According to the Rumour Mill located inside my mind where imaginary elf slave-workers craft speculative, semi-fictional statistics to coincide with relevant pieces of “journalism”, the amount of animals currently in existence is in rapid decline.
The ever-lengthening list of critically endangered animals features friends both feathered and furred – the Asiatic Cheetah, the Ethiopian Wolf, the Philippine Eagle, and the Puerto Rican Parrot are all dwindling in population. In reality, this is has no bearing on my life. I simply do not care.
However there is a species of animal whose critical status is highly significant to my survival. Not feathered, nor furred, not scaled, nor skinned, the creature that commands my allegiance, appreciation and adoration is in fact – pixelated.
Animal extinction seems to have escaped the fumbling hands of humanity’s reality and is spilling over into the virtual world. Since I began my fledgling gaming career in the early 90s the amount of playable animals in games has seen a steep decline.
What were the last few games you played? Did you set paw in pleasing green pasture, or did you set trench foot, combat boot into a shrapnel-spattered battlefield strewn with the decaying corpses of your fallen comrades? Unfortunately unless you have a penchant for nostalgia, a first or second generation console and an impressive selection of 16-bit games, the answer is probably the latter.
What happened to all the animals? What happened to our friends? What happened to Banjo, Kazooie, Croc, Crash, Gex, Jazz, Sly, and Spyro?
Are they still here? Perhaps I’m looking in the wrong places. Perhaps I need the perspective of the pre-adolescent, pre-pubescent, pre-HD, pre-3D, 16-bit little boy I used to be. My naïve eyes had yet to behold a hooker being beaten to death by a Balkan with a baseball bat, a WWII soldier stab a Japanese citizen with a sharpened bayonet, or a colonial marine reduce an alien invader to a gelatinous fluid with a plasma-powered assault rifle. Since I’ve seen these things, it seems I’ve seen little else. Perhaps the critters I seek are merely in a hibernation induced by my consumer habits, and if I look in the right places I’ll find what it is I seek.
Or perhaps, more likely, Banjo’s hide now resides at the fireside of a Canadian log cabin, Jazz Jackrabbit was snared, skinned and stewed, and Gex was sold by a pet shop in Barnsley to a 14 year-old boy who neglected to feed him causing the malnourished reptile to die of starvation in a squalid, under-heated tank. Basically, the animals are all dead, and it’s our fault.
Man is ripping down forests, pissing in rivers and destroying the natural habitats of animals worldwide. Boys are buying Call of Duty, playing Halo, and destroying the digital habitats of pixelated critters by consuming a conveyor belt of urban warfare and space exploration.
We’ve replaced orange bandicoots, purple dragons and green rabbits with men who shave with chainsaws, eat cold steel and have arms bigger than André the Giant’s waistline.
We’ve replaced majestic colour with grey and beige. Videogames used to be so colourful. Now most games have a colour palette as extensive as the BNP. If they’re not grey, they’re beige and if they’re not beige, they’re grey, and if they’re neither, they’re greige. The sense of vapid urban environmental design is so otherworldly it sucks in all existing colour and pisses fictional colours out the other side.
Can consumers really be blamed? I fear we’re locked in the most vicious of cycles. We purchase every FPS developers release, as a result they’re happy to keep releasing them. We’re not buying games featuring playable animals because we don’t like them, but because they’re not there to be bought.
There are some exceptions. It seems that while his peers have steadily disappeared from playability, Sonic has soldiered on, much to the dismay of many of his loyal fans. I had a Dreamcast, I still do. Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 were amongst the greatest games I had for the system. Since then, aside from a few Game Boy Advance games most of the titles in the Sonic series have been lacking in every aspect that made him so exciting.
Sonic’s refusal to cease running might be to blame for the lack of playable animals currently in circulation. While his peers went in to hibernation, Sonic and his Team ruthlessly released bad game after bad game, leading developers to believing that nobody wanted them anymore. That’s not the case. We want them, but we want them to be good.
In recent years there have been several games featuring playable animals. But players were no longer in control of a charismatic marsupial or a valorous dragon. These games betrayed the colourful and loveable nature we’d come to expect from playable animals. They offered gamers the opportunity to tear apart both humans and animals.
In Jaws Unleashed players assume the role of the infamous great white shark and are free to cause children to flee the beaches as you casually tear chunks from their parents’ abdomens leaving a lumpy red mist metres from the shore. I’ve controlled a rabbit with a gun and a fire-breathing dragon, but nothing this sinister.
Naughty Bear offered another adult take on the cute and cuddly nature of the playable animal. Players took control of a warped teddy bear with a fondness of machetes and hacking, which is a world away from the humble platform puzzles of Croc.
Will you pledge one pound per week to save abandoned Croc? Your money will go towards ensuring that Crocs everywhere receive the help they both need and deserve.
Crocs Trust rescue thousands of Crocs a year, and we never put a healthy Croc down. Take Croc, he was bought by a careless owner in 1997, scratched and scuffed until he played no longer. Then he was left alone in a pile of miscellaneous PlayStation titles.
He needed months of restoration and special care. But look how happy he is now.
Please text CROC CARE to 31997 for your free information pack. We always do everything possible to care for our Crocs but we need your support.
It’s only a pound a week. So please, sponsor a Croc today, and prevent the extinction of vivid colour, gentle puzzles and 3D platforming. Thank you.
Article first published on Pixels or Death.