An imitative work created to imitate, or comment on and trivialize, an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of satiric or ironic imitation.
- Wikipedia entry on Parody
A genre … in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming … into improvement.
- Wikipedia entry on Satire
Parody and satire are common in today’s media, with television shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report that satirize news shows, novels such as The Wind Done Gone or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies that either satirize the original story or tell an alternate version with themes from an entirely different, unrelated genre, and films such as The Great Dictator, which parodies Hitler and the Nazis, or Blazing Saddles, which is a spoof of the western film genre. Video games are not exempt from being used as vehicles of parody and satire. The difference between using video games as a medium for parody and satire and other mediums is the fact that video games must be interacted with in order to be experienced. Without the player, there is no video game; the game is nothing but lines of code and image files burned onto an optical disk or written onto an integrated chip on a breadboard in a game cartridge. However, even though video games are gaining more respectability as a medium, there is a distinct difference between whether a parody game is intended as humor or as a satirical statement. You cannot create a game intended as satire, and then pass it off as humor when the public at large greatly disagrees with you. To do so would devalue the message you might have wished to convey, damage your respectability, and sometimes, generate the opposite effect, exacerbating what you want to correct. A perfect example of how misuse of parody and satire in combination with video games ended mostly in failure is shown in the case of PETA.
The website for the animal rights organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), is perhaps the last place one would expect to find anything video-game related, as their main concern is the treatment of animals in the real world. After forming in 1980, PETA’s first case was the 1981 Silver Spring monkeys case—a dispute about experiments conducted on 17 monkeys in a laboratory in Silver Spring, Maryland—which they won. Since then, they focused their message on four areas: factory farms, the clothing trade, laboratories, and the entertainment industry. Between 2001 and 2004, they created their own Adobe Flash-based video games to draw attention to their campaigns, especially aiming them at children through their PETA Kids website. In 2004, they had four games on their PETA Kids website: Save the Chicks, a game about saving chicken from boiling water; Make Fred Spew, a game where the player makes “Fred” vomit after feeding him dairy products; Revenge of the PETA Tomatoes, a game where you throw tomatoes at fur-wearing targets; and Lobster Liberation, a Frogger parody where the object of the game is to save a lobster by making it cross a road and river, much like in the original Frogger. With the marginal success of these four games, PETA decided to release a parody of Super Mario Bros. called Super Chick Sisters, with the intention of revealing animal cruelty in fast food chain, Kentucky Fried Chicken’s food production.
Just like with Frogger, the mechanics of Super Chick Sisters work just like Super Mario Bros.; you jump, you stomp, you lose a life if you touch an enemy or fail into a pit. There were two main things that made this title stand out. First, in addition to the titular Chick Sisters adventuring to rescue the kidnapped princess, the game shows Mario and Luigi—characters who are the intellectual property of Nintendo and were used without permission—rushing off to rescue the princess as well. However, the brothers got off to a late start due to being busy playing Wii, getting “Wiitus” for playing too long, and going to see Dr. Mario (paradox much?), all the while believing that there isn’t anyone else that can save the princess besides them. Second, the princess that the evil caricature of Colonel Sanders kidnaps in the game is Pamela Anderson, dressed up to resemble Princess Peach. This would mark the first time PETA would use the likeness of one of their celebrity spokespersons in their games. PETA would again repeat this formula for their 2009 game New Super Chick Sisters, a parody of New Super Mario Bros., only this time, aimed at fast food chain McDonald’s, with an evil Ronald McDonald caricature kidnapping Princess
Peach Pamela Anderson. Regardless, it wasn’t until 2008 that PETA would turn its attempts at satire toward video games themselves.
Currently, on their website, PETA has several Flash games that parody other well-known games. These include: Pokémon Black & Blue: Gotta Free ‘Em All (2012), a Pokémon Black 2 & White 2 parody; Cooking Mama: Mama Kills Animals (2008), a parody of the Cooking Mama series; Super Tofu Boy (2010), a parody of Super Meat Boy; Super Tanooki Skin 2D, a.k.a. Mario Kills Tanooki (2011), a parody of Super Mario Bros. 3; and the aforementioned New Super Chick Sisters (2009). Each of these obviously satirical games features gameplay similar to the original games they parody. However, unlike the whimsical, cartoony, fun atmosphere that accompanies those games, PETA’s parodies are blood-filled depictions of gore laced with heavy-handed preaching of the evils of animal abuse and eating
meat animal flesh. Considering the target demographic for most of these games are young children, it follows that the target demographic for these parody games from PETA would also target children. However, when presented with bloody graphics like in those found in Cooking Mama: Mama Kills Animals…
It comes as no surprise that PETA received a lot of backlash for this game. In an article in Kotaku, Mike Fahey writes:
She just wants to fill our tummies with goodness, and this is the thanks she gets?
According to an article in The Escapist, the official response from Cooking Mama publisher, Majesco, was that the game that PETA was satirizing, Cooking Mama World Kitchen for the Wii, actually contained several vegetarian recipes from around the world and that Mama fully supported the humane treatment of animals.
