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I decided to do a retrospective of notable video game pets in 2022, because, frankly, I adopted a real one this year. A simple motivation and a simple, straightforward article to put together–right? But while brainstorming, really existential questions about what counts as a pet in a video game started manifesting.
Do pets need to have no utilitarian use and be purely aesthetic animal-like creatures that players get to occasionally feed and give pats to? Probably not. If they’re also tied to a game mechanic, can they be considered pets? Sure. Do they have to be a traditionally domesticated animal–as opposed to a mechanical or even ghostly existence–to be considered a pet? Perhaps?
How much intelligence should they have? Because if they’re too smart, then they’re just like a regular NPC or party member, right? Do you have to shovel their poop like in Tamagotchi for them to register as pets? I feel like the last point is really integral to pet-owning.
With all those questions in mind, the net cast here is pretty wide–a nod to the nebulous line between traditional real-life notions of pets, mechanics, and independent sentient characters. From Elden Ring’s Torrent to pet management sims, there’s a little bit of everything here.
Elden Ring, Torrent
In Elden Ring, the primary mode of transportation comes in the form of your loyal steed, Torrent. He is an important part of exploring the huge maps and in a coward’s case (mine), running away from more-powerful enemies. I wrote an article this year, explaining my affection towards Torrent–but really, he’s the best pet, and the best pal an adventurer can ask for. His double-jump is incredibly useful in getting out of tight spots, and every open-world game should come with a pet that can execute a double jump.
Pokemon Scarlet & Violet, Every Single Pokemon
Hahahaha. Yeah, this one is going to be controversial. The official messaging from the Pokemon franchise seems to be that Pokemon are our “friends.” But we also use–er, capture?–them to assist us in battles and competitive leagues. In that sense, they are more than friends; Pokemon are a “resource.” And yet, I think Pokemon are pets, too. We can give them unique names, nurse them back to health, and the way people talk about them is very much like how they talk about their beloved real-life non-human companions.
For the record, my favorite Pokemon Scarlet & Violet Pokemon is Sprigatito, the starter version. The evolved Meowscarada version stands up and is a bit too like a cat-human hybrid–something along the lines of that terrible live-action Cats movie.
Norco is a game with a unique sensibility: equal parts southern gothic and sci-fi, with a good dose of the humorously surreal–as evidenced by the Crouton minigames. In Norco, players can find an orange cat named Crouton in the local bookstore. Though he’s moody, as the bookstore owner warns, players can still choose to try to give him a pat. The first few times the player does so, a minigame is triggered. But after enough scritches, Crouton bursts through the roof and just… leaves. Good for Crouton!
Cat Cafe Manager, All Cafe Cats
A pleasant indie game, Cat Cafe Manager is a management sim that is exactly what its title sounds like: You manage a cafe with cats. It reminds me of the good ol’ days of games centered around pets (Nintendogs, Tamagotchi), but with additional business elements like serving human customers. It’s meant to be a relaxing game with low stakes, but is perhaps too lax in direction at times–as GameSpot’s Cat Cafe Manager review points out.
Stray, The Protagonist
Arguably, this is the “game with a pet” that will first come to people’s minds. Though, it’s not a strictly accurate description for Stray. You play as a cat, so from that perspective, you’re simply an independent, owner-less cat exploring a city. The cat in Stray would probably scoff at being classified as a pet. But that didn’t stop people from truly turning the protagonist of Stray into a pet. Some cat owners asked modders to insert their own cat as the feline protagonist.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3, Nopons
Nopons. Even after playing a significant amount of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and after Googling, I still am not sure what those dastardly creatures are. I get that if you play previous Xenoblade games, there is more backstory on Nopons. But Nopons in XC3 are simply inscrutable. You can find them both on the opposing Keves and Agnus sides, and they’re also item vendors.
Physically, Nopons are very pet-like. They’re egg-shaped, fluffy little creatures who are cute. They do have intelligence, though they speak in a unique cadence. They escape any categorization, and when I look at them, I think they could be either pets or omniscient gods. Nopons feel like the evolved form of pets–like capable party members in a cute, squishy form. Or they’re potentially the universe’s overlords. There’s no in-between.