S2: E32 | Stray: the Psychology of Playing a Cat

Daniel A. Kaufmann, Ph.D
Dr. Gameology on Twitch & The Gaming Persona Podcast
Owner of Area of Effect Counseling

The Gaming Persona talks about Stray! This game has been sweeping across the gaming world as one of our first best opportunities to run around the post-apocalyptic streets as a cat. The charm and mental shifts of playing as a cat definitely have an impact on the player. The TGP hosts all review their interactions with animals in games, and reveal the specific ways animals are used to create the gaming experience.

Listen to the podcast here:

Gaming Library:

Stray, Final Fantasy XIV Online, The Last Spell, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Prince of Persia, It Takes Two, Journey, The Last of Us, Sonic the Hedgehog 1-3, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Monster Hunter, Sea of Thieves, Persona 5 Royal, Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto, Uncharted, God of War, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, The Last of Us: Part 2, Dark Souls, God of War: Ragnarok, Fall Guys, Alien Isolation, World of Warcraft, Tokyo Jungle, Spore


 

What are we talking about from the world of video games this week?

We are going to talk about Stray – which is a new video game – and what it’s like playing as a cat.

 

The Ordinary World

 

Oh my gosh, that is so great! Let’s go to the Ordinary World, where we share everyday life through our games just as a first place for us to stop for the week. So Jenny and Gene, what have you been up to in your video games since the last time we came together to record?

Well, I did a little bit of Final Fantasy XIV. I played the A Realm Reborn Alliance Raid. Don’t remember what it’s called. But I know it’s an old one that I’ve done a few times now. And I did it with the AIE guild. And it was a fun night. It was a nice smooth run. I also had a game night with friends. It wasn’t a video game night. But we still played games. We played Telestrations, which is honestly one of my favorite party games ever. It’s just so funny. And we also played Game of Thrones: What do you mean? – which was a little bit of a throwback. We haven’t played that game in a long time. But it was fun.

So did that game start out really strong and then fizzle out by the end of the evening? Already? Too Much?

Exactly how people were like “Alright, is everyone done with this? Collective yes, we are done.”

I have been playing more of the early access of a game called The Last Spell. It’s probably not very well known, but it’s an interesting game. Basically, it’s the apocalypse and your small band of heroes has to defend your tiny town from endless hordes of monsters, until the wizards in the middle of your town manage to cast the last spell and send all the demons back to their realm. Basically ending all magic in the world.

Wow, that sounds like a really big decision coming from your “center of the city” wizards.

Yeah, basically, the wizards accidentally opened up a portal to other universes and all demons came through. It’s like a Doctor Strange Situation. If you’ve seen the last Doctor Strange.

That sounds like what I am always trying to accomplish when I play D&D. In fact, I’m always thwarted by my lack of power in D&D. I have aspirations that extend far beyond what my character is actually capable of. So I played Stray last night on my stream. I had plans to play it on several evenings before, but my health wasn’t able to keep up with my consciousness long enough for me to play the game. But last night it happened, and I was able to play over an hour of the game actually close to two hours of the game. Except I am playing a second playthrough on my PS5 console. My wife and son played one playthrough together. And I only saw bits and pieces of it because they largely played it while I was working. So that is what made me decide “I want to do an episode about Stray. And I want to play it myself to gather my thoughts about what the game is like.” It is an amazingly well-done cat action-adventure video game, where you play as one cat that’s in a band of cats at the beginning of the game. While jumping from pipe to pipe in a post-apocalyptic world, you are the final cat to jump on one of the pipes, which breaks when you land on it, and you fall hundreds of feet down while your three other cat friends look down and meow and sadness, realizing they’ve lost their friend forever. So the game actually starts with you in the under dwelling of the world that you were previously walking above. I suspect the goal of the game is to reunite with the cats or at least to get out of that city and get back to more of the world that you’re used to. By crossing from one kind of world to a different kind of world. What do we have? We have the Hero’s Journey – In CAT! 

 

Stray: The path of the stray cat and the characters they meet are a direct echo of the monomyth from The Hero’s Journey, but in Cat!

