wander is a deeply unique game. Not the hostile, meaty monsters that chase you down the sewers that push confidence to the breaking point. A race of maintenance robots that develop individuality and self-awareness after the death of their creators doesn’t seem entirely outside the realm of possibility. What completely removes the voluntary suspension of disbelief is the ludicrous idea that a cat can help anyone.
Have you ever heard of a cat sniffing a bomb? Have you seen anyone with a guide cat? Of course not. Yet Stray is the story of a cat who not only actively helps everyone he meets, but follows direct instructions. It can no longer be accurately described as science fiction, make no mistake about it – The Stray is a work of High Fantasy.
Stray describes the journey of a mischievous stray orange cat through a city inhabited by robots and quarantined, inexplicably bringing happiness wherever he goes. Every robot that encounters it can’t help but light up, giant cute emojis flashing across their faces at the TV. Everyone was absolutely delighted to meet him, melting every time the monstrous thing touched them. Stray is just a piece of cat propaganda, which creates a very strange world where even the idea of vague indifference towards the animal is suppressed.
Immediately, this cat happily follows every move and request – within the first 15 minutes he once helped a person upload their consciousness to a small drone. He just doesn’t sleep. Or kill a bird. Or bite or scratch someone for no reason. He immediately understood what someone would ask him and he did it. The whole game is like that. People ask this cat to help with complex and dangerous tasks and the cat will help as much as possible.
I have never met a cat that even remotely resembles this creature. The only cat I shared a shelter with was one that snuck up behind me while I was minding my own business and dug his claws into my back. He will look at you with utter anger and contempt if you dare to try him to do something as daring as to act on him. My dad once woke up the day after Christmas, excited at the prospect of a big breakfast on what was left of Christmas dinner. An unexpected phone call brings him from the kitchen as he prepares his feast and he returns to find the cat on the counter, sitting with his ass on the mashed potatoes and licking the turkey fat from the its lips. My father never fully recovered.
I once volunteered at a cat adoption center and can confirm with absolute certainty that these creatures do not care at all. For nothing. I can spend an hour cleaning a cat’s room, cleaning all the pillows and blankets, taking away his small toys, and giving him tasty treats. Remove every bit of dust or debris from the ground, giving it a small scratch behind the ear. That doesn’t stop them from deciding it’s more fun to draw my blood. They are not trustworthy, they are very unbalanced beings with evil within them. A creature so fundamentally antisocial that it must form a complex relationship with an infectious parasite in order to violently force a sense of affection on humans.
You know what doesn’t have to do that? You know what creature loves to help, even if it doesn’t understand what it’s doing? Dogs. Dogs are so pure that you can get them to do literally anything in exchange for a dopamine hit as a reward. They see every person they meet as another possible repository of belly rubs and chicken bits and will do everything in their power to make us happy. A dog never jumps on the kitchen counter and eats Christmas lunch. He’ll just sit and watch you, comfortable knowing that the strength of your bond means he’ll almost certainly get something in return.
Between these two creatures, I just don’t understand why you would make a game like Stray around a cat. It doesn’t make sense that every robot loves it so much. Mechanical brains are certainly not affected by feline toxoplasmosis infection. If the game was based on reality, the robots would just use their advanced logic to do a quick cost-benefit analysis of interacting with this creature and avoid it completely in their society.
A dog on the other hand? They will see and understand the value immediately. They see a hopeful and enthusiastic contributor, a unique animal with admittedly limited cognitive functions, who works tirelessly to complete the task assigned to him. Its fearsome bark compared to the irritating meow of a cat will deter fascist robot police and biological terror. A dog can be a contributing member of their community, while a cat can be a drain on unprofitable resources.
STRAY AHEAD SPOILERS
Stray ends up leaving the cat in the closed town and entering a lush, vibrant forest outside. While people and their pets are locked away, nature is saved and Earth is restored. A couple of pigeons peddled peacefully on the ground, the last peace they would ever know. There is no doubt that the sequel will depict the full ecological disaster of domestic cats wherever they go, while Stray chases and then guts the last remaining birds, without even bothering to at least have the decency to eat them. Did you know that domestic cats threaten 367 endangered species? It’s possible that Stray’s statement was triggered by the little orange killing machine in the first place.
Tossing a cat is actually a sad sight, reducing what could have been a thoughtful piece of sci-fi to a magical pabulum. Modders’ efforts to correct this by replacing the cat model with an adorable little French bulldog are admirable but ultimately pointless, too much of the game is built around specific physical abilities of a cat to make it really believable. It may be unfair to lay the game’s ultimate failure at the sharp feet of the protagonist, but there’s no escaping the reality of the world’s worst pet.