Our Mixtake this month is dedicated to a completely unjustly underrepresented species in the world of video games. Clear the stage for cool lyrics from cool people, guaranteed without any more cool puns.
No cow. Nowhere.
When we were thinking about what to write about this time in Mixtake, I immediately jumped on the topic of cows. Cows in video games. That’s a great topic. I knew that right away. But now, everyone, think hard about what comes to mind. If your brains are squinting in the direction of Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley, Story of Seasons, or even Farmville, I have to disappoint you: I’ve never played a farm sim. Not true. I once spent a week in the hospital and it was so boring that I organized a small TV including GameCube. On it I played a borrowed Harvest Moon for the first time. And I played it until I had to give a cow a name. I called her “Cow.” My tutorial NPC replied, “Cow. Now that’s a pretty name for a cow.” I smirked and decided at that moment to abandon the experiment and play Metroid Prime.
Otherwise, cows are surprisingly absent from video games. I can’t think of a single cow protagonist. You control bears, gophers, geckos, dragons, foxes (way too many foxes!), cats, spiders, and I can even think of two chameleons. But no cows. In an N64 puzzler you could unlock a cow, I know that because I used to really read every article in TOTAL! no matter how irrelevant. And in Earthworm Jim, cows play an important role, but that’s about all the humor this game series has to offer. Oh yeah. Jim is an earthworm. An earthworm has more presence than such common animals as cows. Even Duckburg has Klarabella cow.
In video games, cows are degraded to milk givers. This does not do justice to these loving and intelligent animals. Cows cry for days when they are deprived of calves to produce even more milk for humans. Where is the cow revolution simulator. Not in sight.
But just as I was about to write to my wall-jumping colleagues that we’d gotten carried away and should switch to horses, I remembered: It was TOTAL! again, telling me in a page-filling, sensational news item that the upcoming South Park game for the N64 would feature a cow launcher with which you could destroy your opponents in deathmatch rounds. I almost bought the game because of that news alone. I was dissuaded by the review in TOTAL! which said the game was no good. Despite the cow launcher.
A cow goes moo, many cows in Ocarina of Time live underground. Excuse me? That’s not a natural habitat for a cow! But at least they are safe there – from falling rocks, Malon’s cold hands, and aliens (all of which are part of Zelda canon).
There is no hiding from me, however. I find the earth cows and play them a song, so that they donate me blessed Lon Lon milk. And I find this playful co-existence quite nice, because it could also be quite different.
If Nintendo had been as morbid in its interaction with cows as it is with its digital chickens, Link should at least be able to push cows. That’s not really feasible in reality, but every halfway serious comedy makes up stories around this recreational cruelty. While sleeping or dozing, you should catch them, then it would be easy. There are whole manuals about it. And it sounds funny. “Cow-pushing” is the only word where semantic saturation doesn’t set in, even with multiple repetition. It just stays funny all the time.
Not so funny, however, is the fact that cows kill an average of 20 people per year (in the US). That is twenty times more than sharks in the same period (also in the USA). Whereas there are many things that are statistically more dangerous than sharks. Ladders or lawnmowers, for example. Fear the real killer.
Anyone who can’t laugh at this should know the real drama: The Crown of Creation treats cows unbelievably horribly, both in the real world and in the video game. Permanently pregnant and penned up, neglected and fattened for the slaughter. On the latter, a stadium full of cows lands every (!) day in Germany. In Zelda, the ruminants are also nothing more than an item store on four legs. In Breath of the Wild, they even willingly cut themselves into juicy steaks if you attack them fatally.
Whether Link should go vegan now? “As valuable as a small steak”, “Got Milk?” have always been just marketing slogans, but they have this magic, this ultimate power, this force defying all contradictions and nuances: They make things normal. Nothing is defended with as much mouth foam as something we think is normal. Link milking, slaughtering and eating cows is as normal as Zelda being trapped somewhere again. An industry that may have slowly outgrown its adolescence may be allowed to ask itself a question or two about how much of what normality it wants.
Where is the life farm simulator?
I love cows! Since 2020, my girlfriend and I have been supporting a so-called life farm, i.e. a former farm that at some point decided to put an end to the exploitation of the animals and simply let the cows be cows. That means hanging out, grazing, being allowed to raise calves – and most importantly: never being afraid of the cattle truck again. Animal welfare, an ingenious invention! But completely underrepresented in video games. While all around every formerly successful Harvest Moon is virtually re-released by its own makers under the title Story of Seasons, and the one-man wrecking crew named Eric Barone has practically yodelled together the definitive farming simulator on his own with Stardew Valley, I’m missing a game that dedicates itself one hundred percent to the life farm principle. There has to be one, while the vegan lifestyle is becoming more and more popular among us millennials and life farms are practically working “on brand”. What’s the problem? Too boring?