 

And I have two cats for anyone who didn’t know. One is named Lexicon, and he is actually one of my emotes on Twitch, because in my early streaming life when Lexicon was palm sized, the very first night we had him, I was doing a Star Wars The Old Republic stream. It was a raid night, and I was playing and the webcam was on. My wife came up behind me and put Lexicon on my shoulder and I still have this screenshot saved on my desktop to this day. It’s not in a folder. It’s not in the picture folder. It’s not in the cloud. I mean, it is in the cloud. But it is the one picture that I always keep on my desktop, so I can click on it and see it. So I can have that little, tiny, less than three-pound Lexicon standing on my shoulder. So that’s one of my emotes. So cats are very important to me, I am, in aspiration at least, one of the best cat dads in the world. And so this game I couldn’t resist plus, it’s so well done. I want to talk about the merits of a game like this when we get to our next segment. 

 

The Call to Adventure

 

So let’s go on the Call to Adventure where we get into our topic for the week. So I’ve already introduced the game Stray. I did have a few other games that I played this week, but time is time and they don’t make it into the Ordinary World because I love cat so much. So Have either of you played Stray as of yet?

Nope.

I haven’t played it personally, but I’ve seen play of it.

Yeah, I’ve watched a bunch of streams.

Okay, so I have a lot of thoughts that come directly from being the player. I want to hear from both of you and pick your brains a little. What was it like watching the game as a viewer?

So for me, well, how far have you gotten into the game? Just curious.

Oh, I didn’t even tell that story Gene. So because I’m on a second playthrough my son gave me a side quest, which is “get as many of the trophies as you can.” He got about 30% of them on his first time through the game, which is great for a first playthrough.  Last night I found an apartment that was on the top of one of the first buildings in the first open area you get to, and it’s covered in books. So I started hopping on the different piles of books and knocking them over which is “so cat.” And I jumped on one of the shelves and the triangle icon popped up. And usually that would mean pick up an item, so I hit triangle. Instead of picking up an item though, I curled around two or three times and laid down and started sleeping. And then I realized my son told me one of the trophies is to sleep for an hour in the game. Now I’m streaming live on Twitch. And I found the sleeping spot by accident. And I know there’s several sleeping spots, actually, but I was trying to be entertaining. But I also was trying to get as many trophies as I can on this playthrough. So I made a comment to one of my viewers (it was a very light viewership evening last night) So, sidenote: Stray is not drawing an audience at least a week after release. So I made a comment about, I said something like, “I don’t know when I’m ever going to take the time to earn that trophy.” And one of the viewers said, and the viewer was Doritos95000. He said, “Why don’t you get it now? I bet you can do it.” And I conversed with him back and forth about “I’m streaming is this supposed to be entertaining,” but then it seemed like nobody that was actually watching me was going to object to me pursuing this trophy. So I left the cat on the shelf for an hour and just talked with the chat. I pulled up some charts I’m working on for my book. I researched articles that have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals about cats and video games to see if that exists. And it does, hence the episode today. So I streamed one hour of me cat sleeping last night. For about 45 minutes of me running around as a cat to just “we had to get the trophy.” And we did. It was such an interesting mindfulness activity to play, but not play for an hour. I’m proud I did it. Because it really was challenging mentally to stick with it. Okay, that was a great tangent Gene. Where were you going with that before you pulled that out of me?

 

Stray: Cat Nap on Twitch Stream
Stray: The 1-Hour Cat Nap on a recent Dr. Gameology Twitch Stream showed the many ways we can stay occupied in the midst of a simple thing become a hard thing to complete.

 

Okay, so when I was viewing the game, I thought the parts where you play, “doing just cat stuff,” that is top notch. Excellent. And it’s actually like, I thought it was kind of almost a victim of its own success. And that the parts where you’re not just being a cat isn’t as good. Like the parts where you’re like, shooting lights at the robots. I think that part maybe didn’t need to be in the game, because the other part was so good.

Yeah, the relationship though, with your robot friend is actually really compelling. And I don’t know how that connects with shooting lights at death robots, but I suspect that is related.

