Real dog vs "Nintendog" virtual dog
Whether it's on 2005's Nintendogs or last year's Little Pets: Dogs & Cats, a virtual dog might be a better choice over a real-life one. (Illustration By Emmalia Godshall, Columbia University)

Virtual Dog Vs. Real Dog: The Ultimate Christmas Gift Battle

When considering giving someone a furry companion for the holidays, be mindful of the responsibilities. The best Christmas gift could in fact be a ‘Nintendog.’

Thoughts x
Real dog vs "Nintendog" virtual dog

When considering giving someone a furry companion for the holidays, be mindful of the responsibilities. The best Christmas gift could in fact be a ‘Nintendog.’

As children practice social distancing and send emails and letters to Santa this year, parents must answer the question: What do I get my child this year for Christmas? Would a wet-nosed, floppy-eared, fluffy pup be a good idea, or would a virtual pet such as Nintendo’s Nintendog be a better choice? This is your controversial yearly public service announcement — don’t bring a dog home for Christmas. Get a virtual dog instead.

Why Shouldn’t You Buy a Pet for Christmas?

In the excitement of ribbons, wrapping and toys, people seem to forget that dogs are more than just an energetic ball of love. Depending on the breed, they are a commitment for the next 10 or more years. Owners must maintain a schedule for their pet to avoid accidents and correct unwanted behavior. This is not for everyone. Though people swear that they can and will be good owners to their newest furry companion, the test of responsibility outlasts the holidays.

Dogs grow rapidly, so you should do your research before you adopt. You should also account for the training, energy and time that’s required in owning a particular dog. Giving a dog a happy and loving home is better than allowing your pet to trust you only to surrender it to a loud, scary and unfamiliar shelter. There is no guarantee that your pet will find a home once you surrender it.

Around 3.5 million dogs and 3.4 million cats face desertion every year. According to Dog Trust, a rehoming center, 1000 pets return to the shelter after Christmas. Thus, this begs the question for those strapped for time or money: What is a good alternative for those that want a dog but cannot have one?

Nintendo Offers Pets Without the Hassle

The alternative to purchasing a pet in real life is giving yourself or a child a virtual pet. Nintendogs (and the more recent Little Friends: Dogs & Cats) brings forth a virtual reality world where players can raise and train a dog. The premise of Nintendogs entails emulating the responsibility of raising a new, real-life dog along with the accompanying challenges. The process of owning a virtual pet starts with selection. Players choose between eight different breeds before naming, feeding, walking, socializing and training their new pet.

This allows users, particularly children, to explore the responsibility of pet ownership without risking a real dog’s well-being. Parents can observe their child’s dedication to their virtual pet to gauge how they would handle a real one.

The dogs interact with you much like a real dog would, although without the need for potty training. The range of activities resembles the daily responsibilities of a real dog owner. Much like a real dog, the virtual one will continue to love its owner despite the neglect, although it may temporarily run away. This is the point of Nintendog — to test users and their readiness to care for something outside of themselves.

Nintendog owners can customize the dog’s appearance, enter them in competitions to earn money and really form a bond with their virtual pet. The game offers another significant resemblance to real life: Players have the option to end their relationship with their dog by donating it. The virtual dog will not take this decision kindly; it will stare at you before turning away, mimicking the heartache a real dog would experience during a surrender.

A Nintendog will not be hurt if and when you decide to leave the game behind. In the grand scheme of things, it is better to have a child unwrap a virtual pet and abandon them rather than neglect and abandon a real animal. Pets deserve better than that.

A Silver Collar For Christmas

Though it is possible to receive a pet for Christmas and love them for their whole life, many forget to show compassion for a creature that only offers unconditional love. Dogs and cats can make wonderful Christmas presents, but only if people take personal responsibility for their well-being and respect their feelings.

Having a virtual dog gives children the tools to be responsible owners by emulating a light version of what it means to be a pet owner. Pets are a commitment, but hard work and dedication can bring out the best in both parties. The bond forged in responsibility can give way to love. Potential owners should do extensive research on breed recommendations and account for the necessities when deciding on a pet that’s right for them.

As Christmas brings merriment, wrapping paper, and jingles, it’s also a time to reflect and bring joy into the future, both for people and for their pets. A dog’s friendship and love can only be matched by someone who understands the irreplaceability of that gift. Otherwise, sticking to a virtual game like Nintendogs or Little Friends might be your best bet.

Writer Profile

Summer Brotman

University of California, Los Angeles
English with Professional Writing Minor

Summer is a lover of books, comics, television and movies. She hopes to make her mark on the world with her own stories, whether they make it on the big screen or become your new favorite book.

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