Friday, 15 April 2016

Vegan RPGs: Hear me out... wait! Don't go!

Here at 103% Complete we strive to fill all the niches that everybody else misses, which seriously eats into our juicy clickbait revenues. As the title of this post suggests, we're looking to inform and entertain the audience intersection between those who are interested in the politics of veganism and those who enjoy videogames enough to read what I'd (generously) regard as an obscurely popular video game blog.

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Because the OED isn't very nuanced in its definition of veganism, I'm going to take the definition put forward by The Vegan Society itself:

'Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.'

So what does this have to do RPG games? I'll tell ya. The popularity of RPGs and MMOs with an RPG bent to them have resulted in the development and maintenance of increasingly complex game worlds, with rich character creation, field combat and crafting systems already the norm in the big budget titles. The developers behind such games want to create a world into which the player can inject as much of their creativity and personality into their gameplay as they wish to. These varying degrees of expression are part of the huge draw these games have. 

The possibilities are endless
We see in the Mass Effect series that notions of gender identity need not be heteronormative, In Eve Online you can carve out a niche as an operative in a megacorporation and have an equally valid experience as someone who exclusively engages in mining or space piracy. Even games like Minecraft without strict metrics for victory and success invite roleplaying servers to pop up. But (and this is where I get to the vegan bit, I promise) could you exist and thrive in such a world as someone who actively would rather not exploit in-game animals wherever possible? Even if you're not a vegan in real-life it may be an interesting roleplay option. I know people who roleplay being a shopkeeper in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which I remind you is a single player game where shop ownership is not coded into the game. Being a vegan mage is far from the oddest roleplay option out there.    

So how can a would-be vegan player fall foul of animal exploitation in their RPG gameplay? Let's look at some common categories.

Food: Diet is the obvious place to start with real life vegans but in many RPGs, keeping on top of your characters' nutrition isn't integral to being competitive. Topping up your HP and MP can usually be handled with spells, potions or just a good night's sleep. However, more often than not it is the slabs of beef and wheels of cheese that provide the greatest benefit as consumables in games such as in Contact and Punch Club, where simply frying a steak exceeds the usefulness of any plant based cooking in the game if it even exists at all. You can get away with a vegan diet in the Paper Mario series, even if there is the option to literally smack animal called Whacka across the head and consume the swelling bruise that results from the assault.  

You have to brain this adorable creature in order to obtain a huge health potion.

Gear: Generally speaking, most Western RPGs eventually get to the point where you're working primarily with metalwork to produce armour and equipment. Cruelty ridden leatherworking and tanning options are usually superseded by metallic, magical or other inorganic materials. If you really can't find an alternative to leather in the early game, you can usually 'do it in your pants' until you level up, even if your pants are made out of... fur. Dammit, Skyrim! On a side note, being creative in Minecraft takes a massive hit because coloured blocks (cubes of dyed wool harvested from cubic sheep) are a no-no. 

The big problem with gear comes when the game has a loot based crafting system, which requires you to kill enemies (usually creatures) in order to assemble the items that you need. Even if your game's economy is driven entirely by gold, most traditional RPGs require a whole lotta compulsory killing to proceed one way or another which leads us to...

XP/Progress: Killing monsters and mobs to get XP helps you gain LV which you absolutely need in most games to make any progress whatsoever. Unskippable bosses. Death and blood is usually hard to avoid. Undertale is a notable exception to this rule which leads us to really 'lawyering up' the definition of veganism, which includes 'as far as is possible and practical'. One of the narrative themes of Xenoblade Chronicles X is the peaceful coexistence with nature wherever possible. Predatorial beasts will hunt you down but many of the creatures will never pose a threat to you and your team and it is perfectly possible to leave them well alone. Although the apparent 'threat to humanity' is never realised if you don't purge these 'pests' at all. Seems like some thinly veiled pro-hunting propaganda to me...

*Michael Jackson's Earth Song plays*
The 'random encounter' mechanic underlying most RPGs heavily implies that the indigenous creatures are attacking you directly, which somewhat excuses the player of any harm they do to the creature in order to survive. But since fleeing battle is usually an option, the vegan RPG player is encouraged to acquire the minimal murder related XP possible to progress through the game. If you want to do the most vegan run possible in Final Fantasy VII, you're going to have to restrict your grinding activities to enemies which are entirely inorganic in nature... and you're going to have to do without Knights of the Round because of the implied avoidable Chocobo abuse, which brings us to...

Pokémon:  I'm sorry but Pokémon is just out of the question. The 'they want to fight' argument just falls apart under any critical examination. The entire game is about violent animal bloodsport. You can hang around in the starting town in a perpetual state of helping you mum to move in to your new house, but once you take that starter Pokémon... you're an exploitative monster. Shame on your and your house.  Monster battlers of almost any other variety fall foul of this too so all of you hardcore Bomberman Tournament fans out there can just hang your head in shame.
Pictured above: Barbaric bloodpsort

So next time you enter your own preferred virtual fantasy world, try and examine how dominated your experience is by the exploitation of animals in that world. As for me, I'm heading back to my Animal Crossing village, where the bugs and fish specimen collections remain proudly empty and my debts to Tom Nook, remain very high indeed. 


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