Yeah, in terms of the relationship between so the little robot is B-12. Right? Yes. I don’t know where you are in the game and where the scene that I watch is in relation to where you are in the game, but there’s a particular scene where the robot kind of sacrifices itself to help the cat through this really difficult place where all those little gross rat squishy things are. I don’t know what they are but they’re gross. I don’t like their noises but it was so heartwarming. I’m not even really attached to this game in any way. I’m not a huge cat person (more of a dog person). I do like cats, but that little moment was just heartbreaking. It was so sad and the cat – you know the robot helped him out of the situation. The cat went back and scooped him up and they ran away from the swarm of those things. I don’t know so far. I think it’s a fun game to watch. That’s for sure. And it’s really cool to see the cat do cat stuff. Yeah. It’s so funny. It is a platforming game though. That’s like my worst nightmare. So I don’t think it’s a game I would ever play.

Ah, but it’s not because you’re a cat. And all you have to do to jump and land exactly where you need to land is press X. You don’t have to do anything directional. I didn’t even put that to gather in my head until I was eating dinner this evening, and I was talking to my family about what it’s like to play the game just to organize my thoughts for the show. And then I realized, “oh, you can’t miss a jump in this game because you’re a cat.” And that was initially going to be a criticism I had because I like to be able to fail. I don’t want to fail. And I want it to feel fair when I fail, but I don’t want a game to be “fail proof.”

I think that was a good choice on their part. Because I think that that would be too much. That would be way, way too many opportunities to fail.

That’s true because you are jumping on very thin surfaces too. You need the reflexes or the instinctual balance of a cat in order for the game to work.

Yeah, they would have to configure it in a weird way. Kind of like the Prince of Persia games, where once you’re close to an edge, you’d like whole triangle or something and you just work.

Yeah. There’s a little bit of that in. “It Takes Two.” That’s very platformy, at least from what I remember.

But yeah, I remember you talking about that.

if you’re swinging from something to something, it kind of helps you out a little.

You can fall to your death in It Takes Two repeatedly.

You absolutely can but it does help you out a little.

The two games; It Takes Two was last year’s consensus Game of the Year, and Stray have “litter loads” of charm. I don’t know. I was going to say boatloads, but boats have nothing to do with cats. I don’t know.

For the record I don’t agree with It Takes Two get in game of the year because of those reasons. We talked about off air.

Wait, is it okay to include those in the show? Off air doesn’t help anybody Gene.

Okay. Well, you and I both agree that the final last third of the game only makes the game less great.

That’s true. Once you switch from getting somewhere in the house to “let’s do a challenge because the therapy book says we have to” – I didn’t like that. I thought the conclusion of the story was right there, and that we’re just adding levels so that we can get jokes about Rainbow Road and so that we can have a couple more settings that the game developers wanted to be able to create. So they made a plot to justify it. Yes. However, charm; It Takes Two had it. I didn’t want to bring up that game to question its legacy as an important 2021 game. I’m just thinking a lot about Stray and how it’s the “Cat Hero’s Journey,” because it literally is. There’s an ordinary world and a supernatural world. There’s a herald of change. There’s, there’s mentor, and there’s the road trials, and there’s tests and allies, there’s, you know, the belly of the whale, all of it is so right there. 

 

Stray: The two games, Stray and It Takes Two,both use charm to make bold statements about life as the game player moves characters around in thought provoking spaces.
Stray: The two games, Stray and It Takes Two, both use charm to make bold statements about life as the game player moves characters around in thought provoking spaces.

Click Here for the Episode 66 of The Gaming Persona Podcast for more information on the game It Takes Two

 

And by the way, I did see my son finish the game, and the end of the game. From a cinematography perspective, matches Journey’s end of the game. 

Wow.

It’s the long walk. The camera stops following you, and it watches you walk into the fading away new world that we don’t get to see. And I don’t want to get more specific, but there’s something that cat does at the end there that just made my heart melt as a person who has my own cats that I love. And so I was getting hit by another former game of the year, Journey, (and probably my favorite game of all time), but with a cat and all the different trials and all the different skills and abilities the cat has to figure out. I just felt like there’s something almost magical that we’ve never been able to play before. As physics get better in games, human characters have started to walk more like the way we would imagine walking. We’re not these blocky mechanical vehicle characters that just go perfectly forward anymore. A game like The Last of Us is a really good example of this, that the, the gait of the human characters really is believable in the context of their environment. As opposed to a game 20 years ago, and the N64, where forward is just geometrically forward. Does that make sense?

