Friday, November 18, 2005

Leela Loves Hewie

Ah, this is warm and weird at the same time. I've been playing a game called Haunting Ground on my Playstation 2. It's a horror game where you play a teenage girl (okay, I admit videogames haven't grown up quite as much as their users - a teenage girl with an embarrassingly prominent chest) named Fiona. You've been in an auto accident out in the country somewhere, and you wake up locked in this creepy castle full of paintings with eyes that follow you, mysterious noises, secret laboratories and whatnot. You're occasionally found and chased by a hulking Faulknerian idiot-manchild who thinks you'd make a better dolly than the one he's got now, and that's before the real bad guys take an interest in you.

So you're a teenage girl, not a commando or a ninja death machine. You don't have a backpack full of guns. You don't really have much defensive capability at all. But, early in the game, you come upon a white German Shepherd named Hewie. You rescue the dog from a bad situation, and the dog becomes your ally. He can attack the bad guys to give you time to run and hide in a closet. He can get to places you can't reach, and vice versa. Basically the game is about combining your abilities with Hewie's to solve problems and escape from the castle together.

You don't directly control the dog the way you do Fiona. You can try to get him to do things, but it's up to him. Part of the game is about taking good care of Hewie so he's willing to help you. Even at the best of times, he's got that selective hearing thing dogs get. In general he's not just sitting still, waiting for you to give him a command. When you enter a new place, he sniffs around. Maybe he'll lie down and relax. He'll walk around and watch what you're doing. He acts very much like a real dog - so much that you soon learn to watch his body language for clues.

So why am I talking about this here? Because I soon noticed that Leela was really, really into this game. When I was playing, she'd come over and sit on the corner of the coffee table nearest the TV screen and just watch, pretty much for as long as I kept playing.

This is not something she normally does. I mean sure, she'd watch the video birdbath DVD for a while, but not for that long. And she might take interest in animals on TV, but again, it's a passing thing. This game just utterly fascinates her, and I realized it was because of the dog. I don't know if she really gets what a dog is. She's seen them when we've taken her to the park, but that's about it. But she definitely reacts to the quadruped animal in a way she doesn't react to the human characters. She doesn't seem to care much about Fiona, but Hewie will get her so excited - especially when he moves toward the camera and disappears off the bottom of the screen - that she'll go over and climb up and try to touch him, or run around to the back of the TV and see if she can figure out how to get to where he is.

I don't know why she's more drawn in by this than she is by animals on TV either, but she definitely is. She can even tell the difference between TV and other Playstation games now. She still doesn't pay much attention to broadcast TV, but fire up the Playstation, even with a different game, and she'll come sit very attentively on that corner of the table to see if her pal Hewie will show up.

I speculate that it's got something to do with the slower pace of cutting in a videogame. For the most part, once you move into a particular location in a videogame, the camera angle will be constant until you go someplace else and it changes. And you're generally setting the pace, poking around and exploring instead of having the story blast at you with one scene change after another. I think maybe she finds it more immersive since she's looking at one image for a good couple of minutes anyway, with Hewie moving around within it. That's not really what TV looks like most of the time. But I'm just guessing.

The other thing I find really funny about this is imagining if she really could get through the screen into Haunting Ground's world. Consider yourself alone, unarmed, in terrible danger in this creepy castle where you don't know your way around, people are chasing you with villainous intent, and instead of a German Shepherd, you come upon a Bengal cat.

How utterly useless would that be? Face it, no amount of cajoling - Go Leela! Go Leela! Good girl! - is going to get her to slip through that crack in the wall and retrieve the key to this door you can't get through...

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Window Wars

Both our cats are indoor cats, but there are plenty of outdoor cats around the neighborhood, including one solid black cat that appears to have incorporated our back yard into his territory. We've been seeing him around all over the place. And, of course, because Laszlo is solid black, we always have this immediate panic reaction - Oh no! Laszlo got out! Ah! - for about three quarters of a second before the rational part of our brains kicks in and we realize it's the other cat.

We know Leela's spotted him while sitting on various windowsills checking out the outside. She makes those bizarre chirping noises cats come up with. And we think she makes the same mistake we do. What's Laszlo doing outside and how did he get there?

But a few days ago the two of them finally discovered each other.

Leela was on the windowsill that looks out on the back porch, doing her usual morning hang out. The other cat spends a fair amount of time on the back porch, particularly in the early morning. We've stumbled across him there many times.

This time they spotted each other, and the result was a thirty-second flurry of cat/glass impacts. Leela had a windowsill to perch on so she was chirping and complaining and smacking the window with her paws. The black cat outside didn't have a comparable perch, but jumped up from the porch and slammed into the window about five or six times. Eventually they realized this wasn't going anywhere and settled down to glare at each other for a while.

We're not sure what would happen if Leela actually got into a fight. God knows she's a scrapper with Laszlo, but he's really timid, and she's just playing. She's kind of a small cat, but she's a Bengal so she doesn't really seem to know that. And, to top it off, we keep her claws trimmed so she won't hurt Laszlo - or us when she leaps onto our backs. I suspect she wouldn't have come out of a real scrape with this guy unmarked.