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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Meet Otto the Nintendog

Christmas morning I got a present from Lisa that had been on my list since I first wrote about it back in August: a Nintendo DS and the Nintendogs game. The DS is quite a videogame system: I also got Super Mario 64 and Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow and have been really entertained by them, but the DS game that's hooked me most has gotta be Nintendogs. Lisa got me the Dachshund & Friends edition, which looks like this...
You tell me: could you resist a videogame box that looks this cute?

I charged up the DS's battery while we were off celebrating with my family on Christmas morning, and plugged in the Nintendogs cartridge later that afternoon. The Nintendo DS also plays Gameboy Advance games by the way, and has a VERY nicely lit screen... but maybe not as bright as the one on the Gameboy Advance SP that I got Lisa. I started the game and played around in the kennel for awhile, then I picked out a male miniature dachshund puppy.

But what to name him? Nintendogs uses the DS's built-in microphone to speak your dog's name and tell it to do tricks: after the pup learns its name it responds to your voice commands. For awhile I played around with "resurrecting" two real-life miniature dachshies I used to have as digital simulacra, but that didn't seem like the right thing to do by Penny and Buster's memory. And I didn't want to name him "Colonel Klink" either: that name is getting saved for the real brown male mini dachshund I plan on getting someday. In the end, I wound up giving him a good German name for a good German dog.

So here is Otto. He's not doing much in the picture because I took his photo while he was asleep. So far I've taught him his name and trained him to sit, speak, and shake hands, and I'm working on having him wiggle his butt in the air on command. Otto likes to play ball but for some reason he's scared of the stick when I throw it for him to fetch. He's pretty friendly to other dogs that he meets when I take him out for a walk (usually about twice a day) but sometimes he's too curious for his own good (like yesterday when he ate a bag of popcorn that was laying in the street). He's a pretty clean dog: he "relieves" himself just about every time we go for a walk, and I've only had to give him a bath once since we've been together. He seems to get hungry an awful lot though, but I guess that's 'cuz he's still a puppy, although one of the nice things about Nintendogs is that the pups never get any older.

Other than that though, Otto seems to display something that's fascinated me ever since I first heard about this game: he's growing and learning, with some apparent personality. I know, it's like that movie A.I.: "his love is real, but he is not". But so help me, other than having a silicon soul, this pup really does come across as having a real heart from the way he acts and responds to stimuli (Otto loves having his belly rubbed, which you can do with the stylus on the DS's touch-sensitive screen). Put the memory of the Tamagotchi "virtual pets" or the Pokémon from a few years back out of mind: Nintendogs is something vastly more sophisticated... and empathetic. I've seen many examples of "virtual life" over the years, but Nintendogs strikes me as the one that's most hit the mark. If there was a Turing test for pooches, Nintendogs would pass with flying colors.

Suffice it all to say, I'm really enjoying Nintendogs... and a lot more than I thought I would, even. If you don't mind the fact that you can't physically rub your dog's fur, this is a pretty good thing to have in place of a real pet if circumstance doesn't allow for that for the time being. Plus it's GREAT to be able to watch your doggy run around the Nintendo DS screen while it's sitting on the desk as you work on other things.

Okay, time to go to the park with Otto. Let's see how he likes playing frisbee :-)