Oh, yeah, sure. Certainly. One of the things that that has come out with human care humanoid characters nowadays, is the, I guess, the concept of momentum.

Yes. 

Yeah, older games, you just kind of you kind of had a weird like, you like, like, let’s say inertia. Yeah. Old Games. Like, let’s say, like 2d Sonic games, like Sonic one, two, and three, you had that slight break animation where you slide forward like a couple of inches. But nowadays, your character throws themselves backwards. In some games, in order to really stop, you see them fall over and trip. If you’re like moving at top speed, and then you suddenly go backwards.

But not trip like in a Super Smash Brothers Brawl kind of way?

Right. That is one of the worst mechanics of all time.

 

As physics get better in games, human characters have started to walk more like the way we would imagine walking. We're not these blocky mechanical vehicle characters that just go perfectly forward anymore. Click To Tweet

 

Yes, it is. I’m glad we finally got to bring that up on The Gaming Persona. It’s been a long time waiting to happen. But the physics of the cat are amazingly well done. That’s what I was trying to get at with the comparison of those old school games with that inertia and geometric walking style to now the cat has four limbs and it moves exactly like my cats do. It’s almost mind blowing how amazing video games can be at giving us this kind of a world to control a character in and then think like them. 

 

The Road of Trials

 

So there are a few more really specific things we’re going to talk about in the Road of Trials, where we face our challenges and discover our strengths. So in the interest of figuring out what it’s like to play as a cat, I want to talk about the controller for a little bit. This is something you don’t pick up if you’re watching a stream unless the streamer starts going crazy talking about it. When I was taking the cat nap last night, the controller was vibrating as the cat’s breathing during the entire nap. In and out, and it was balanced in terms of left and right. It wasn’t even a full vibration. It was like a ripple through the entire device. When you would scratch at furniture, you would have to also hit the left to and the right to on the controller, and you would have pushed back inside the controller with all those PS5 haptic vibration kinds of things that can do as if there’s friction on the furniture that you’re scratching. So the button would be pushing back at you. And I just was blown away at the fact that every little detail you could think about for being a cat, they found a way to translate it into the game. So I was thinking to myself, “what other games even are there where we get to experience an animal character or a cat character, where a game developer would even have to think about these kinds of things.” because I don’t know that there’s any other games where we have to think about the simulation for how to scratch furniture as a cat. Yeah, but there must be other cats in video games. So I wanted to just talk about representation of animals. Can get specific and find some cats in our gaming heritage personally and just make them a part of the show? So have either of you got a list of a few that we can talk about in terms of video games have brought us these wonderful cats?

I actually do. And we were talking before the show, I, it was hard for me to think of experiencing a cat in a video game. But in a Sea of Thieves, you can’t play as the cat, but they do have pets that you can purchase that you can pull out and they follow you around. They meow and you can pick them up and pet them, and you can stick them in the cannons and shoot them out. And they…

Oh my gosh. 

Yeah. It’s really funny. You can even buy outfits for the cats, and they have a couple different types of pets. They have dogs, they have monkeys, they have parrots, and they have cats. It’s really cute. The cats do their own thing. Usually the pets usually do their own thing. They walk around the ship; they usually stay within range of you. They’ll climb up on something and take a nap. That’s the closest thing to like a real cat that I’ve ever seen in a video game. Okay, yeah.

My example I guess, is not real cat like, they are the Palicos from the Monster Hunter series. They are a cat people – they’re full-fledged members of society. They have jobs and everything. They are basically cats, though they do all kinds of cat things. They do all the things that normal cats do. In addition to being people. The main draw of that game with these Palicos is that they are your companions, they help you. They sort of carry around gear they help you mind, they help you fish, they help you do all kinds of little tasks, but they also help you fight. They don’t fight with the big weapons like you do, but they have their own weapons. They like throw boomerangs and blow guns and have their own little swords. But all their weapons are kind of comical, like they’ll hit you with sword fishes (which are like swordfish skeletons), because you know, it’s cat-themes, so they have fish skeletons. Oh, yeah. The cats in that game are very anthropomorphic comical characters. Sometimes you can control the cats to go on little safari adventures where you send them out to do scavenging adventures.