Just managing the conversion of an existing farm into a living farm is something I find enormously exciting from an economic perspective. Where does the income suddenly come from when you no longer sell milk or meat? What does it cost to feed and veterinarily care for the cows? How does the maintenance of the pasture work? How do you find sponsors and donors for the cows? What do you offer to create a bond with the animals? For example, through visits, events, social media or merch. There’s something to be done, dear simulation developers, similar mechanics already exist in many other games. And if that’s too basic for you, you could also offer a little action.
The everyday life of a farm operator also includes less invigorating activities than mucking out the overcooked winter barn or loading the four-legged friends with carrots and apples as they pine for snacks. For example, dealing with Annette and Achim from next door, who feel bothered by the livestock farming in their hometown because it “doesn’t bring anything”. What do they do when they regularly sic the veterinary office on the life farm operators because of their poorly channeled anger about the mirror that these farms hold up to them? Fortunately, there are also suitable analogies for this, which can be processed into gameplay. I can already see how we have to defend the pasture against zombiefied neighbor hordes at night, including repairing fences. If the neighbors manage to get ten cows onto the cattle truck to the slaughterhouse, then you’ve lost. Try again? A bit like when the Romani Ranch in Zelda: Majora’s Mask was haunted at night by ghosts who wanted to kidnap the cows. It turned out well there. It will here, too. I firmly believe that Life Farm Simulator will come out eventually. And until then, I’ll just keep driving around as a walking vegetable vending machine to my sponsored cattle.
Benjamin’s mention of the cow launcher made me remember a game where cows were also used as weapons. At the time when the Bloodhound Gang was blasting my South Park-postered room, the Jackass Crew were my heroes, and I even got myself a pogo stick because of it, a game came out that perfectly captured the borderline humor of that era. Let’s call it Postman 2. Back then, game magazines gave funny names to indexed games, where everyone still knew what was meant. Whether that’s still the practice today, I can’t say, because I don’t read anymore. Save a tree, burn a book. That left its mark on me.
The decomposed cow skull was infected with anthrax and emitted a cloud of unhealthy color when used. If it was hurled at passers-by, they died while spitting up a not inconsiderable amount of blood. One should avoid walking into the plague cloud. The heads could usually be found on a grill, which was a good reason to become a vegetarian.
It is the only weapon from the game that I remember well. You could use cats as shock absorbers and urinate freely in the area. But the arsenal of weapons was surprisingly conservative. Between the pistol and the shotgun, the cow head stood out. And I laughed at it! Maybe I still would today, but there are some parts of Letter Carrier 2 that I probably wouldn’t laugh at anymore. It uses a kind of black humor that makes it easy by not wanting to follow any rules. At the time, that was fine with me because I could clearly distinguish between this portrayal, which was exaggerated to the point of absurdity, and my reality, in which extreme behavior did not occur. I didn’t insult my girlfriends, I didn’t eat an omelet made of vomit, and I would never have shoved things into my cat’s orifices without her explicit consent or medical necessity.
In fact, for me Postman 2, and with it the anthrax cow skull, is representative of a period of a few years when we as young people could consume media completely naively and carefree, which knew no taboos, and could convince ourselves that it had nothing to do with reality. It was all in good fun, and if others found it distasteful, it was all the funnier. “Politically incorrect” didn’t have a negative connotation yet, because you didn’t think about politics at all. Then I got to know 4chan and realized that every exaggeration out there, no matter how absurd it seems, finds real followers who are pretty nasty about it, and that even gags can have consequences. I still see Letter Carrier 2 as a kind of satire with no bad intentions. But the cow skull was never the same again anyway, because I didn’t feel like playing my former favorite game after it lost its innocence for me.
Meat and Leather Cave
One thing I always remember fondly is my flesh-and-leather cave in Minecraft. In order to be able to consistently supply myself with the materials hidden in the title of the cave, one day I came up with the idea of hollowing out a mountain. Basically, hollowing out mountains is not something special in Minecraft, since you do it all the time, but my cave was something special.
I carved a large hall inside a mountain, provided it with only a single door as entrance and exit and then led a few cows inside. From that moment on, these cows lived in my cow hall, were fed and motivated to reproduce abundantly.
Then, every few days, I would run through the hall with a sword and kill about half of all the cows. This act equipped me with enough meat and leather to survive the first days in the world of Minecraft.
At some point, I had secured my food supply elsewhere and no longer needed leather, as I had several thousand pieces of it lying around in my box. In order not to have to burden myself any longer with the ethical conflict miseries from the underground, I did the only logical thing: I removed the door, bricked up the hole and resolved simply not to think about my deeds any more.
Every now and then, I would still hear a soft moo as I drove a mine cart through the underground and past the forgotten cave, but I quickly got used to it. Most of the time I even had to laugh a little bit.
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