A completely unbiased assessment of the facts.
Cats are better than dogs, if we’re talking about which animal makes for a better videogame protagonist. I’m not saying that cats are better pets than dogs, or that they have more complex inner lives, or that their companionship carries more meaning. I’m just saying that cats are superior to dogs in every way that is related to being a videogame protagonist.
On a general note, I want more games that star animals of any kind so long as they’re regular animals, not anthropomorphized cartoon characters like Sonic the Hedgehog, Conker the Squirrel, or Jazz Jackrabbit. I’ve had enough of characters whose last name is the type of animal they are, which for some reason is almost always a member of the ‘animals you can picture Huckleberry Finn shooting with a Winchester Model 1866’ family. The public clearly agrees, because platformer Stray, which stars a regular housecat, is one of the most wishlisted games on Steam right now. (Update: Stray has now released to very positive reviews.
But would there be so much interest in Stray if its protagonist weren’t an adorable orange cat, and were instead a loud, excitable Bull Terrier, Shih Tzu, or Alaskan Klee Kai? Definitely not, because cats are better than dogs (as videogame protagonists).
Here are three reasons:
- Cats are natural platformers. They like to leap across gaps, climb up trees and onto roofs, squeeze through tight spaces, and walk along narrow beams. My mom’s dog sometimes falls off the couch for no reason.
- Cats are explorers. While a dog sniffs at the base of a succulent in the neighbor’s yard for two hours, a cat prowls its domain, engaging in a complex social life with a hundred other local creatures—a life we only ever witness in those videos where people put cameras on their pets to see what they do all day.
- Cats use their keen senses and agility to invisibly stalk their prey while evading threats. Dogs sometimes get confused when it’s dark and bark at household objects.
The Stray trailer above (on YouTube here) just wouldn’t work with a dog protagonist: Your average Airedale Terrier or Bernese Mountain Dog would drown out the eerie soundtrack with incessant panting and then try to carry that mop through a doorway it doesn’t fit through. Those may be endearing behaviors in a pet—to some people—but they have no place in Stray’s “long-forgotten cybercity,” where any dog would be subdued by a security bot within 10 seconds.
Does that mean that I think cartoonist Jim Davis correctly captured the difference between cats and dogs when he portrayed the dog Odie as a clueless, slobbering oaf and the cat Garfield as a feeling, thinking being? I’m not saying that.
I love dogs, in real life and in games. Dog in Half-Life 2 is an excellent videogame companion, for example. But try to imagine a robotic cat companion: It doesn’t make sense. A cat would simply not be a robot, nor would it be a sidekick, despite what the recent Pixar movie Lightyear would have us believe. (That’s not the first time Disney has lied to you about cats: In Homeward Bound, Chance embarrasses Sassy by launching her into a sandbox from a teeter-totter, even though a cat would never be made a fool of by a dog.)
I’m also obliged to acknowledge the counterpoint provided by Okami, an allegedly good videogame with a canine protagonist, but it’s not a counterpoint at all: Okami stars a wolf, which is not a dog, unless a tiger is the same as a domestic cat, a hypothesis I don’t suggest testing. And I’m not going to dig out my PlayStation 2 and hunt down a copy of 2003 Frontier Developments game Dog’s Life(opens in new tab) just to prove what I already know: that it would be better if it were called Cat’s Life.
I haven’t played Stray and I don’t know for sure yet if I’ll like it. I just know that it’s better than a hypothetical version of itself that stars a dog. The evidence barely needs pointing out, but here are a few moments in the trailer that prove it based on my completely unbiased assessment of cat and dog behavior:
- The part where the cat adorably knocks over a bunch of bottles even though it easily could have avoided them with its nimble little pawsies, which are perfect, like the pawsies of all cats.
- The part where the cat scratches its ear in the manner of a dog, but looks cute doing it instead of clumsy and foolish.
- The part where the cat escapes from robots using its superior agility and powerful muscles, which are not “dog-like,” but long and elegant.
To avoid any misunderstandings, I’ll say one last time that “cats are only regarded as fussy because dog people value naïve enthusiasm over substance” is the sort of opinion I’m not expressing here. I’m only talking about which household pet it’s more sensible to cast as the protagonist of a videogame, and the answer, clearly, is cat: the better animal (if we’re talking about which animal should star in a videogame).