Anyone who meets me learns within about five minutes that I am a complete sucker for animals and dote on my dog and cat. What takes longer to discover is that I'm nearly as attached to animals in videogames. I've gotten more than a few scars trying to heal my Fable 2 dog in the middle of a fight, I spent more time taking care of the cat in Shenmue than I did looking for Lan Di and I felt something akin to genuine rage when Professor Pester destroyed one of my favorite Cluckles in Viva Pinata 2. But none of those relationships were quite as tempestuous or emotional as the one I had with Maggie.
Maggie was one of Phantasy Star Online's helper machines, called mags. (Clearly I don't earn any points for creative naming.) You're equipped with an infant mag when you begin the game. It's sort of a slug-shaped blob that hovers faithfully over your shoulder, but as you earn experience and take care of it, it matures and learns some devastating attacks that it can trigger on demand. Mags require regular feeding; they won't die if you ignore them, but if you make sure that your mag is fat and happy it will be more likely to show its appreciation by casting beneficial spells without being asked to.
I took obsessively good care of Maggie. I fed her only the highest-quality items, despite the fact that they were rare and expensive. She never went hungry for longer than it took me to run back to town and stock up on her favorite treats. Our "sync" - the measurement of a mag's affection - was always maxed out. Sounds like the ideal situation, but our relationship was surprisingly complicated.
Maggie would spontaneously help me in two ways: She'd cast a spell to buff my stats or heal me. The affection I felt for her when she pulled me back from certain death, or when she boosted my stats at the outset of a boss fight was positively palpable. But then there were the times she didn't help. When she remained silent as I was methodically cut down by a swarm of enemies blocking my escape, I felt betrayed. Hurt. Where was the loyalty? Wasn't I taking good care of her? Wasn't I a good and loving master? She was a capricious pet, and while I could've traded her in for a new mag any time I liked, I never did. Was Maggie really so different from my puppy, who I adored even though she'd chewed up my favorite pair of shoes? Well, she wasn't as cute, but she did way more damage against mechanical creatures.
In this issue of The Escapist, we examine the deep, long-lasting and sometimes downright bizarre relationships we have with videogame pets, creatures and critters. Be sure to share these tales of two dogs, an electric mouse and a goat with your best anipal.
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