Awkwardly Comfortable Depicting Animal Cruelty in Wholesome Games

Non-violent games are on the increase, yet many games promoting warmth are happy with depicting animal cruelty.

Count the number of firearms and knives in the game tiles on your favorite gaming platform’s shop page for 30 seconds. How many are we talking about here? The answer is not zero, isn’t it? Alternative names and game creators have lately developed in response to the gaming industry’s decades-long fixation on bloodlust and gloomy anti-heroes, creating a counterculture of alternative games and game producers. A strong independent scene has made it easier for games of all kinds and for all types of players to be produced. Because the AAA gaming industry tends to focus on future wars, Vietnam in the 1960s, and alien invasions, so-called “wholesome” or “non-violent” games have attracted large audiences as a result.

These wholesome games, which have evolved from a genre descriptor to a full-on brand, are a welcome option for anyone looking for a more traditional virtual experience. It’s a shame, though, that the movement’s stated goal is to remove itself from the muddy celebration of violence that many commercial games portray. This issue arises, in my opinion, from our society’s general attitude toward animals, which ignores their needs even when they aren’t directly competing with our own. In order to rid themselves of the violence that fuels the business, designers, promoters, and players must not forget about the casual brutality still represented in even the most upbeat storylines and settings.

For example, Animal Crossing is both a direct influence for games like Disney Dreamlight Valley and a direct inspiration for games that have come after it, such as Harvest Moon. Its gameplay revolves around simple tasks like decorating your home, designing clothing, and gardening. Without a doubt, it’s the most popular game of its sort ever made. While I can’t dispute with the game’s popularity, I do have a problem with the idea that it is a “wholesome” or “non-violent” game. Fishing is a common pastime in Animal Crossing. When it comes to video games, the fishing mechanic is often the most reliable indicator of a game’s intended tone and what it actually portrays.

Tricking a fish into biting a hook is something fish do not love. When it happens to them, they feel agony as well as loss of control. A long time ago, people debated whether or not fish even had a sense of pain because of the lack of anthropocentric methods in which humans prefer other animals to communicate. However, recent investigations have shown that fish are capable of feeling pain.
Animal Crossing portrays itself as a peaceful community, yet its residents may only be other anthropomorphized animals.
Animal Crossing portrays itself as a peaceful community, yet its residents may only be other anthropomorphized animals.

You may be wondering, “”So, what?” They look like fish from a video game. They don’t exist.” That’s exactly what I’m saying. There is no doubt in my mind that these aren’t genuine fish whose emotions we should be concerned about. A bigger issue may be the ease with which we describe nonviolent and healthful activities like sport fishing, which involves occasional aggression, as violent. Since video games feature nonhuman animals so frequently, it’s acceptable to demand careful renderings of these creatures, especially since they appear so frequently in modern video games.

Imagine playing Animal Crossing as a game in which you capture fish using worm bait and remove them from their habitat, except instead you have to catch cats using hooks and other means of coercion, much like you would fish. Could you picture a game like this being included at the Wholesome Direct next year? No, I think the solution is apparent. As if that wasn’t enough, the brand frequently showcases games that include fishing mechanics. Why is it still OK to cause harm to fish, even if they experience pain?

Aside from that, it extends to other activities. Food from industrial farms, leather items, and animals in cages are all too common in “wholesome” video games. “Subjective” is a phrase that Wholesome Games designers have previously used to defend the term, which they say is capable of “shifting depending on circumstance.” This is unquestionably the case. Violent imagery and depictions of power and oppression aren’t what the brand avoids, but rather glorifying violence and depictions of powerful people abusing the vulnerable.

To my mind, despite its depiction of a severed arm and a character being shot with an arrow, Night in the Woods represents good moral character. A disgruntled character’s quarter-life crisis takes place in an abandoned village with a dwindling economy. It’s possible, in the opinion of a wholesome player — and mine, I’ll add — that a game that effectively “punches up” is nonetheless wholesome. But certainly there is a limit to what may be labelled as subjective, or else what is the point of the label?