That’s nice. So they’re like a tool for the player to use to gather things.

Yeah, they’re a tool for you to gather things. If you’re not playing multiplayer, then they’re your support companions as well, because they have special abilities. Some of them can have different kinds of Palicos. If you have a support version, they can play their magical cat instruments that buff and heal you somehow.

Okay. Well, I actually have two examples on my mind. And one of them. I didn’t even think about until I heard the two of you talk about your own cat examples. So I will go with that one first. In Star Wars The Old Republic, one of the species or races that they added for character creation are the Cathar race. And that means your character is a being that looks like a humanoid cat. I never created a character that was a Cathar because I didn’t want that look for any of my characters ever because I want to look like a human mostly, but I’m sure there are many people that enjoy that race, and your avatar is a central part of your connection to a virtual world-based game or an RPG. So I think that that’s a really in-depth opportunity to position a cat-like character as the hero of an epic game story.

So yeah, what these guys look like, what about Bothans? Aren’t they cats?

Um, they might be cat like, but Cathar are actual cat people. All the way through. Cathar I think are are much more directly a cat species, whereas Bothans I don’t know if we’ve ever actually seen one in anything that’s canon. 

Then I want to just bring up Morgana from Persona 5. And Jenny, you jogged my memory on Morgana before the show, so, Three cheers for you – remembering all the games that I’ve introduced you to and pointing out that I almost missed a really big influential character for my gaming lineage. Morgana is arguably the Herald of Change, or the mentor in the hero’s journey that is Persona 5, because you meet Morgana in the first dungeon, and Morgana takes up the role of “I know what it’s like to be here. This is how you survive.” Then as you achieve your first persona reveal, and seize your powers in that subconscious world, you take leadership of the group away from Morgana. During those first couple entries into the subconscious castle of the pervert gym teacher, Morgana is your guide. Morgana looks like a cat, but technically speaking is not a cat. Gene, you described exactly what Morgon is, what would we describe him as?

A Shadow Demon in the form of a cat?

Well, a lot of people might just argue that’s what cats are anyway.

 

Morgana is arguably the Herald of Change or the Mentor in the hero's journey that is Persona 5. When you meet, Morgana fills the role of knowing how to fight and survive a dungeon inside the subconscious. Click To Tweet

 

Yeah, but I think that those two examples are really neat ways of looking at how animals can make their way into fictional worlds in video game stories. First, you can create a hero of yourself that is designed in a cat homage style. Then another is as a companion or a mentor or as someone who understands the supernatural world and can guide you into safety and through combat. So before we go into the ascent, and talk about some of the research about how cats make their way into our video games, I just want to have a personal preference question here. Can Stray beat a game like Elden Ring for Game of the Year? And then why or why not?

I will go first since I’m not too familiar with Elden Ring. But I do know that a lot went into that game, and it’s a really challenging game and I feel like they’re just on such different levels. They feel like totally different games even though they’re both like adventure type games. I don’t know for me, I would prefer Stray over Elden Ring personally, but I don’t know that it could be Elden Ring?

Yeah, so I mean, when we look at the contextual situations with these award shows, generally they are, you know, the ones that win game of the year or big-time blockbusters, things like you know, Red Dead Redemption, you know, Grand Theft Auto or perhaps Elden Ring. They’re ones that a bazillion people end up buying and playing.

Uncharted and God of War are good for that. Breath of the Wild. Right?

I don’t know exactly what the bigger overall picture for Stray is. Is it a bazillion seller? I don’t know.

I think there are many different places where the title game of the year comes from also. And there are places that will name a game like The Last of Us Part Two as their game of the year. And I did play that game, and I think it deserved everything it got. But then, there’s years where a game like Journey wins most of the consensus game of the years, and that’s a 90-minute game with no dialogue and just a flowing orchestral soundtrack and environmental storytelling that makes you feel something. So sometimes those lighthearted non-blockbuster games, get in there and really make an impact in the minds of the player base.

