The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of Creatures in Video Games

Anthropomorphism’s always been with us – that’s the ascribing of human actions and emotions to animals. For example, Aesop’s Fables which date back to Ancient Greece feature a positive menagerie of animals teaching humans about the right and moral way to live. A slightly more up-to-date phenomenon came from Walt Disney, who introduced us to the world’s most famous mouse and his family plus countless other lovable creatures.

So when the very first video games were being developed, it was hardly a surprise that it was to the animal kingdom where the early developers decided to look. After all, probably one of the closest forms of entertainment to the early video game was the cartoon and by the late 20th century, Disney was just one of the many names creating animated worlds in which the animals ruled the roost.

One of the very first to appear was Sonic the Hedgehog, whose very first game was released by Sega in 1991. He was a mammal with real attitude, who was also adopted as the symbol of the company that originated him. Needless to say, he went on to feature in a long series of games.

While Nintendo had a famous Italian plumber as their symbol, over at Sony, the designers came up with an animal that many had probably never heard of, Crash Bandicoot. Although Crash never did get quite the notoriety of Sonic or Mario, he did have the honour of having an extinct member of his species named after him by palaeontologists in Australia.

However, as video games became more sophisticated and reached out to a wider, and older, audience, animals started to go out of fashion. Admittedly, some did start to appear in supporting roles, but there seemed little for them to do in the driving games and shoot-em-ups that had started to prevail.

But, just as most fashions do, recent times have seen our furred and feathered friends start to reappear everywhere from on our gaming screens to in online slots machines. One of the first games to reintroduce them was Angry Birds, featuring not just the birds but the pigs that were their targets too. Meanwhile, over in Australia, the favourite oz pokie Big Red features kangaroos, dingoes, crocodiles and wild boars. The five-reel slot game is set in the iconic Australian Outback, with its lead characters being brought to life through video game-style animation upon a player win.

It’s also impossible to overlook the influence that the arrival of Pokémon Go had back last summer in the resurgence of animals in video games. Not only was it one of the highest profile applications of augmented reality to date, but it also introduced countless new “species” to the waiting world. It also can’t be any coincidence that similar emoji-style characters are starting to be such big business that the companies that create them are now attracting some very high-profile financial backers.

So it would very much seem like the animals – and other creatures – are definitely on the rise again. And with virtual reality also being tipped to be the next big thing in video games, it probably won’t be long before we find ourselves closer to them than ever before.