I’ll be the first to admit that I find the weirdly performative nature of the “Can You Pet The Dog” Twitter account to be annoying and odd. The idea that games should all include some moment when you pet a pup or a cat is silly to me and feels like a misguided reaction to so many games being violent power fantasies. However, if you do put a dog in your game and have it follow you around, the least you could do is let me acknowledge its existence. Frustratingly, this week’s new release Somerville doesn’t really do that.
Released earlier this week across multiple platforms and Microsoft’s Game Pass, Somerville is a narrative-driven adventure game played mostly as a side-scrolling journey across an alien-invaded Earth. It’s very pretty and quiet and reminded me a lot of Limbo and Inside, which makes sense since Somerville’s studio founder previously worked on those games. It’s also a bit of a clunky mess, with some annoying puzzles and moments of frustration as you try to maneuver your character around hard-to-see doors and walkways. Through a lot of this, your trusty and loveable dog will be by your side. Yet for some reason, the game’s main character just doesn’t give a shit about his pup.
I first noticed this early on when, after a lot of bad stuff happened, I made my way up a hill and at the very top, could glimpse a destroyed landscape. Aliens had attacked and possibly killed thousands. In the background, ruins of buildings lay collapsed and smoking. My dog was whining, likely scared and unsure of what was happening. So I naturally went over to my digital dog to pet it, and let it know everything is alright. Except there was no option to do that. I could just stand awkwardly next to the sad and scared dog as it continued to whimper.
Later on, the game threw more terrible moments and unpleasant misadventures our way, causing my dog to react fearfully. It was desperate to escape and survive, to stand by my side. And yet your main character just ignores it. He literally never even looks at the dog or acknowledges it’s there. He keeps solving light puzzles and running from monsters, but never once stops to pet or comfort his dog. And to be clear, it is his dog. You start Somerville feeding the poor thing, and in that sole moment the game lets you give it a hug. (However, it should be noted your son hugs it. Not the main character…) That’s it though. From then on it’s just a four-hour journey of a dog being ignored by its owner.
Toward the end of the game, I nearly died. Luckily some survivors found me and helped patch me up. When my character awoke after hours or even days of rest, guess who was right there next to me? Yup, my trusty and loveable mutt. I got up and went over to pet the dog, to thank it for staying by my side through all this. And yet, once again, I could only stand next to it awkwardly. After that, I honestly hoped the main character of Somerville would actually die and I could play as someone else who actually knows how to pet a fucking dog.