Ever since I was a child, all I ever pestered my parents about was getting a dog. For years, I’d ask them, and I’d always get the same response: “absolutely not”. Even though I knew my parents wouldn’t cave, I kept trying. In 2005, when I was in 10th grade, Nintendogs launched for Nintendo DS. I didn’t have the console, but being the schemer that I am, I convinced my parents to get me the handheld console. The first game I purchased alongside the DS was Nintendogs after hearing and reading so much about it. Little did I know that a game about taking care of dogs would teach me valuable lessons that still apply to my life today.
When I got Nintendogs, I bought the Dachshund and Friends version because I love dachshunds, pugs, and German shepherds. Upon starting the game, I adopted my loyal companion, Spunky, named after the dog from Rocko’s Modern Life. He was shy, nervous, and looking for someone to love. As the player, my job is to do everything to make my canine companion happy. From brushing to feeding to washing to walking. Everything that a dog owner needed to do, Nintendogs asked players to do.
I was so obsessed with keeping Spunky in tip-top shape that I would bring my DS to school and play at lunch. Spunky, while digital, felt like my dog. He ran to the screen when I turned on the game and responded to my commands when talking to him. Feeling the love from a programmed animal was weird, but it was surprisingly cathartic. As an only child whose parents worked during the day, I was often alone. I had friends, but not many close ones. Bonding with Spunky was genuinely a highlight of my day.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. School became stressful, studying for the SATs consumed my life, and applying for colleges was a priority. My once-loveable Spunky started to become neglected. I’d come home from school and focus on important things. I had no time for games which meant that my digital dog was left in limbo. I remember sitting down in my room, looking at the DS, and booting up Nintendogs after about two weeks. Spunky’s coat was dirty, and he had fleas. My dog was hungry, and through simple visual cues, I could tell he wasn’t given the care he deserved.
I didn’t realize something like this could happen. Shortly after this revelation, my goal was clear: take care of Spunky again. I needed to get back into a routine and focus on the dog whenever there was time. Feeding him, teaching new tricks, walking the dog, and playing fetch became the priority. I brought him to school and even played with peers who also owned Nintendogs. Throughout the next two years, Nintendogs became an essential part of my life. While there was no endgame, it was vital in helping me become a better person.
When I was about to start college, I needed to reevaluate my life. I was a slacker in high school that did the bare minimum. If a teacher said an essay needed to be at least 600 words, I’d find a way to make my paper end at precisely 600 words. High school wasn’t important to me, but college was something I didn’t want to screw up. After all, my family was paying for me to get a better education. There was no way I would ruin that opportunity. The day before moving into my dorm, I booted up Nintendogs for the last time.
It was a bittersweet moment. I looked at Spunky, who jumped towards the screen in complete jubilation. He barked as I used the stylus to pet him. I knew this would be the last time we would ever see each other. In a surprisingly emotional moment, I said my goodbyes and turned the game off for good. I remember reading that your dog could run away after not playing for a while, so I sold the cartridge to the local Game Crazy. I couldn’t bear to try playing months later and finding out that he left.
When I started college, I took the lessons learned in Nintendogs and applied them to my everyday life. Scheduling became crucial. I had a calendar full of activities that needed to be followed. Whether that meant going to study groups, meeting with friends, being back at my dorm by a particular time, or sleeping at a reasonable hour, I tried to be responsible. Nintendogs helped me get into a routine.
My time with Spunky helped me realize that I couldn’t just neglect things in my life. If I set out to do something, it needed to be done. These are rules I set for myself in college and everything after that. When I got my first-job at Petco, one of my duties was to feed the animals in the store and also play with them. I wasn’t required to interact with the animals at the same time every day, but I made it my goal to keep a routine. Every Monday, Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday at 5 p.m., I would hold the ferrets and play with them. At 6 p.m., I would interact with the cats waiting to get adopted. And on one October afternoon in 2013, I met a dog that would become my own.
His name is Rusty and he’s a Wired-Hair Fox Terrier. Despite never owning a real dog, I thought of Spunky, my digital dog, when I took Rusty home that day. He was happy, but nervous upon coming into the house the first time. Through petting him and calming talks, he started to feel at home. I would throw a ball around the house for him to catch and I would walk him around town. From tugging at his leash when he wanted to go towards garbage in the park to playing with other dogs, Nintendogs prepared me for the real thing.
It’s been over a decade since Nintendogs came into my life, but the lessons I learned have stood with me since. From schooling to the job force to being an actual pet owner, a video game taught me the meaning of responsibility and commitment. In retrospect, Nintendogs doesn’t seem like a video game, but more of a simulation that prepares you for the real thing. It had a huge impact on my life, and honestly, I don’t know how I would be if it weren’t for Spunky coming into my life that Summer of 2005. That digital dog Nintendo developed did more for me than it and the company will ever know. It taught me how to be more caring and become a better person and that’s something I’m grateful for.
Andrew Gonzalez is the Co-Editor-In-Chief of Xbox Enthusiast. When not writing about Xbox, he’s usually reading comics, talking about Taylor Swift, and dreaming of the perfect Jet Force Gemini Reboot. You can follow him on Twitter. @AJGVulture89