Just a few of the good pets and words from Unwinnable’s long-awaited Pets issue. So many pets. Take your allergy pills, folks.
When I first pitched this, I had something entirely different in mind. I set out to ask a few lighthearted and maybe pithy questions of the owner of a Twitter account about petting dogs. Instead, I learned about the responsibility and power that one can hold without ever meaning to.
Can You Pet the Dog is a Twitter account that began with a simple and obvious question: Can you pet the dog? Since March of this year, it’s become the internet’s best and most comprehensive source for those who want to know if you can pet a dog in a videogame.
The rules are simple. In order to count as a genuine petting interaction, there must be a “manual input resulting in visual representation of petting is required for affirmation.” What’s not so simple is how the question of being able to pet dogs has touched on some of the most pressing and important questions the videogame industry is grappling with.
Speaking via Twitter direct message with the owner of Can You Pet the Dog, I got a much deeper insight into how much influence just one Twitter account can leverage when connected to the right people. Take, for instance, the first time I noticed a game being changed after the owner posted about it.
“I was initially elated to see a quality pet interaction dog added in Enter the Gungeon, a game I personally enjoy. But as the account has grown in popularity, I have become more worried about my tweets putting pressure on a studio and its employees,” the owner said. “The last thing I want is for a post on the account to result in harassment of hard-working developers.”
Enter the Gungeon, by first-time developer Dodge Roll, seems to have been changed to include a dog petting interaction after New Blood Interactive Co-Founder Dave Oshry tagged Enter the Gungeon designer Dave Crooks in a CYPtD post on Twitter. After Crooks responded “Hold my beer,” a dog petting interaction was added.
“When I first made that Enter the Gungeon post, the account was only a few days old. At the time, I did not think developers would actually make changes to their games in response to my posts – nor did I believe that my followers would expect features to be added in response to my tweets,” the owner said.
Since those early days, the account has amassed almost 200,000 followers. Among them are numerous developers, studios, writers and editors. While 200,000 is far from the most obviously “influential” accounts, it’s not hard to see how those followers can overlap with other active communities on Reddit or Discord to further amplify the reach.
Importantly, the owner told me that, “since that time, I have shifted away from spotlighting recent games from smaller teams that do not feature pettable dogs, unless the developers specifically tag me on Twitter,” in order to minimize the impact a CYPtD post can have.
That being said, the owner made it clear that when appropriate, they would do what they could be clear about the impact they wanted to have. “For the most part, I have tried to avoid adding context for posts, allowing instead followers to control discussion points. That is fine when it comes to debating whether or not it is okay to pet K.K. Slider, for instance. But when it comes to the serious issue of labor conditions in the games industry, I do not want to leave room for interpretation.”
“The last thing I want is for a post on the account to result in harassment of hard-working developers.”
After posting that the Fortnite dog petting animation had been improved, the owner shortly followed up with an article about how Fortnite’s rise to prominence also lead to intense crunch and strain on developers.
“It seems likely that Epic Games added a petting feature to Fortnite because of my post, going on to improve the animation in a later update after initial complaints. It is important to know the cost of that rapid update cycle, which is why I posted a link to the Polygon story on crunch at Epic in reply to one of my Fortnite tweets. Petting a dog in a videogame almost always feels good, but in the case of Fortnite specifically, I do not believe that the addition of the feature was a net positive.”
I’ll admit that I had semi-publicly complained about the dog petting animation in Fortnite, something that was only brought to my attention when a mutual follower of the account posted about it. What I had not considered was that my semi-public tweet might have been part of the critical mass that made Epic Games push their team to fix something that is simply unnecessary.
That kind of necessity and time crunch is also being felt by the owner themselves. “Maintaining the account is very time-consuming, and past the initial rush of virality, I have been struggling to find reason to continue with little tangible return.”
They do, however, see the joy that they bring to the rest of us. “I am happy if I can provide a light break from an otherwise bleak social media feed, but I know that I should also respect the value of my own time. While I figure out what to do, I have attempted to use my platform to bring attention to causes and issues I believe are worth spotlighting.”
If you’re one of the almost 200,000 followers of the account, take a moment to appreciate the digital dogs we can pet and how many of them we now know we can pet because of the work of this individual. But also consider that our social media interactions aren’t in a vacuum. While some have said that most of Twitter is shouting into a void, remember that the void can hear you. It’s listening. Sometimes that means we learn about dogs we can pet in games. Other times it means a hapless group of people working on a game might be pushed hard to satisfy the shouting of the void.
David Shimomura is a Chicago-based writer who wants to pet all the dogs. He’s currently dog friends with Biscuit and Amelia. He waves to every dog he sees.