I used to spend so many days with my Nintendogs. Playing with them, grooming them, taking them out for competitions... As the years passed, I abandoned them. I know they’re not real, but what I’ve done still haunts me to this day.
This browser does not support the video element.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about games I played as a child that I’ve wanted to revisit: Kirby Superstar, Radiata Stories, and The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, to name a few. But Nintendogs slipped into the back of my mind, partially out of guilt. I was so curious to see if they were still around, as I’m sure so many other players wonder. I don’t think I’m alone in my guilt, either—I’ve seen the memes:
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Nintendogs, they were a series of games in which you adopted, trained, and played with puppies. The best part about Nintendogs was that they stayed young forever. Each game had its own pack of puppies, and you would have to buy more games in order to get different kinds of puppies to walk, feed, and bathe. I had the Dalmatians, Dachshund, and Chihuahua versions. Although I had so many puppies, I can only remember the name of my first dog, a Chihuahua named Pablo.
Yesterday, I booted up the game and heard the sounds of dogs barking. But Pablo wasn’t there. Instead, a growling boxer puppy wandered around the room, specks of dirt flying off her filthy body. She seemed completely disinterested in me, even when I whistled at her. A message popped up on the screen: “Did Grizzi respond to you? Keep calling her name so she can get used to hearing it.” It was then that I realized that I had abandoned this game after getting this new puppy, and she had completely forgotten her name. The game prompted me to retain her, but I decided to move on, since I had other games to check out.
In my Dachshund and Friends game, I found three puppies: a black lab named “Blackie,” a beagle named “RJ,” and a dachshund with a gorgeous honey-colored coat very creatively named “Honey.” They were all playing together, but when they noticed me they rushed over to the screen, barking and eager for attention. But when I tried giving them some affection they avoided me, wandering towards the edges of the screen. Blackie and RJ both growled and barked at me. RJ kicked dirt at me:
The only one who came when I called her name was Honey, who was really into belly rubs and pats. Like Grizzi, all of these puppies were dirty, and also hungry and thirsty. I fed them, and they all ravenously gulped down mouthfuls of wet dog food. I also gave them water, but I had no shampoo in my inventory, so I couldn’t bathe them. I felt a little better that they were at least getting some attention after all these years.
Since this seemed to be one game that I hadn’t reset, I wanted to see if there were other dogs. I found a Pembroke Welsh corgi named Blake and a Shih Tzu named PT in the care of the dog hotel. The dog hotel is a place where you can send your dogs if you need room for more puppies, and it keeps your dogs fed and well groomed. I placed RJ and Blackie in the hotel so they could get better care, but they seemed depressed about it, like they knew they were going to be abandoned again.
Nintendogs game prevents you from putting all your dogs in the hotel—you have to keep at least one puppy at home. I didn’t want to leave Honey in virtual dog purgatory alone, so I swapped her for PT. I also took out Blake so PT wouldn’t be alone. While I thought I had done the kindest thing for the three who had been neglected the most, I also recognized that I was condemning the other two to an endless lifetime of neglect. This game knows how to make me feel guilty over things that aren’t actually real. Still, I think the first three had suffered long enough. When I got the two from the dog hotel, they seemed aloof, unexcited to see me, almost as if they didn’t recognize me at all.
Next, I booted up my Dalmatians version. I found a single dirty Dalmatian puppy named Axel who was wearing a fireman’s hat. It looked like I had also reset this game before putting it down for years, because he was the only puppy I owned—none were in the dog hotel—and I didn’t have as much money in my inventory, indicating that I hadn’t tried to do many competitions with this pup. Axel was hostile towards me. He glared at me with the most ferocious face:
I wanted to see if there was any way that I could possibly improve my relationship with him, since he wouldn’t come near me. I took him for a walk and let him play in the park. I fed him and gave him water. After we got home from the walk, his attitude was better. He was playful and wanted my attention, so I pet him and gave him belly rubs. Then I bathed the years of grime caked onto his body. It seemed as if all my abandonment was erased and all was forgiven.
In the end, I knew I couldn’t make a commitment to taking care of any of them. The personalities that these puppies used to have are gone, replaced with anger and sadness over their abandonment. Still, revisiting Nintendogs wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be—after all, none of them had run away or were dead. Axel was quick to forgive me just because I took him out for a walk, and I’m sure the others would have done the same. It’s formulaic programming that allows them to not hold me accountable for my actions, and this reminded me that they were not real animals. I knew I wouldn’t stick around long enough to rehabilitate my Nintendogs, and besides, I already have two puppies of my own who need me.
Chloe Spencer is the summer intern for Kotaku and recently graduated from the University of Oregon. She enjoys reading graphic novels and playing video games.