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You can’t pet the cat in ‘Stray,’ but you can meow, nap and make mischief

(Washington Post illustration; Annapurna Interactive; iStock)

Over the years, as consoles have become more advanced, graphics have grown more detailed and technology has improved, one question has become an increasingly popular marker of realism in video games — well, at least whenever animals are involved. That question is: Can I pet it?

Sadly, in “Stray,” the new platforming puzzle game from BlueTwelve Studio, you cannot pet the cat — because you are the cat. You play as an orange tabby who falls into a dilapidated cybercity populated by androids and must find its way home.

But while ear scratches and head pats may be off the table, there are still plenty of catty things players can do. Some have actual gameplay functions, most don’t, but all are absolutely adorable.

Review: ‘Stray,’ a game in which you play as a cute cat, is a meow-sterpiece

First and most importantly: There’s a dedicated button (circle on the PlayStation controller) to “meow,” which you can mash to your heart’s content. Occasionally you’ll use it to catch the attention of an android or to bait enemies into a trap, but I mostly just used it whenever my IRL orange cat, Cheeto, was around. He would meow back, or go searching for another cat around the house.

Throughout “Stray” there are cozy corners tucked away in which you can curl up and snooze. Your character doesn’t have a health bar and doesn’t need to sleep; these moments just encourage you to stop and vibe for a bit, to take in the scenery as the camera slowly zooms back to give you a stunning view of the city.

You can rub against NPC’s legs, and because not even androids are immune to a cat’s cuteness, they lean down to pet you. The controller even vibrates as you purr.

Of course, there’s plenty of mischief to get up to as well.

You can scratch up rugs, furniture and doors with alternating L2 and R2 trigger pulls on a PlayStation controller, and you’ll even leaves marks behind. For an added touch of realism, the PS5 DualSense controller’s adaptive triggers, which adjust the tension of the rear buttons in response to gameplay, are harder to press down during these sequences. (Coincidentally, at one point while sharpening my claws on a rug in “Stray,” I had to shoo Cheeto away from doing the same to my new couch after I realized the telltale sound of fabric ripping wasn’t coming from the game.)

Knocking down items is another mechanic that occasionally serves a purpose (such as breaking open a glass enclosure below to open a new area) but, for the most part, does nothing except make you a nuisance. I jumped on just about every pile of books I came across solely because I knew it would send them toppling over.

For added measure, after you knock a precariously placed can of paint onto the ground, you can walk through the mess to leave a trail of kitty prints.

Can You Pet The Dog? In many games, and in this article, you can.

You’ll also come across unmanned keyboards that are practically begging to be trampled on. One particularly nice touch: If you move around, you type lines upon lines of gibberish, but if you stay still, a single letter appears on screen repeated in an endless stream. Kudos to the developers for that one.

If you poke your nose around too much, you’ll suffer the consequences, like getting your head stuck in a bag. It screws with your controls and leaves you wobbling around aimlessly for a bit — and it’s absolutely authentic to the dumb stuff real cats often get up to. (Especially orange cats, which, if conventional wisdom is to be believed, all share a single brain cell and take turns with it.)

I wish I could say Cheeto defies that stereotype, but while my good boy is a lot of things, smart is not one of them.