Two very different downloadable games developed by not-for-profit interests are making comparable arguments in favor of environmental consciousness-raising: the educational game WolfQuest, developed by the Minnesota Zoo, and the independent satiric political game Harpooned: Japanese Cetacean Research Simulator.. Both animal-centered games feature digital blood as part of the play experience, but it is there that the similarities end.
In WolfQuest, the player takes the role of a male or female wolf avatar with customizable fur coloring to personalize the play experience. Players must join a wolf-pack, which can include other participants across the U.S. or around the world, while they learn to follow scent trails, socialize through animal communication, and chase down big game. Set in the Yosemite National Park, the eventual goal of a player’s wolf-avatar is to find a mate and begin a pack of one’s own. However, online games have a tendency to take on lives of their own. A trip to the online video site YouTube reveals that fans and critics alike have posted their own game play videos, some of which are set to music or have humorous subplots of their own. It’s also worth noting that WolfQuest isn’t the first wolf-themed educational game with persistent communities of players. The 1994 DOS-based game Wolf can still be found online, and it even has a few fan videos of its own.
Harpooned ridicules the rhetoric of the Japanese government that they are conducting “research” by killing whales for food in the name of supporting traditional marine economies in the region. The player fires explosive harpoons from a whaling vessel while avoiding protesters and scoring bonus points by helping the carnage spread to other ecologically related species. As Ian Bogost points out in Water Cooler Games, the irony of the purported purpose of the game may be lost on some gore-happy shoot-em-up gamers.