Saturday, November 15, 2008

George the Cat

I work for a video game company. Before that, I was a freelance writer. I had a variety of different clients, but my favourite jobs back then included writing game reviews and serving as a writer/admin for a gaming website that hosted more than a million visitors a month. For that site I wrote a blog-style series of features and sometimes, my pet, George The Cat, made a contribution to the articles. Here's something I wrote in August in response to a few friends' requests for an update on George:

Through the years, I’ve written about my “gaming kitty,” George. A few folks have mentioned him from time to time -- in emails, comments in the game, on our wiki -- and I thought I would share a bit about my noble feline companion of 17 years.

George the Cat first joined the gaming community in fall of 1991, when he jumped onto my keyboard during a gameplay session and somehow caused a hard reboot of the system. Since he had been in my house for only a few days, the poor little guy wasn’t accustomed to the strange noises – the beeps and boops and whirrs – of the reboot process, and George beat feet… errr… paws to retreat to the back of the keyboard shelf, peering out with wide blue eyes, as if to say, “Did I do that?”

After a few months, the keyboard shelf offered too small an opening, he was less spooked by the noises, and George graduated to the desk, where he’d recline with one paw over the edge, his tail swishing lazily as he dozed. After a while, I noticed that the swish would increase in speed as I was pounding the keys – “don’t die, don’t die, don’t… arrrgh!” – and with time, George started showing a decided interest in certain games. If I were being fanciful, I might say he knew the difference from a gameplay perspective, but I imagine he recognized what I was playing by the ambient sounds, the music, and the combat FX. For example, the narrator from Warcraft unsettled him; he liked the Protoss sounds, but the Zerg made him restless; he was ok with certain themes from Civilization, but others were not his cup of tea; and he always, always woggled an approving an ear when he heard the Guild Wars theme begin.

In short, George was perkier and more attuned to some titles than others. I was writing game reviews by the late 90’s – I probably should have capitalized on his …errr… “intuitive recognition of quality AAA titles” – but his lack of ability to fully exploit the multi-button mouse would have restricted his legitimate comments to that of observer, not player. :)

Some years ago, Matt Uelmen, the gifted composer of the scores for Diablo and Diablo II, gave me a CD of music from the game. At the end of the CD, as a little Easter egg, Matt added that famous, maniacal Diablo laugh. But Matt was clever, he placed it about a minute after the music ended, so that everything goes silent for a bit until Diablo bursts forth with that signature sound. It's a "gotcha" every time. The CD winds down and then, suddenly, erupting out of the speakers is this earth-shattering "Mwahahahahaha!" George would jump a foot… but then, so would I.

From his desktop perch, George eventually moved to a spot on the floor: in the desk’s footwell. Many are the times he warmed my feet during 3:00 AM gaming sessions when I was too committed to the game to get up and find my slippers. If I dared move my feet too much, though, George would open one eye and fix me with a beady glare, thus warning me that gaming was all fine and well, but napping was serious business!

More recently, George took to sleeping beside my chair, directly in front of the PC. I think he enjoyed the companionship and I’m sure he appreciated the "personal heater" for his old bones, where said heat only increased with my incessant desire for always better (and therefore always hotter) video cards. I joked with players in Guild Wars that all my Ranger pets were named George The Cat, and it’s true. I exceeded 20 Georges and have a few Georgettes, as well.

Early this year, as he neared his 17th on earth, George started slowing down. He developed feline hyperthyroidism that required twice-a-day meds and, later, kidney problems as well. He was brave about the pills, and still loved spending time at the computer or watching television at my side, but he was sleeping more and more and it was clear that his age was catching up with him. On a rainy Sunday in August, George slipped away in my arms.

I imagine there will be another kitty, someday. George was the natural choice so long ago because he was outgoing as a kitten, standing paws and tail above his littermates in charm and personality. It was no surprise to anyone that he took naturally to the family hobby of games and gaming. Perhaps in the future, the choice will be equally clear. The way may be guided, in part, by an approving ear woggle in response to game music.

George the Cat: August 8, 1991 – August 24, 2008.

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