Video game “Stray” explains why we love being a cat
One morning in mid-July, silence fell over my household, punctuated by meows.
As a parent with a child home for summer vacation, this was an unusual occurrence, and soon I was wandering downstairs to investigate what was going on. “Stray” was out, my partner bought the game and just as quickly my kid was on the case.
Specifically, he was on the cat case. In “Stray”, a video game developed by BlueTwelve Studio and published by Annapurna Interactive, you play as a cat. A slender orange-striped cat who is wandering in a neon-lit underground city populated by robots in the wake of a disaster. Reviews of the beautiful adventure game have been mostly positive. Video Games Chronicle described it as “essential” with “one of the most beautifully crafted worlds we’ve ever seen in a game”, while The Verge named it one of the best games of the year. nowadays.
These agree with the criticisms at home, both human and animal: our cat, also a red tabby, has joined the ranks of felines hypnotized by the game. The end of the game (which my son would like you to know is it beat in five hours – so much for my quiet work time) elicited more complicated reactions, but as far as going through the game, going around the world, maybe any world: it’s clearly better to be a cat. These days, being a cat might be the best thing ever.
At the start of the game, a group of cats explore an abandoned facility. You, the main cat, are separated from your group after falling into a sinkhole that leads to the underground city. The humans have left town for a sad reason, but their robots – who have become self-aware – remain. A small drone named B-12, which has the consciousness of a human scientist, accompanies the cat, aided by Momo: the leader of a group of humanoid robots (called Companions) determined to find a way out of the dark city and to enter the surface light again.
Sure, you don’t have a thumb, but you do have a nice little backpack.
This is history and this is the world: perpetually nocturnal, like the novel-turned-movie “The City of Ember” crossed with the alleys, dive bars and puddles of “Blade Runner”. It is a complex and labyrinthine place. All the better for being able to squirm, shimmy and prance around him. Sure, you don’t have a thumb, but you do have a nice little backpack and a B-12 to help you out.
Stray (Courtesy of Annapurna Interactive)Why would we all rather be a cat? You can rip shit in “Stray”. You are just a cat; you do not own property. You can jump into plastic milk crates, knock over cans; like a real cat: knock over cans or bottles. It doesn’t really do much for anything in the game. But maybe like in life: it’s stress relief. You can do stupid things. But because you’re a tiny little cat, you won’t have a problem getting rid of some of your frustration or boredom. It’s there, so why not knock it down?
There’s a playfulness and freedom to being a cat that our lives miss.
You can walk through “Stray”. One goal is to go high up in the city in order to go from a rusty tin roof (no word if it’s hot) to a swinging steel beam to the top of the fences. You adapt to small spaces and you are agile and flexible. You can take that leap. We have lived through years of worry and restrictions regarding our movements and human interactions due to COVID. Today, monkey pox makes any dance party dangerous, and air travel has become increasingly untenable. But in “Stray” you can move. You can move almost anywhere you want. You can stretch. It’s good for you.
You don’t answer anyone. Literally. You have no boss, no pet owner. There are no humans in the underground city of “Stray”, and B-12 and Momo function as sidekicks Tin Man and Scarecrow from “The Wizard of Oz”. They’re there to help the fuzzy Dorothy of you, to run along the bricks with you. And yes, you can squeeze between Momo’s metal legs like my real cat who nearly tripped over and murdered us every morning when we come downstairs to give her breakfast.
Stray (Courtesy of Annapurna Interactive)One of the joys of “Stray” are those realistic, cat-like little behaviors that usually serve no narrative purpose. Weaving between legs, dropping stuff, meowing (this can attract creepy, swarming Zurks, which are basically giant tick robots that can kill you, so use this feature wisely), and yes, scratch. I watched my partner use the in-game scratching feature as we sat on our couch which was tragically scratched by our own cat. It’s more fun in the game.
Stray (Courtesy of Annapurna Interactive)Being a cat reminds us: it’s good to have fun, just to have fun. We all need recreation. We all need to take a break, because even the fearless cat sometimes just does it to mess around.
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My son commented that if you weren’t a cat the game would be pretty sad. The backstory of “Stray” is intense and apocalyptic and there’s this ending that drew some mixed reactions. But you are a cat. You start separated from your family as many of us have been since 2020 and continue to be: delaying weddings, missing meetings, leaving offices, never meeting new friends.
As a cat, you do everything you can to get home, including jumping between buildings. You also do whatever you can to help. Of course, your companions are robots but they are your robots and you rely on each other.
There is a playfulness and freedom to being a cat that is missing from our lives as humans; there is also an optimism. Scrappy, determined and waiting, the cat is doing what we all hope for: surviving.