I miss my cat. Detective John Munch, which is my cat’s name, is staying with my in-laws while we’re out of town. I miss her when I’m away, but it’s the hardest now when my wife and I are back home for a few days before heading away again. Kitty usually sleeps right next to me, purring until we both fall asleep. I do not have sleep issues, I think mostly because I have a little cat zolpidem right next to me most nights. It is such a great situation that it successfully blocks out the guilt I have that Detective no longer sleeps next to my wife, her original owner.
Whatever. My wife is cool with it. She says part of what attracted her to me is that I instantly loved her cat so much. How could I not? Detective is a tiny little 7-pound ball of fluff that runs on magic and cat food. I have known quite a few cats in my day, and Detective is up there with the best of them both in looks and personality. She’s basically real life Nermal—only Garfield could find a way to be annoyed by her.
Now she’s gone, and it’s a little harder to sleep with a noise machine instead of a purring machine. I will live. But I do miss her. Her meows and flops bring me joy. Usually when I miss my cat I pull out my phone and scroll through the 20,123 photos I have of her on my iPhone. I’ve been doing that recently, but I also played through Stray.
Stray is a treat. Our own Patrick Redford wrote a wonderful little review of the video game on Sunday. He argued that real joy in the game comes from the ability to just inhabit a cat’s life for five hours, and I agree. (Though the game took me six.) The cat is fun to play around with. Cats’ spines are especially elastic, and they don’t have a collarbone—the spine is connected to the shoulder blade solely by muscle. It allows them to move in ways that are tremendously fun to control. I think the game got cat physics down very well. (“Stray is the first game to capture cats purrfectly,” one reviewer wrote, probably inevitably.) One of the reasons the game took me six hours is that there were times I’d sit down for a nap and just let the controller purr in my lap. Detective doesn’t even sit on my lap.
The game has become something of a surprise hit; maybe less surprisingly, there has been a lots of good coverage of the game. Wikipedia has six paragraphs of review summary; I particularly liked Alexis Ong’s review in Polygon that explored the game’s successes and failures as a Western developer’s take on Hong Kong. (The game’s setting is inspired, lightly, by the since-demolished Kowloon Walled City in HK.) There have been a lot of words written about this game. Every conceivable angle seems to be covered.
Well, except one. Screenrant’s blog about the cat’s alleged voice actor, Branch, contains this clause: “It didn’t hurt that the design of the little orange cat was exceptionally cute.” CNN called the cat “adorable.” In a blog about the real cat that Stray’s main character is based on, SVG said the real-life cat was “equally-adorable.” I’d like to address this point.
I love cats. I like them cute and ugly, skinny and fat, well-behaved and not. I like my next door neighbor’s three well-fed cats and the real life stray that lives down the block. I like the many random kitty cats I see on the streets in my city. I understand that even these ugly cats can be “cute” and “adorable” and the referenced stories about Stray are not wrong. But come on. This cat is uggo.
Sometimes a journalist just needs to break through the self-censorship and elite gatekeeping and tell the world the truth. And my truth is that this digital little furball is ugly. Stray is a visually interesting game, so I can only imagine this is intentional: Since your cat is just a cat, and can die in the game, they made it ugly so people wouldn’t be as upset. There are a few emotional moments in Stray‘s final chapters, and it’s a testament to the quality of the game that they are legitimately moving despite the cat being ugly and also the other characters in the game being robots.
But think how amazing this game would be if my cat were in it.
See! That is a much cuter game. Look at my little kitty witty sitting on that box in the postpandemic, cyperpunk wasteland! Awww, little baby cat.