feels kind of separate; as if you’re kind of just moving through this environment as you work toward whatever your current gameplay objective is. Being able to have some sort of other interaction makes it more real, making this feel much more like a real place and not just a stage upon which the game is played.

Honestly, I’d take more immersive interactions like this over greater graphical fidelity. See, it doesn’t matter how beautiful or realistic a world is if you still interact with it the same way you always do. It’ll still always scream “This is a fake video game world” if all you do is game within it. So yeah, let’s have more “pet the dog”-style features in our games! They do a lot more to make a world feel real and lived-in than graphics do, and who doesn’t being able to give a dog or cat a good chin-scratch?

What do you think of these kinds of features? Are there any other features that you think would help make world feel more real (or games just more fun to play)?

Image from the Ghostwire: Tokyo Steam store page