We consider the impact of veganism in gaming and how creators are exploring the topic.
People refrain from consuming animal products for various reasons: from ethical to health-related, as well as ecological, spiritual, religious, and even socio-economic. And in fact, according to the British Vegan Society, the demand for meatless food increased in 2017 by 987%, and within five years between 2012 and 2017 Google searches about veganism increased four times. Current interest in veganism is almost three times more popular than those on a vegetarian and gluten-free diet, even though not long before it seemed like only a few people would choose to adopt such a radical diet/lifestyle.
This trend towards living life without animal products is also slowly permeating the world of video games. From narrative adventure games to merciless survival epics where the challenge comes from simply staying alive and pushing forward, where killing wildlife is a key part of the experience. That said, games like Mutazione or The Forest reward the player with an appropriate trophy or achievement for completing each respective story without eating any meat or animal products (even though both games represent extremely different genres). Some games, such as Abzû, leave much more room for interpretation.
The game from Giant Squid Studios is, first and foremost, an excellent exploration of nature in which the player spends most of their time exploring and observing an underwater world surrounded by a plethora of sea creatures. The game is characterised by its calming atmosphere and it doesn't rush the player at all, allowing us, at our own pace, to simply look on in amazement at the virtual ocean wildlife all around us, admiring nature in all its glory.
Ultimately, Abzû attempts to convey one message: man is puny. Wildlife and nature is absolutely beautiful, but it can also be terrifying. The game manages to spark interest in and build respect for the environment as a whole. And frankly, regardless of whether we eat meat or not, we all can experience this peaceful adventure and enjoy the feeling of spending time in these nature-inspired surroundings.
And yet, both Mutazione and Abzû tell short, relaxing and slow-paced stories about life itself, both human and otherwise. Via narrative and story, these games explore themes and ideas that seem to be successful in tapping into the vegan mindset, more so than the gameplay itself even.
And yet, on the other hand, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and State of Decay prove that even the survival aspects of gameplay have the potential to convey the benefits of a vegan lifestyle. In contrast to the cooking system in Don't Starve, where animal meat is necessary to maintain proper nourishment and mental health status, in the last instalment of Zelda, Link receives the most benefit from eating stews made out of durian (even twenty hearts of healing more), bananas (granting him unbridled strength), or various kinds of mushrooms (these grant huge bonuses to defence and other stats, as well as status resistance), while meat - regardless of whether it's poultry, pork or fish - gives our hero nothing extra.
Even more interesting are the mechanics of State of Decay. In Microsoft's PC/Xbox-exclusive zombie survival adventure, players can interact and tag along with a community of vegan survivors. Vegan zombie slayers not only eat less than other recruits but their morale is drastically increased thanks to improvements to the kitchen in their living quarters. In short, betting on vegan survivors helps to have a happier community for less cost - indirectly hinting to not just the ecologic but also the economic benefits of veganism.
It has to be said, that exploring vegan themes in games is not necessarily an invention of developers from the past decade. Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee, a platformer from all the way back in 1997, tells the story of the title hero of the enslaved Mudokon race, who is trying to free his friends from being turned into food for their masters. Abe's Oddysee is a commentary not only on the topic of carnivorism but also exploitation, capitalism, and all the other ways that our greed can destroy the environment.
Another question to ask is whether vegan players translate their personal morality into video games? When we're exploring game worlds, we do a lot of things that we wouldn't in real life, committing robbery, slavery, genocide, and taking part in obligation-free erotic adventures. Hence we have to assume that vegans do kill animals in games much like they do with human enemies - when it's necessary, such as in Assassin's Creed and Far Cry when animal byproducts are used to create key in-game items that have a direct impact on gameplay.
But usually, it is not entirely necessary. Killing both animals and random passers-by in games is often treated as a shameful act, which usually has its consequences embedded in the very coding of the game. Simply annoying a single hen in The Legend of Zelda causes Link to be attacked by a whole flock of angry birds; and if we let Geralt of Rivia kill too many carefree cows in The Witcher 3, the player will have to face off against an immortal devil. Interestingly, in this particular case, it wasn't driven by morality but more by necessity; CD Projekt Red introduced this bovine-protecting demon via an update so that players would stop breaking the game by selling a seemingly infinite amount of skin, meat, and milk from the cows that players were slaughtering.
Whether the enforced restrictions of The Witcher 3 or the peaceful exploration of Abzû, these games all share a commonality where, one way or another, our excessive exploitation of animals and nature is presented to us via in-game interactions and experiences. Often it's not the act of eating meat that we're being confronted with, rather it's consumerism and excess in all its forms, and no matter what your stance on veganism, that's something worth thinking about if nothing else.