I grew up pet-less in the 90s. No matter how hard I begged and pleaded, promising to walk, feed, and care for a hypothetical puppy, my parents wouldn’t budge. To her credit, my mom was a realist and knew that her tweenage daughter would likely not actually assist with the aforementioned pet care tasks.
In order to make my dog-free existence a little easier, I would ask for a number of canine substitutes throughout the years. First, it was a robotic dog, not dissimilar from the infamous Furby. It barked mechanically in an uncanny valley sort of way and could do flips. After about a week, the novelty wore off and Robo dog started gathering dust.
I adopted a Tamagotchi soon after but somehow could never keep it alive no matter how hard I tried. RIP.
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Nintendogs is born
Then in 2005, Nintendo released a pet simulation game called Nintendogs for their popular platform the Nintendo DS. It came in a variety of breeds: Dachshund, Dalmatian, Labrador, Chihuahua, etc. I had to get my hands on one.
The first “dog” I adopted was a Labrador I named Mr. Krabs. I was instantly obsessed. My singular mission in life became to keep this virtual canine alive and happy. I played non-stop for months, taking Mr. Krabs for walks, grooming him, and becoming a frisbee-throwing champ. Unlike the pet simulators that came before it, this one held my attention for longer than just a few weeks.
A realistic lesson in pet parenting
The realism of the game meant that any neglect on the player’s part had visceral consequences. While your dog couldn’t die (that would be a little too intense for a children’s game) it could run away if you failed to return for too long.
If your grooming routine started slacking, your pup would get fleas, and appear visibly unhappy. Nintendogs was, in a way, teaching me the routine and dedication necessary to care for a real dog someday.
The game also taught me to be present during walks; if Mr. Krabs caught me slipping, he’d scarf down some trash during our daily strolls. Coincidently, my real dog Greta’s favorite pastime is eating trash she finds on the street. Thanks for the heads up, Nintendogs!
After about a few months or so of dedicated care, my interest started to wane. I became less and less enthusiastic about sticking to this dog mom routine. If a virtual pet was this much work, I couldn’t even imagine the time and energy that would go into a real dog. My parent’s dog-free life was starting to make sense.
Many years later with my own dog, I’ve learned that whatever amount of care and dedication you anticipate going into pet parenting is grossly underestimated. But, that’s not a bad thing! Greta has taught me more about patience, responsibility, and stability more than any other person (or DS game) in my life has.
While I learned a lot about pet parenting through this virtual simulator, I’d be remiss to point out the few things that Nintendo failed to prepare me for.
For one, the game lets you adopt a menagerie of dogs at one time, as long as you’re willing to switch them out at the local dog hotel. This would not only get you rightfully charged with hoarding in real life but the dog hotel bills would add up to an astronomical price tag that only an heiress could afford.
The game also fails to teach potential pet owners the hygienic consequences of dog or cat parenting. The fact that I never had to vacuum my Nintendog’s house? Unfathomable.
Since Nintendogs can’t technically get sick, there was no vet’s office to take them to. Which meant no pricey vet bills, no yearly vaccines, and no need for pet insurance. Let me be the first to tell you that former Nintendog owners are in for a rude awakening with their first real pup. They are absolutely not as easy on your wallet as their virtual counterparts.
All in all, Nintendogs was a nostalgic piece of pet-loving fun that almost prepared me for being a dog mom. But trust me – I'd take the real thing any day!
Lizz Caputo is a Content Strategist at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.