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Slimes. Goombas. Pidgeys. Gelatinous cubes. Mud crabs. Life has always been difficult for creatures at the bottom of the food chain in video games. They exist to make us feel powerful and they exist to make us powerful.
At the beginning of a game, they can serve as simple fodder for XP farming and test our new combat skills; You can make an area appear populated without being too overwhelming for players just starting their journey. At the end or even in the middle of the game, they are little more than the snails that you accidentally crush under your boots on the way to the supermarket.
What kind of life to lead: always at a low level, destined never to grow up, never to reach heights higher than “generic mook”. But do you know what’s the worst? Many of these poor, doomed, weak creatures are based on real animals, and those animals don’t even know we think they’re little more than kickable fauna.
Mud crab? More like Misunderstood Crab
Since today is Crab News Thursday, I’d like to start with our little tricky friends. In real life, crabs are small but powerful and capable of delivering pinches that require at least the application of a fairly large patch. In video games, crabs are silly baby weaklings who rarely have more than 50 horsepower and can be taken down in little more than a hit on the head.
And sure, most of the crabs you find on a Norfolk beach are the small ones you can safely shovel into a bucket, but have you seen spider crabs and coconut crabs? Apparently, according to this article I found “Krabbenprise Can Kill You?” found, the coconut crab is capable of killing entire birds. I’m not much bigger than a bird!
“Just so you know, I only caught you feeding my MUCH, MUCH stronger Pokémon.”
Speaking of bird lovers, in the Pokémon games they almost all start with the same thing: here’s a little bird named Pidgey or Pidove or Piflamingo that only exists to get your starter Pokémon used to the taste of blood. No matter that there’s an entire Hitchcock movie out there that deals with how bloody angry birds can be, especially when they know where all the soft parts of your face are – what have birds ever done to make the punching bag for an entire series to be?
Bats, birds, beetles, bandits and blobs: for decades we have considered them weak, trivial and hardly worth our time. Occasionally we get a tropical reversal or subversion, like the Big Green Chuchu in The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap or Goombella, the friendly, almost human Goomba companions in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, but these are mostly the exception to the rule. We just seem to have generally decided that certain creatures are the lowest forms of life and they deserve to die without ceremony.
Socialism? More like slime socialism
If I felt a little more elaborate and annoying, I could turn this piece into a dismantling of, uh, capitalism or something. They know how the strong (bosses) use the work of the needy (mooks) to do their dirty work (harass the hero) and how the working class (mooks) must usurp the means of production (… Bowser’s flamethrower thrown, or something ). But it’s a Thursday and I don’t feel like it, so you write that bit yourself, okay?
My point is this: every hero’s journey is based on a mountain of corpses that were so insignificant to you that they were barely registered as a speck on your radar, and that’s what the developers want you to think and feel. This is why so many low level monsters are slime because it’s hard to humanize a dollop of mayonnaise. But I’m telling you, dear developers, that you give a LOT of real life animals a bad rap. Why does Pokémon keep using birds and bugs? What does Bethesda have against cancers? And why do low-level soldiers in The Witcher 3 always have chicken sandwiches in their pockets? The last question isn’t really relevant, I’m just curious.
Goombas deserve love too, right?
But lately things have gotten better for Level 1 bad guys. With monster rearing games like Slime Rancher, Viva Piñata, and Stardew Valley – where you can catch a pile of slimes in an enclosure to grow for their precious slime – the market to take care of the babies, instead of just trampling around it keeps growing. Many people, including me, want to take care of the crabs and birds and not kill them.
I’m nowhere near the first to suggest that game violence is getting a bit boring and that the new in-vogue is to spend time caring for animals instead, but I still want to add my voice to the appeal.
If anyone out there is able to make games and is still reading this, please give me a crab lifting game, please. Let me make amends for all the murder I committed.