Video games have a long history with capitalism. We’re used to scavenging garbage and loot for the merchant in town, playing our part in the endless recycling of items into cash which usually serves as the point for which the rest of the game rotates (especially if it happens to have a strong multiplayer focus). Sometimes we take up the role of the vender ourselves, be it in a higher management position (most city building sims) or direct transactions (Recettear), building our own economy by exploiting the nondescript customers who seem to exist solely to patronize our shop. There is nothing particularly novel then about a game hinged around mass consumerism, but where Domestic Dog Simulator fails most is in masking or even pretending to recognize the economic loops providing it a skeleton of purpose, or having anything interesting to say or do with them.
You might imagine a game with as bland and direct a title as Domestic Dog Simulator would at the least be what it says on the tin, but aside from allowing you to take part in a handful of stereotypically doggy things (ie. pissing on everything) there isn’t much that seems designed to imitate canine life. Maybe that’s because you aren’t actually playing as a dog, instead being presented with an egg which then hatches into disturbing robotic and Lovecraftian abominations, as if they were meant to encompass the entire animal kingdom by pulling bits and pieces from species that should never be mixed.
And then you’re let loose into a town of shops and minor distractions. What exactly you’re meant to do from this point on is difficult to discern, but judging by the price tags affixed to every wall and object it seems clear you’ve been dropped into something of a consumer’s paradise. There are so many TVs upon which nothing plays, so many bizarre pieces of art to hang in your empty home. Vending machines sit on every corner ready to dispense a beverage at the push of a button, or perhaps you’d prefer the unmanned cafe, coffees waiting for you on the counter.
There is so much random stuff to buy in Domestic Dog Simulator, which is especially odd given there isn’t any clear way to make money to purchase any of it. Eventually I stumbled upon a random lot behind my house with a convenient sign telling me to “dig”, so obediently I began scratching at the ground and was soon rewarded with a bundle of cash that had inexplicably been buried here. “Good” the game seemed to be saying to me, “now run off to one of the shops and pick out something nice.”
This, it would seem, was the life I was intended to live. One of physical labor feeding into a desire to buy things I could do nothing with. There’s no real economy in Domestic Dog Simulator, you simply exist to consume, with the menial tasks required to obtain anything attempting to disguise how hideously pointless everything is. Perhaps then this could have served to illustrate the imaginary meaning used to justify unchecked consumption, but there is no attempt at critique, no commentary on the dangers of systemic capitalistic control or even a hint that the developer recognized what they were making. It just gives the player what it thinks they want, no frills attached, with a giant billboard of the developer’s other game, Squirreltopia, being the closest it comes to actually saying something about the world it has created. I suppose it still gets the last laugh though from everyone who bought it.