At a Wholesome-branded event, you will never see a game with cats and hooks or one that praises harassing children, torturing the sick, or antagonising those who are homeless. The Wholesome virtual stage will never see many of the depictions submitted. Why are some forms of animal cruelty and exploitation allowed to go unpunished?

Rather than relying just on a handful of brand managers, the solution is more complex. The gap isn’t the fault of the showrunners of Wholesome Games. The focus here is less on Wholesome Games as a company and more on the concept of what constitutes a wholesome video game. There is a cognitive dissonance that exists when consumers believe that a game is genuinely non-violent but yet know that fishing, leather, and milk production would be impossible without the use of animals, and I believe the brand might do more to alleviate this view with its large platform. For a very long time, people have felt perfectly at ease holding onto two seemingly incompatible beliefs.

Think of a milk carton with cartoons of contented cows on it. For comparison’s sake, think of a dairy cow, whose kid is taken from mom shortly after delivery and kept in a filthy, dismal, and gory facility where agribusiness lobbyists have succeeded in making it illegal to record or picture them. If we weren’t protected from the horrible circumstances we subject billions of animals to everyday, many of us would quit taking part in the process, the fact is. So dairy producers and meat processors hide it from public view. So-called “wholesome” video games, which were designed to remove themselves from violence, further fall into the trap of presenting animals in captivity as happy and uninjured, much like human beings sometimes do elsewhere in their lives. They leave a trail of aware beings in their wake.

You may also consider: “”So, what?” Most games, as you pointed out, are about violence.” As a result, I don’t hold Red Dead Redemption or Assassin’s Creed to the same quality as, say, Ooblets or Bear and Breakfast, even if they are both AAA titles. When Far Cry 6 came out, the cockfighting mini-game caused quite a stir. Players could engage 2D combat between super-chickens with a Tekken-like overlay in a side attraction that was completely unnecessary. It was a prank and the easiest target to catch.

It’s strange, given how many people may have eaten eggs that morning, that many individuals voiced displeasure or worse at Ubisoft’s bold choice. I didn’t expect or look for a nuanced representation of animals in Far Cry 6, because it was evident the game wouldn’t have one.. This is a series in which you kill boars and eat their bleeding intestines in first-person perspective to increase your wallet’s capacity. In this case, there is no message to convey. There was no reason to believe that Far Cry 6 would be any different from the other sequels that have come out in the previous decade.
Animal-friendly and healthy games don’t have to be mutually exclusive options. A simple poll of Ooblets will reveal this.
Animal-friendly and healthy games don’t have to be mutually exclusive options. A simple poll of Ooblets will reveal this.

We shouldn’t hold Far Cry to such a standard when it’s already a game about randomly bazookaing red-clad tyrants and tigers. I’d search for a gun-making mechanic in Unpacking before I’d hunt for a subtle animal rights message in Far Cry. The sooner we begin to include animals in our concerns, whether in real life or in media representations, the better off we will all be. If a game is trying to foster a warm sense of inclusion, I expect it to look beyond human characters.

It’s an expectation that can be satisfied, as demonstrated by one of the genre’s most recent works. In Ooblets, Glumberland’s two-person team thoughtfully substitutes fishing with “sea-dangling” where the rules stay the same but players instead acquire manufacturing goods like wood boards. Ooblets put on extravagant dance competitions instead of having their titular critters fight one other like Pokemon. Even ooblets, which may be mistaken for animal products, are completely absent from the game. Despite these adjustments, Ooblets does not lose anything significant as a result. But it’s still a great game, and perhaps the greatest of its sort due of this level of consideration.

Animals are never depicted in a fair light in any game. That’s something no game developer owes anyone by default. When it comes to making games, there is no minimum amount of creatures that must be present in any of them. Once a game has been labelled as “wholesome” or “non-violent,” it is the player’s obligation to seek out and confront any potentially problematic assumptions that lie between what the player knows and what the game really depicts.

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