While I'm not playing Stray because I don't think my heart would handle accidentally getting the cat player character killed, I am enjoying watching videos of other people reacting to their plays. It breaks me to see how many gamers are connecting to the moment where our orange hero falls, becomes separated from his family, and risks being eaten alive by hungry robotic carnivores. They all have that moment of screaming, saying, "Kitty, no!" I admit I did too.
Another new gamer entered the fray: Jackson Galaxy of Animal Planet fame. And I think he is here to stay.
Stray is about an orange cat exploring a dystopia where humans have long died out, and robots have gained sentience. This cat would rather stay with their clowder, the official term for a group of such felines, and scratch up trees. A broken pipe sends them deep into an underground city. The cat has to navigate it to return to the surface and find their family. Dangers lurk in every corner, but so does kindness. If the cat finds the right exit, it can lead the robots to the surface and show them the real sun for the first time.
So why is it fun that Jackson has become a gamer? Is it because the cat daddy is helping an orange cat survive? Or is it seeing him enjoy a creation that focuses on emotionally hurting the player to progress?
The answer is all the above. An animal celebrity has become one of us, and the community couldn't be more welcoming.
The Cat Daddy Is Not A Typical Gamer
Most people know Jackson Galaxy from the Animal Planet Show My Cat From Hell. Jackson travels from house to house with a violin case filled with cat toys and stim items. He says that with the right homework and routine changes from the cat's humans, any cat can become a lovable companion. I do prefer the stories where the cat has an instant connection with the human.
Jackson Galaxy played Stray recently, and has continued streaming his runs, asking people to donate to the Jackson Galaxy Project, which funds national shelters and reduces the burden on rescue agencies. He freely admitted that he was not a gamer, but the game has become addicting. For that reason he has not taken it home, to avoid playing it in the late hours of the night while ignoring his real cats.
The streams are also good for charity. People have donated several thousand dollars for the Jackson Galaxy Project, while others have offered advice on how not to die, and what puzzles to solve. While one may not agree with the goals of the foundation, considering the website sells holistic solutions along with practical cat toys and carriers, it is nice to see how one game can make a positive impact in the right hands.
Converting Jackson To Gamer Mode
The gaming world can get a bit excited about a new game. Once or twice, individuals get carried away in determining how a game is played. They then promote the game so much or give instructions to streamers that a backlash can ensue, sometimes leading to death threats in the worst-case scenario as when Markiplier played Undertale. Many Let's Players have attested that this phenomenon takes the fun out of playing.
Jackson is one of the lucky gamers who as of this writing hasn't encountered such behavior. In fact, he welcomes help from the chat about how to navigate this city. Sure, meowing a hundred times for that achievement is fun, but how does one deliver sheet music to a robot, and why do you need to make a paint can splatter in front of a laundromat? Why do robots even need laundry?
The chat is all too happy to help. Gamers and players of the games have instructions. They don't have to worry about spoiling the story, and I can say this as someone who had to learn not to give a friend instructions on a game with no logic to it, because she wanted to solve it on her own.
One of the tasks is attracting the Zurks to chase your cat. Jackson said exactly what any player would be thinking: "Why the hell would I do that?!" The Zurks are carnivorous robots that will chase down the cat and eat them alive if you are not fast enough. I can't play the game because seeing the Game Over screen can be nightmarish.
What Makes Stray Different
Stray is not a perfect game. People have posted opinions on the set design as well as criticism about using present settings for a dystopia, as well as how fiddly the controls can be when you are dealing with Zurks. Jackson said "B! B! B!" and pressed the wrong buttons during many Game Over scenarios.
With that said, Stray accomplishes a rather difficult task: emotional connection. The gamers are not cats, obviously, though they may grab their pets for a cry after a deadly fall or harrowing chase. We end up rooting for an unlikely hero that hates wearing a backpack for inventory and will casually test out a piano by walking all over it. Most robots don't know what we are, though a few want to pet you while others lament if you interrupt their Mahjong game.
As a result, people in and outside of gaming have bonded over this furry little guy or girl that navigates a new world. The minute the cat falls, we have fallen as well and become emotionally invested in the narrative. We also want to reward the cat, for being our hero.
Jackson has mentioned that thanks to this session, he wants to play more cat-themed games. Definitely reach out to him with your recommendations!
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