Yeah, I think it might be a little too soon to tell. I do see Stray as being a really relatable game, like, lots of different gamer types have just picked it up just because it’s so cool. Whereas I don’t know that like just any gamer type would pick up Elden Ring. So…

That’s true Elden Ring requires a different kind of psychology in order to push through to get to where it’s enjoyable.

So weird factoid by Elden Ring. The developers actually don’t understand why it’s selling well. It sold well. Last time I checked, it sold over 12 million copies. A couple of months ago, they don’t understand why that’s happened. Because they’re like, you know, Dark Souls did not sell that many for sure.

Well, I bought it twice because I hated playing it in my living room. So I bought it on my computer.

Okay, so that explains two of the 12 million.

Right? I think Elden Ring is an epic fantasy. I think that it hit that market of people that wouldn’t play Dark Souls and became a “you must own this game” kind of title somehow. I don’t know that I can come up with a better explanation besides that either. I just thought I would ask because we are halfway through the year. God of War Ragnarok is still scheduled to come out in time for her Game of the Year voting. There are a couple other games that might come out as well, that could be in that list. I think it’s really neat what we’ve gotten from the game industry to play and to have fun with this year. I’ve really enjoyed doing these episodes where we’re talking about the current games, because that is one of the things that you and I Jenny would talk about as being a goal. We had all these other topics that we felt like needed to be in the foundation of our show. We did that, most of it. It seems like really good game titles come out faster than really good research studies do. Who does that? Yeah. So I think there’s a difference in mentality being that in academia, you can complete a really solid study and no one will see it for nine months or 18 months I had a article at the beginning of the pandemic that got accepted for publication it didn’t even come out until December 2021. I know that happens to people, whereas if a game is done, you want to start making money off it so you release it and Stray by the way was free for PlayStation Plus subscribers. That’s awesome, right? I didn’t have to buy it in order to play it and I think that that might be why it created such a buzz is because it’s a good enough looking game that I might as well play it because it looks amazing and I don’t have to buy it. At least for people in the PlayStation ecosystem.

Now that definitely helps. Thinking back on again like Fall Guys, I don’t think would have taken off if it wasn’t basically free for a ton of people.

 

Can Stray beat a game like Elden Ring for Game of the Year? Why or why not? Click To Tweet

 

 

The Ascent

 

Very true also, yeah. So we have covered all of our Road of Trials ideas for today. Let’s go on The Ascent and elevate the topic. 

So I was able to find two studies that talk about representation of cats and video games. I had my cat sleeping in Stray last night, and I just said, “I don’t know if anything even exists for us to talk about with this game related to research.” So I knew I needed my cat to sleep for an hour. I actually pulled my Google Chrome browser as the thing that I was streaming (because the cat wasn’t going anywhere), and I found the articles with my friend Doritos95000. I was really excited that this exists because it makes a lot of sense. 

Animals are in video games all over the place, sometimes their characters, sometimes they’re just there. So I have a list of four ways that animals show up in video games. I think the cool thing about this list is that the three of us have already talked about each of these with our Sea of Thieves, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Monster Hunter. So I just would like to elect one of us to read them. Jenny, can you give us the list of the four ways animals appear in video games according to Janski (2016)?

 

Stray: Animals can be used in video games to add to the environmental feel, become characters, or add some hybrid types of races to the way we see the world come together as the game player.
Stray: Animals can be used in video games to add to the environmental feel, become characters, or add hybrid races to the way we see the world come together.

 

Sure. So animals as a background element, animals as a hero, as a companion, and as a tool.

Yep, that is it. So every time you have an animal that’s just in an alleyway or scenery or in the background, or you can trip on them, and they have a little animation and a little sound bite that they play, That’s animal as a background element. That means that the developers had to program all the nuanced interactions there into the game, not knowing what path you were going to walk as you stepped on them.

I wonder, would the Sea of Thieves pets be considered a background element because you can’t interact with them?

