Some of my most vivid memories from college take place at parties: house parties, parties in tiny dorm rooms, a singular frat party mishap. But these aren’t experiences I look back on fondly in any sense. They were living nightmares, ostensibly fun times made hellish thanks to my killer social anxiety.
I’ve spent a good portion of my post-grad years repressing those uncomfortable nights — usually punctuated by crying, yelling into pillows or locking myself in closets. But Pet the Pup at the Party, a PC game from designer Will Herring, has them roaring back. While my partying days (if we can call them that) were exercises in finding my social limits, this indie game is a cathartic journey through conquering those same fears.
The premise of Pet the Pup at the Party is relatable for anyone with social disinclinations. The player is at a house party filled with chatty strangers who they’d rather not get to know but are forced to have small talk with, anyway. They could leave, sure — but apparently there are some very, very good dogs hiding throughout the house. Why go home when you can get some affection from a dog who just wants to silently love you?
The whole game is played from a first-person perspective, which does a good job of zeroing in on that claustrophobic feeling of being trapped among people. There’s a timer set to two minutes at first, ticking down as you open up doors and blitz past people in search of some adorable hopping pups. The game adds more time to the clock with each dog you find, and each round ends with a list of how many dogs you found and how many people you forced yourself to chat with along the way.
But the best part is the little epilogue on those end screens:
Pet the Pup at the Party recognizes that the best part of any social event for someone who gets nervous just thinking about them is the aftermath: getting to go home and binge some true crime dramas, or read celebrity gossip, or look at dumb goofs on Twitter. But until you can break free and leave, having some quiet time with a doggo or five is just as nice.
It’s also a fun little adventure game, as it turns out. Pet the Pup at the Party is out on itch.io for both Mac and Windows PC, with buyers able to name their own price. It’s a calming game with a lot of replay value — which is much more than I can say about most of the real life parties I’ve gone to.