“You’re at a party, in an unfamiliar house filled with unfamiliar people, and you’re anxious. But you find a dog, and you think ‘YES! I can finally chill out for a bit,’” Will Herring, independent video game designer, explains over the phone.
Herring is describing the setting of his remarkably relatable video game, “Pet the Pup at the Party.” Any introvert can identify with the game’s objective — alleviate your social anxiety by ignoring people and searching for fuzzy pups to pet.
In two minutes, the player must navigate through rooms full of party-goers, expertly dodging any human interaction, and find the hidden doggos. As you race from room to room, no one will politely step out of your way, and no one will stop staring at you, either.
“The types of people in the game are archetypes I’d see at parties in Brooklyn,” Herring says, “just people who seem way cooler than they have any right to be.” There are hipsters sipping merlot, artsy chicks smoking cigarettes, and some dude straight outta Coachella strumming an acoustic guitar.
“I wanted to replicate that familiar feeling of ‘is everybody staring me?’ so I have everyone rotate toward you as you try to navigate past them. I’m a serial apologizer, always asking ‘excuse me, pardon me,’ so I simulate that experience.”
Herring is well-versed in introversion and social awkwardness, he tells us. “Although I never explicitly call it out, the game is definitely about anxiety,” he says. “It’s about mental health and it’s about petting dogs.”
Extroverts and social butterflies will sometimes tell Herring they don’t understand the game, likely because they don’t understand social anxiety. “People will tell me, ‘the best way to not be anxious is to not worry all the time!’” he says. “But that’s not advice you can follow. Anxiety doesn’t go away, you just find ways to cope with your environment.”
In a way, that’s the underlying lesson of the ‘Pet the Pup at the Party’ video game. Cuddling with dogs at a party full of intimidating strangers is a coping mechanism. “You figure out the thing that will make you feel better, and you’ve gotta go find that,” Herring says.
“Pet the Pup at the Party” can be downloaded on any Mac or PC, along with other popular little games Herring invented, like “My Garbage Cat Wakes Me Up At 3AM Every Day.” In this one, Herring allows you into his virtual bedroom to play with his cat — purring, meowing, and knocking shit over until it wakes him up.
Herring makes sure when it comes to his video games, there's lots of fuzzy fun to be had.