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Real-world animal shelters are streaming Stray to save cats’ lives

It’s a mix of streaming, fundraising, and outreach

A cat rides in a bucket-gondola in a screenshot from Stray Image: BlueTwelve Studio/Annapurna Interactive
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

Stray is a game that stars an adorable orange cat, which has instantly helped make it a sensation. People absolutely love cats, and it’s a compelling game where the feline protagonist navigates through a dystopian environment in an attempt to return home. The story is melting the hearts of cat lovers and tugging on their heartstrings, and animal foster and rescue organizations have even been able to stream the game to get support for the kittens and cats in their care.

It’s kitten season, which begins in late spring and runs through October, and it means that organizations are dealing with a surplus of kittens and cats in need of help. Shelters and foster organizations often have to resort to unconventional forms of fundraising, like Facebook groups, online giveaways, or streams. Stray is an excellent game for the latter of these, because, well, it’s a game that understands cats. (There’s even a dedicated meow button, which is very important.)

It’s a very easy hook for viewers — you like the cat game? Well, we have cats right here. I’m always a fan of seeing little orange kittens on my feed, and Twitch streams of the game have become a good way to help drum up support for a worthy cause. Crits for Cats is one such organization, and it currently uses a Twitch channel and Twitter account to showcase rescue and foster cats and kittens. Crits for Cats advocates for rescue and TNR (which stands for trap-neuter-return.)

Fans who tune in to Crits for Cats’ Twitch streams get some good gameplay — the organization streams Stray but has featured a range of games in the past — as well as a live kittencam where viewers can watch the kittens play and redeem channel points for cat facts or to give the kittens treats.

Stray’s publisher, Annapurna Interactive, also partnered with the Nebraska Humane Society as well as Cats Protection, a U.K.-based cat welfare charity, to help raise funds for the game. The Nebraska Humane Society raised $7,000 for cats in need through a giveaway, which will go toward medical care and upkeep for the cats in their care.

“Annapurna Interactive reached out to us in June to gauge our interest in collaborating on something around the release of Stray,” said Brendan Gepson, a marketing specialist with Nebraska Humane Society, via email with Polygon. “We landed on giving out 4 PlayStation codes via a fundraiser. [...] When the fundraiser concluded, we had raised over $7K for the shelter from 560 donations. That’s especially notable because the vast majority of those donations were from people who had never donated before. So all in all, this has been a massive success for us and we’re super happy with how it turned out!”

That fundraised money is going to directly help the pets in the shelter. There are over 80 cats available to adopt “and more behind the scenes getting surgery and care,” said Gepson. “This year alone we’ve found homes for 4,000 animals and that number is always growing, so we need all the help we can get.”

Streaming is a fantastic tool for outreach and education, as well as sharing cool games. When cat rescues use this tool, they’re able to reach far outside of their local communities for fundraising. They can also share information on kitten season, the importance of spaying and neutering pets, and why you should keep your cat indoors.

“This has really been a great experience for us — we got to connect with a whole new base of donors and everyone has been incredibly nice,” said Gepson. “We had a few people tell us they didn’t even have a PlayStation or any way to play the game, but they wanted to donate to help us out regardless. Right now we’re looking to reach out to some local streamers to keep this momentum going.”

Accompanying this with gameplay of a silly orange cat scratching rugs, making robot friends, and walking all over keyboards makes it much easier — especially if you can spice up the footage with unscripted kittencam antics.

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