We’re pretty danged fortunate to live in a time when entertainment is everywhere, almost to the extent that Brave New World warned about. With this comes an explosion of amazing video games for pretty much every type of player imaginable. Most people can find a video game and specifically a video game character to relate to and really sink their teeth into what they’re playing. But if you’re vegetarian, or worse, vegan, and you don’t particularly like hurting animals or the environment, it may be harder to relate to a video game character than you think.
No matter where you look in games, there are two things that stand out pretty clearly: Meat restores health and animals are just getting in the way of your goal. Unless you’re playing a game like Tetriswhere everything is based in the abstract, characters typically don’t adhere to a vegetarian/vegan diet and have no qualms with hacking through whatever creature stands between them and saving their princess.
Let’s just take a few examples here from some big names. Mario, who we all know and probably love on the outside, has been known to eat mushrooms, leaves, and flowers, but also eats spaghetti with meatballs. Not the worst thing ever, but then we come to his approach to level progression: Stomp on everything unless it can be burned with fire. Most of the inhabitants of the Mushroom Kingdom are happy-looking critters, like Wigglers, just content to bop to the cheery beats. Mario can run through a level without touching them, but he is encouraged to wipe them out because, well, because.
Link from The Legend of Zelda can easily be mistaken for a pretty “green” character, what with growing up in the woods, but he isn’t vegan (as he drinks milk), and he doesn’t have any problem with slashing any confused enemies to pieces should they cross his path or live somewhere where a key is hidden. Most of the time enemies are minding their own business until Link shows up and starts smashing everything in sight just to find a few rupees here and there.
Worst of all may be Final Fantasy games. Let’s look at Final Fantasy VI as it’s a fan-favorite. During the course of the adventures, not a single one of the 14 party-members abstain from eating dried meat in order to heal, nor do any of them refuse to slaughter the woodland creatures they find in random encounters. The group will start tromping through some obscure forest in search of whatever MacGuffin the plot requires at the moment, only to startle and subsequently murder all manner of confused wildlife, such as cats, squirrels, wolves, bears, birds, fish, bugs, and the occasional shrubbery. Moreover, they’re rewarded for their actions with a few coins and some experience. The message this sends is, “Killing animals for money makes you a better person!”
One of the few games that does have some sort of encouragement towards a healthier vegetarian/vegan lifestyle is, oddly enough, Fable II. In order to heal yourself, you have to eat food, fairly standard for video games. Eating meat will heal you, but it causes you to become fat and makes others see you as corrupt, whereas eating vegetables will keep you thin and viewed as pure. Heavy-handed, yeah, but it’s a start.
Surprisingly, one of the few examples of a positive video game experience is in the popular Facebook game Farmville. While it’s nothing more than a farming simulator, it allows you to raise cows, sheep, pigs, horses, ducks, and a handful of other farm animals, but doesn’t give you the option of killing any of them. Cows give you milk, sheep give you wool, pigs give you truffles, ducks give you feathers, and so on. This means that you have a farm full of animals but co-exist with them completely. Still not perfect for the full vegan experience, but it’s nearly as close as you can get.
The only game that can be looked at as a sort of commentary on the troubles of animals is a platformer called Super Meat Boy in which you play as a hunk of bleeding meat who’s trying to save his girlfriend at the end of every level. While yes, you play as raw meat, Meat Boy has an innocent goal of rescuing his girlfriend while trying to avoid everything in his path, a task that’s infuriatingly difficult as everything is out to kill him including saws, missiles, lasers, salt, and even hellish demon things. Taken to an extreme, it’s almost like living as cattle, i.e. you live your life constantly being attacked at every turn, and even if you die, there’s a nearly infinite number of replaces to take your spot.
Is it perfect? No, not even close, but that just goes a long way to show how sad it is that while so many other lifestyles are represented in video games, the vegan and vegetarian lifestyles are not. Hopefully a pro-world gamer will get into the development side of things soon, but until then all we can do is play more Tetris.