I think background element is really what pets usually are. MMO games are pretty well known to have pets as accessories for your character that will just walk behind you and take up space but maybe not have a combat role. That’s what I’m imagining for Sea of Thieves.

Yeah, it’s similar to that. Just in Final Fantasy 14, you could pick up your minion and like pet it, or if your minion would like lift up its leg and pee on things. Dogs do that in Sea of Thieves

Well, that is what dogs do. 

Anyway. Jenny, I’ve been actually this is not related. But it’s kind of related. So just hear me out. I’ve been doing some different technology updates for some of our early episodes of the show. I just want to point out, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but I wasn’t aware of this until yesterday. I think your favorite game of all time actually is Sea of Thieves.

Well, I could see how you would think that by looking at our show notes. I mean, I haven’t played it in a year. But at the beginning of our podcast journey, I played it a lot. It was so much fun. It really did have every element that I love in video games.

And that’s a good thing. I just thought it was really cool because I’ve never thought about our show in that light, and then hearing you talk for the first time about your “Pirate Legend” achievement. At the same time editing a recent episode on grinds, you also talked about that and then it clicked and I realized, “Wow, this game is really significant for Jenny?” Now, I don’t even know what it looks like.

It looks beautiful.

I’m sure it does. I just, what I mean is, I don’t know the art style. I just have my own imagination when you’re talking about it, probably the way I’m sure you do when I name a game you haven’t seen or happened to play?

Yeah, definitely. Yeah.

So we also have animal as a hero. As far as cats, I don’t know if I’ve ever been a hero, until Stray. Maybe hero doesn’t have to be such a literal thing, either. I don’t know if we’re trying to be heroic. No, I take that back. In Stray you definitely do heroic things as that cat. 

So Gene, there are also iterations on those four styles of animals in terms of how we use them, that explain their ontology, or how they are presented within themselves as animal creatures. So would you like to run down that list of ways that animals appear in games?

Sure. Well, there’s actual representation, which I assume aren’t just realistic cat representation, like in Stray.

The horse is a horse, and you can ride it. The dog is a dog, it will pee on the fire hydrant.

Legendary status. I assume that’s magical cat gods like maybe the Egyptian mythological cats.

Oh, yeah. For sure.

Extrapolations. I’m not entirely sure what that is.

Okay, so we have a list of games also, and I have not played all of these. But if we look at different games that have extrapolation, creatures, Alien Isolation is one. So an extrapolation, I’m assuming then is you have the pieces of a recognizable animal, but they are twisted into something that is not actually that animal.

Ah, okay.

World of Warcraft also has that in terms of their Grove Warden creatures.

Okay, so I was thinking things like, in Final Fantasy, the Coerls. They are cat like, yes, but they are not cats.

Yeah, they’re extrapolations on the cat idea that we all carry inside our minds.

Yes. And then hybrids, so I assume hybrids are kind of like Morgana type characters?

Mm hmm. Yep, exactly. So we have so many different video games that have animals in them. And we iterate on them in order to create franchises sometimes, like Pokémon is definitely an extrapolation and a hybrid and a legendary opportunity for animals all over the place. 

Yeah.

And I just think that it’s so neat that we’re talking about Stray which is “how can we literally put our players in control of a cat?” But then when you think about, “oh, animals are inside the entire story of what we think about when we play video games.” we’re just focused on the swords and the fireballs and the dragons. Even in a game like Elden Ring, there are actual non-lethal creatures running around the woods and meadows. You can kill them for a very tiny amount of runes but you really shouldn’t bother because that’s heartless. Wait Gene, did you kill ever the little sheep and non-threatening deer animals?

Only a handful of times at the beginning just to see if they had anything important. Like you know, sadly, the all the birds and they’ll be important if you want to use bows and arrows.

In World of Warcraft they have little chickens that run around that you can catch and kill. There’s like achievements related to them. Because they don’t really do anything for you to progress.

Yeah, in a lot of games like that I’m instantly thinking to about my time in Star Wars The Old Republic and Final Fantasy 14. There are animals that have an icon above their nameplate that indicate it will not attack you. But it will enter into enemy status if you attack it. And I think that’s kind of the designation of a lot of nature living animal creatures. Except for the lethal ones, they will just attack you for being close to them. 

