By Evan Cooper
Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 10:00 am
Let's take a trip back to Eden. Let's ditch all religious connotations of the story of Adam and
Eve and take the relationship of Mr. Snake the enterprising apple salesman and our innocent fig-leafed duo at face value. Port this imagining into a game setting, much like Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (albeit a brief, single level version), a game of wheeling and dealing some smart fruit to some naïve humans.
With video games serving as our main media sources for anthropomorphized animal characters, rivaled only by perhaps Pixar films, we can see just how little we humans think of our fellow species. Unlike Pixar films, in video games we get to directly control these characters, directly driving our own reinforcement that humans are the shit, and animals exist in a hierarchy sorted by how human-like they are and solely for our entertainment.
Naturally, it would be difficult to find a distributor for this game, but beyond their tendency to
avoid religiously controversial game themes (My Win, Lose, or Draw Mohammed With Friends!
game has yet to gain app store approval), the reality is we're also dealing with the inherent
anthrocentrism that's been prevalent in human narratives since our earliest cave drawings.
Oh, the humanity.
When it comes to regard for other species, humans are basically as accepting as the Aryan
Nation. The closer you are to us genetically, the less likely we are to eat you / kill you for existing. In the gaming world, you needn't search long before you find a long string of reptilian / insectoid enemies for the lead mammal character to jump on / shoot / otherwise maim and destroy. The most obvious example of the mammal vs. reptile feud, Super Mario Bros., features an army of reptilian drones for Mario to ruthlessly demolish for no reason. The poor koopa troopas have no attack animation; Mario just seems to be allergic to contact with them. It's almost like they're non-violent resistors.
I see some hands going up. Go ahead, bring up Yoshi as a counterargument.
|Bring him right up.|
Even the original Sonic the Hedgehog, whose enemies are ostensibly robots, has to stoop to a pro-mammal skew; for those of you keeping score at home, that's four lower order mammal badniks to eight others that include bugs, crabs, fish, and two flavors of chameleon.
In contrast, think back to the subversive arcade classic, Bally Midway's Rampage of 1984, riding on the fame of its Godzilla, Werewolf, and King Kong cinematic forebears, allowing players to engage in some serious structure damage and human munching. Flip the premise and you have Donkey Kong of three years earlier: man versus barrel-chucking beast perched atop some architecturally questionable scaffolding. The back story of Donkey Kong is so often forgotten, but the reason for D.K.'s kidnapping of Pauline was that he was mistreated by Jumpman (Mario must have changed his name later to avoid animal rights protests. Or to keep his various ladies unaware of each other. Pauline, Peach, Daisy, he made Ron Jeremy look like a eunuch). Donkey Kong becomes less King Kong and more domestic abuse interventionist. As Jumpman, you're hopping barrels so you can backhand your ape into submission and presumably return Pauline into what one can assume is not a particularly healthy relationship.
|"Yeah mom, I met this guy, his name's Jumpman, and he has a massive gorilla that he beats. Ugh, why are you always questioning my taste in men? Was that the cage door just now?"|
Jumpman. A name too ostentatious even for a circa 1980's crack dealer. But I digress.
The point is, we might as well be playing Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, only this time, we are consciously defending a guilty animal abuser, strongly suspected batterer, and confirmed womanizer. But it's cool, because Jumpman is human. Even a terrible human being is superior to a concerned ape. This is where the hierarchy comes in: Humans at the top, other mammals that are given human-like qualities next, followed by birds and other warm blooded animals. Amphibians are generally neutral and brainless, and finally there are the reptiles, insects, and most sea life, who are just beasts in dire need of a squishing under the boot heel of inherent human superiority.
Objection! you cry. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Battletoads, these are strong reptile / amphibian characters with positive human qualities. True. But in both cases, you've got them reined in and commanded by a rat and a bird, whose warm-blooded, presumably more human-like nature molded these bands of amphibians and reptiles into more compassionate, thoughtful troupes rather than the mindless, brutal monster packs they would have been without warm-blooded supervision. But is the hierarchy all about precise biological proximity to humans?
Nah. It's also about what we think are cute, beautiful, and graceful. Pigs are intelligent, generally gentle creatures, but they are ugly, fat, and eat nasty fare. Ergo, we humans would rather cast them as demons and gluttons and liken ourselves to, say, cheetahs, because they're swift and cool-looking. This, despite the fact that they are kind of the wusses of the savannah, giving up half of their kills to basically any other interested animal since any injury affecting their speed could be life threatening.
|"Take the Cheetos, man. Just not my kicks." |
So why should you care? Well, unlike watching Pixar films, you are actively involved in video games. You are more than just the complicit voyeur that you are at the cinema; you are participating directly in scribing anthrocentric thought patterns onto your brain. What's so bad about being a human supremacist? Primarily, beginning to view the world, and all other species in it, not as equal partners in existence, but as subservient props to our convenience and entertainment. Frogs are on this earth to be thrown out into our superhighways to see if they can make it across. Hedgehogs are to be dyed blue, fed copious amounts of methamphetamine, and sent spinning through looped tracks to do battle with robots created in their fellow animals' image. I say bring back Rampage, bring on the FPS Fern Gully: Pixie Boom Sticks, or take the common enemy approach: Let's all of us, animals and humans in solidarity, kill us some aliens!
Killing stuff that's trying to kill you. That's something the world, and all of its sacred creatures, can get behind.
Stay tuned for my next article, A Treatise Against Geocentrism in Video Games.
When he's not stuffing koopa troopas into Large Hadron Colliders, Evan can be found babbling about art and such on zombiecabaret.com and twitterpating @naverepooc. He is also the co-founder of extelevision.com, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man of North American Team Fortress 2 and other eSports.