From the Big Bad Wolf to ‘Grandma’, everyone’s heard of wolves in books and film. But what about video games, which are now bigger than Hollywood movies? Are wolves just cannon fodder, or is the gamer like Little Red Riding Hood? The answer may surprise you.
Thanks to the bafflingly popular Goat Simulator, there’s been a surge in games about the daily lives of animals. But back in 1994, MS DOS game Wolf let you play as a wolf hunting for prey and a pack, and 2010’s Wolf Quest was launched with the same goal but with other players. While hardly runaway hits, they portrayed wolves simply as animals trying to survive. Given their less than stellar reputation in medieval Europe and the wild west – where many open world fantasy games are based – it’s surprising that they’re not always aggressive either.
In Skyrim, for instance, wolves usually only attack if threatened, and in up and coming game WiLD, you may be able to control a wolf pack and call them to your aid rather than fight them.
That’s not to say that they’re never antagonistic. In the downloadable content for Dark Souls, another fantasy game, Sif the Great Grey Wolf is a boss enemy who guards the grave of her master, Knight Artorias. He died protecting her from ‘the Abyss’, an area that the player is trying to access. Depending on how you play the game Sif may recognise you before the battle, but despite her mournful howl she is still honour-bound to attack you. Simply put, she is a tragic figure.
Sci-fi series Star Fox has another ‘grey’ wolf enemy. Wolf O’Donnell is an anthropomorphic wolf, skilled spaceship pilot and rival of hero Fox McCloud. However, despite his ruthless reputation, in Star Fox: Assault he allies with and even saves Fox from the insect-like cyborgs the Aparoids, although he denies doing so and continues to fight him in later games. While this character deserves distrust, our next ‘wolf’ is not so lucky.
In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, elfin hero Link must journey between the light and ‘twilight’ realms to defeat evil. Whenever he crosses over he becomes a wolf, but this causes enough panic that Midna, his twilight companion, advises him not to transform in front of other people if possible. Those who do recognise him are few and far between, and while the same is true of the most famous wolf in video gaming, at least she is treated with respect.
Amaterasu, or ‘Ammy’, is a wolf goddess from the Japanese mythology game Okami. Beautifully rendered like a brush painting, Amaterasu must regain her powers, restore the land, fight demons and protect the innocent. Villagers who think she is a normal wolf still welcome her because she looks like (and is) the reincarnation of one who helped overthrow an evil dragon, despite being shunned by the village at the time.
Whether they’re striking down warriors, demons or pilot egos, almost all of these wolves are more complex than at first glance. If they’re not simply trying to survive, they’re imbued with a tragic backstory or desperate situation, and are brave or loyal. Does this portrayal reflect a feeling of guilt for their persecution, combined with respect for a strong, intelligent animal that defends those closest to it? Since video games are still a new medium, this may suggest that up and coming generations have a different and more balanced perspective of canis lupus. And that’s a future we can all look forward to.
1. Abandonia.com. 2016. “Wolf”. http://www.abandonia.com/en/games/531/Wolf.html
2. BBC News. 2015. “Pong and Doom Enter First Video Game Hall of Fame”. 4th June. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-33005297
3. Businesstech.co.za. 2015. “The Biggest Entertainment Markets in the World”. 31st May. http://businesstech.co.za/news/lifestyle/88472/the-biggest-entertainment-markets-in-the-world/
4. Darksouls.Wikia.com. N.d. “Knight Artorius”. http://darksouls.wikia.com/wiki/Knight_Artorias
5. Kamiya, Hideki. 2006. Okami. Playstation 2. Capcom.
6. Manuel, Rob. 2010. “Top 5 Wolves in Videogaming”. http://www.g4tv.com/thefeed/blog/post/720286/top-5-wolves-in-videogaming/
7. Playstation.com. 2016. “WiLD”. https://www.playstation.com/en-gb/games/wild-ps4/
8. Starfox.Wikia.com. N.d. “Wolf O’Donnell”. http://starfox.wikia.com/wiki/Wolf_O’Donnell