Wow. It’s like video games have been teaching us how to treat animals the proper way the whole time? 

 

The Return

 

Well, I think that we have explored enough of our research studies for this evening. So let’s go on The Return where we go back to our daily lives and take our next step forward. So Jenny, and Gene, what have we talked about that’s interesting enough to think about it as we move into our next games in the rest of our week?

So this topic about playing as animals there’s a game that I haven’t actually played, but I saw a long time ago on the PS3 called Tokyo Jungle. I might revisit that. Anyways, that game is a game where basically humanity has died, and you play as various animals is trying to live. It’s not very realistic. Like there’s dinosaurs and robots and shit.

Haha! The Gaming Persona goes explicit.

Yeah, but it’s like events like the goal of the game is that you run around, you find food, then you build up giant packs. So it’s like event like you start off as like a small little Pomeranian dog. And you gather a pack of Pomeranian dogs. Oh man, you eat like a cow. But yeah, you like devour other animals and gain calories and find mates and whatnot, until you beat the stage and then you get to unlock bigger and bigger animals. There’s a plot in there somewhere. I don’t know. There’s a story. But yeah, okay. It does get ridiculous when you start playing as things as like dinosaurs.

Is it similar to like Spore where you start out like really small-scale amoeba and then eventually you have this whole civilization?

It’s not that grand, I guess. But it’s like yeah, you play as a Pomeranian and then you eventually upgrade to like, a bigger dog like a like a German shepherd. And then you eventually upgrade to like, a goat. Or like a horse is keep getting to bigger animals. So you don’t end up being like going into space. I don’t think unless eventually you become a robot or something. But yeah, it’s not super realistic that I’ve seen but I would be interested in seeing how the animal game plays.

What was the game again?

It is called Tokyo Jungle.

Sounds really fun. For me, I’m really happy like in touch that you mentioned that Sea of Thieves is a really important game to me. It has been a very much on my mind lately to play. I even bought it for my boyfriend like a couple of weeks ago to see if we can get back into it. So yeah, I remember being so excited for dogs to come out as an option in the game like I remember I waited weeks for that for that patch to come through.

I just experienced that conversation week!

Yeah, I was so happy that I could get a dog and I named him Glitterbeast.

Glitterbeast!

I miss Glitterbeast. I really do.

You couldn’t even get the time to feed glitter beast you just waiting at home looking at the door, wondering “why doesn’t Jenny love me?” Do you remember that? 

I do. I do. We’ve had this conversation. I felt this terrible before.

It’s cyclical!

But yeah, I Do really miss it and I think I will play again soon. And when I do, it will be part of my ordinary world and it will be amazing.

Well, I am going to take with me, just the sheer emotional experience of what that cat does on the screen in Stray. It rubs against the legs of new robots, to mark it with its friendship. It curls up on the different carpet and shelves to take a nap. It kneads on the carpets to keep its claws, you know, working and usable. It just is such a cool set of mannerisms to let you feel like you’re controlling a cat, instead of just playing a video game where the cat is on the other end of the controller. Although I’m not playing on the PC, I think the modder that is taking commissions to insert people’s actual cats as in for the Stray cat is doing a humanitarian service for the human race. Amazing that this is the only reason capitalism should exist. Thank you. I’m not going to pay you to put Lexicon or Ventress into the game, because I’m playing it on PlayStation where “No mods are allowed.” But I think that’s a wonderful thing that I read on the internet today. And it falls right in line with the entire feeling of why you would want to enjoy a game like Stray, because it takes that love of animals and it puts it in a game. But if you really have that love for animals, you probably should just go play with your cat. (They’ll really appreciate that). But if you need a surrogate for that love, there is Stray. 

So my final quest for everyone to collect for the day is “Meow, meow, meow,” and Continue the Journey. 

See you next week!

Important Links:

References

Jański, K. (2016). Towards a categorisation of animals in video games. Homo Ludens(1 (9)), 85-101.

Stray: https://stray.game/

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