Dogs are awesome. Big dogs, small dogs, fast dogs, lazy dogs, they are all just pretty great. Obviously, I’m a dog guy. I have two of them and although at times they drive me absolutely batshit crazy, at the end of the day I have no regrets. They make me happy by thinking I am just the greatest thing in the world. It caters to the narcissist in me I guess, my future kids are going to have a helluva time living up to the “hey guy I am so pumped you are home from work” precedent that has been set before them.
It doesn’t look like it in the picture but they are SO psyched to see me.
The fact that people become way too attached to their pets is something that modern movie and game developers clued in on quite some time ago. Looking back through mainstream media, there is a solid track record of dog companions over the last 10 years. I Am Legend, Fallout, Fable, Metal Gear Solid, and many others have inserted a dog as a protagonist’s steadfast companion through whatever evils may come. A dog doesn’t require any complicated backstory or any step by step relationship building. Everything is already known the second it shows up on screen. Man’s best friend, your ride or die. This guy is going to be at your side, ready to take a bullet for you at a moment’s notice. It is an innate instinctual attachment that comes from owning a dog and having been around them my whole life. Dogs are ride or die. Over the years as AI and tech have gotten better, they are even becoming more realistic in the way that they interact with both the player and with the other characters.
Seriously, they have become so realistic that every time one showed up on screen my Golden was very confused at how that tiny puppy got into the TV. How meta.
Along with the new advancements in companion interaction comes a side effect that I am still not in any way prepared to handle is the way that companions realistically are injured or even die onscreen these days. There is an unwritten rule when it comes to the audience, especially in cinema, that says “no matter what happens to the human characters, the dog doesn’t die, period. It is a quick and easy way to lose the viewer, real quick. I can sit through anything without batting an eye, murder, torture, rape, abuse, whatever as long as it is happening to a person. Not that it doesn’t affect me, because it certainly does, but it doesn’t push me to my limit or ruin my experience in any way. That probably says something about how twisted my mind has gradually become due to the increased levels of violence and brutality that are thrown in front of it very day but hey, that is another article for another day. The point is that as long as something happens to a human, it doesn’t really register as a disturbing experience. That scene in I Am Legend though, when Will Smith has to kill the German Shepard? Holy Shit. Devastating. Same thing goes for Fallout 4. When I played the previous Fallout games it was always a treat to find Dogmeat and have him roll with me for the rest of the game, taking out Supermutants and scumbags alike. Sure, I had to restart a save about four times a playthrough because that crazy little bastard would get himself killed, but it was worth it to have him at my side.
That’s one of the big improvements that I was looking forward to when Bethesda announced that in Fallout 4 Dogmeat would be unkillable. What they didn’t say is that if he was injured he would immediately collapse, paralyzed from the hips down, crying and crawling his way to you. What the actual fuck? NO. Every time it happened I would find myself running through a hail of bullets doing everything I could to make certain that I got him healed up and back on his feet as fast as possible. Something about those sound effects and visuals just gets to me. I finally had to just send him back to a settlement and pick a new companion because I just couldn’t handle that shit. Same thing when D-Dog gets killed. This brings me to probably the most traumatic dog experience I’ve ever had in a video game which happened yesterday in The Division. The streets of quarantined Manhattan are populated with terrorists, citizens, and at this point in the story tons of stray dogs. Seriously they are everywhere. You can even watch them poop!
So here I was, walking around on the street when I hear the tell-tale beep beep BEEP that a hidden bomb is about to blow my ass sky high. I immediately do a dive-roll to get out of the way and hear the explosion go off behind me. I turned around and was greeted to the scene of a random stray dog who had happened to be wandering in the area, lying dead and twitching on the ground after having taken the brunt of the blast. I just stood there for a few minutes, feeling the guilt of killing a random NPC canine. I had just mowed through about 200 humans, many of which I enjoyed filling full of as many bullets as possible and yet this one pup’s death totally crushed me. I’m getting depressed just thinking about it again. Maybe that means I’m a softy. Maybe it means I am just too attached to my current dogs. Who knows? Maybe a psychologist. What I know is that as long as I am playing a game with a canine companion one of the first things I am going to do is befriend it, and then have my emotions nut-punched every time something bad happens to it. The cycle repeats!