Here's why we're all so heavily invested in being able to pet dogs in video games

I like dogs. You like dogs. You like dogs so much you might have been one of the people who tweeted out pure joy when Boomer got shown off in the Far Cry 5 trailer, or cried out in outrage and fury when Ghost wasn't petted in Game of Thrones season 8 (but don't worry: the good boy got his scritches in the end). Thankfully there's a change in the air coming, as with the creation of a Twitter account solely dedicated to letting you know which games have pettable dogs, more and more games are realising that us gamers love dogs. But why is the ability to pet canines in video games so important to so many people?

Gamers + dogs = wholesome 

It's a funny thing when you think about it. We don't usually care about being able to interact with human NPCs; it's not like there's a grand petition somewhere to be able to hug or at the least shake hands with NPCs in most games. Hell, we don't even get passionate about being able to high five kids in games or play pat-a-cake with them, and, to some, children are supposedly adorable. There's definitely a pattern of gamers caring more about dogs than children in videogames, as for some reason we crave that extra level of cross-species empathy in games. In real life - which I've heard from my friends does indeed exist - petting dogs is the equivalent of bathing in a ray of pure sunshine, and on a basic level that just comes down to the simple fact that we, as humans, adore dogs. As well as all the dog instagrams you can follow, one of Ubisoft's most popular tweets is about Boomer from Far Cry 5:

Us humans tend to see dogs as innocents, undeserving of violence (because they are, and anyone who commits animal cruelty deserves to be on the recieving end of some truly awful things), yet there's been a change in the air about how we treat dogs in the last 30 or so years. Now they're more like members of the family, with millennials reportedly treating animals more like children than pets

Video games are following suit, with humane treatment of canines - i.e. petting them - being a part of most modern games. You can *deep breath* tame wolves in Assassin's Creed Odyssey, and pet dogs in AAA games like Red Dead Redemption 2, Days Gone, Far Cry 5 and Far Cry New Dawn, plus games such as Afterparty, CrossCode, Enter the Gungeon, Fortnite, Afterlife, Buckler 2, Headliner: NoviNews, The Donnerwald Experiment, Unsighted, Guard Duty, Steamboat Billie, Knights and Bikes, and many more have added a pet the dog ability thanks to the outpouring of collective support for the Can You Pet the Dog Twitter account. 

And now for the science behind why we love doggos 

Our love for dogs in video games is just as fervid as our love for the creatures in real life, mainly because both are rooted in science and a hormone in our bloodstream called oxytocin. To massively simplify things, oxytocin is the chemical that makes humans bond with babies (as it typically gets released during childbirth), other people, and dogs. It's that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you look at your beloved, your family, or your dog; the feeling that makes you feel safe and loved. Think of it as the love hormone. Aww. 

Anyway, a study done by Dr Miho Nagasawa from the department of animal science at Azabu University in Sagamihara, Japan, showed that the levels of oxytocin in both humans and dogs increase after periods of petting and cuddling (which sounds like the best scientific experiment ever, by the way). The study itself explains how this peculiar evolutionary trait came to be, theorising that "the long coexistence between dog and man has allowed the canine to evolve to take advantage of the human hormone oxytocin to blur the lines between the relationship between animal and owner to mimic that shared by parent and child". 

Dogs have evolved alongside us for so many thousands of years that our hormones have actually adapted to include them within our brain's definition of 'family'. And if that isn't the most wholesome thing you've heard so far this year, then I don't know what to say to you. Seeping into video games as well as real life, the study proves that our love for dogs is just part of what it means to be human (which is probably why one of the first signs of psychopathic behaviour is harming animals, as it actively goes against our programming).  

What's more is that this feeling goes both ways. Another scientific study published in the Frontiers in Psychology journal proved that dogs would rather look at images of humans smiling than negative facial expressions that imply danger is near. According to the experiment although usually "dogs are more likely to focus on threatening or dangerous cues in any given social situation [...] the study revealed that the hormone oxytocin made them ignore or override their ingrained survival instinct. Instead, they were more interested in and reactive to smiling human faces". So maybe if the roles were reversed and dogs were creating games, they'd be the ones petitioning for the ability to pet more humans. So go forth and pet dogs, both in real and virtual life. 

Unlike dogs, chickens often get the short end of the stick in videogames, so here's an article on why chickens are such cocks in video games, or look below to see what's going on this week in the world of TV, movies, and games!

Zoe Delahunty-Light

While here at GamesRadar, Zoe was a features writer and video presenter for us. She's since flown the coop and gone on to work at Eurogamer where she's a video producer, and also runs her own Twitch and YouTube channels. She specialises in huge open-world games, true crime, and lore deep-dives.