In the case of Super Tofu Boy, one of the developers of Super Meat Boy, Edmund McMillen, told gaming news site G4 that he posted on the game’s blog that he had created several accounts on PETA’s online forum to get PETA to create a parody of the old Flash version of their game, using PETA’s tendency toward attention-getting behavior for Super Meat Boy’s benefit. Of course, he left out the fact that the Meat Boy character is not made of animal meat, but is really a human boy with no skin. PETA eventually created Super Tofu Boy in 2010 after the developers turned their small Flash game into a full-blown console game for Xbox Live Arcade and Steam, using their game to promote veganism and protest the game. In response, McMillen announced on the game’s blog that they would be adding Tofu Boy as a playable character to Super Meat Boy. In addition, he listed the characteristics of their version of Tofu Boy – “Pro: Inflated Ego; Con: Not actually as effective as he thinks he is” which is a fitting description of PETA’s attempt at satiring the game. He even added a joke at PETA’s expense at the end:
How many Peta members does it take to change a lightbulb? None, Peta can't change anything.
In November 2011, Nintendo released Super Mario 3D Land which features the Tanooki Suit, an item that lets Mario dress up like a tanuki, giving him the powers to float gently to the ground and to change into a stone statue. This prompted PETA to create Super Tanooki Skin 2D the next day, as well as issue a statement saying that by wearing the Tanooki Suit, “Mario is sending the message that it's OK to wear fur.”
Contributor to Forbes.com, David M. Ewalt, remarks that the suit is merely what it is—a suit, or rather, a costume, not the skin from an animal. Well, that and Mario changes into the suit by grabbing a Super Leaf, not by skinning a tanuki. Nintendo responded by pointing out that Mario has taken the appearance of several objects and animals over the course of his games giving him different powers, such as a frog, a penguin, a balloon, or even a metallic version of himself.
These lighthearted and whimsical transformations give Mario different abilities and make his games fun to play. The different forms that Mario takes make no statement beyond the games themselves.
The day after Nintendo made their statement, PETA issued a clarification, stating that their game wasn’t really satire, and that they were just poking fun at the game while trying to raise awareness of a serious issue. Of course, if PETA were to just look back about 24 years ago to 1990’s Super Mario Bros. 3, they probably would’ve realized that they’re not only almost a quarter of a century too late to complain, but that 90’s fashion was noticably absent of any raccoon tails or tanuki suits.
Not ones to let reality stand in their way, PETA decided to take aim at the Pokémon franchise in 2012 by releasing an unflattering parody the day after the release of Pokémon Black 2 & White 2 called PETA’s Pokémon Black & Blue: Gotta Free ‘Em All. Pokémon Black & Blue is a Flash game created by New York-based indie studio THIS IS POP—who, interestingly enough, does not include PETA among their list of clients, despite displaying Pokémon Black & Blue on their website, but not others, such as Super Tanooki Skin 2D—that claims that Pokémon “paints a rosy picture of things that are horrible” and that, if PETA existed in the Pokémon universe, their motto would be “Pokémon are not ours to use or abuse. They exist for their own reasons.”
While they may make a salient point concerning how the battles in Pokémon may be similar to cockfighting, the main difference between people who engage in cockfighting and most of the Pokémon trainers in the franchise is that most of the Pokémon trainers actually do care for their Pokémon. In fact, according to Pokémon canon, since Pokémon often exhibit the desire to fight and become stronger, battling Pokémon to develop its combat abilities is desirable for both the trainer and the Pokémon itself. But, as Jessica Conditt, a writer for Joystiq, points out:
Pokemon Black and Blue demonstrates that while it's terrible to punch, kick, cut or hit fictional animals with bats, it's perfectly acceptable to electrocute humans.
Furthermore, in the above screenshot, you can clearly see Pikachu wielding a sign that states “I support Team Plasma.” While Team Plasma does try to convince trainers to release their Pokémon, claiming that humans are hindrances to the lives and interests of Pokémon, if trainers do not wish to release their Pokémon, they will try to steal the Pokémon instead, using their own Pokémon to battle the trainer. So yes, PETA supports Team Plasma; a team of hypocrites.
The list doesn’t end there. In fact, contributor to Forbes.com, Erik Kain, put together a list of five “silly anti-video game protests” two days after Pokémon Black and Blue was released. Of the five, Super Tanooki Skin 2D and Super Tofu Boy were already mentioned. In one such example, in 2009, PETA urged its members to log into World of Warcraft in order to defend seals from being clubbed to death. Digital seals. Because defending bits of 1s and 0s from virtual head trauma is more important than protecting actual seals. In addition, in a video released on YouTube by PETA, they portrayed the seal clubbers as Canadian, and that they traditionally clubbed baby whitecoat seals. However, what they failed to realize—other than Canadian accents don’t sound like the ones in that video—is that Canada had banned the hunting of baby whitecoat seals way back in 1987.
In 2013, PETA released two more parody games: a sequel to Pokémon Black and Blue called Pokémon Red, White, and Blue: An Unofficial PETA Parody, and Cage Fight, a River City Ransom clone where you play as one of three characters based on real MMA fighters. Even though the Pokémon sequel is more of the same, Cage Fight is actually a decent game, even though the dialogue during the cut-scenes still lean on the heavy-handed side. However, by now it is probably already too late for PETA. With so many games criticized for missing the point, sending the wrong message, or being ignorant, hypocritical, or just plain wrong, any credibility PETA may have had—at least as far as video game satire is concerned—has expired. In her essay, PETA: How the Messenger Kills the Message, Hannah Crisan states that if people have negative attitudes about PETA, then they will automatically be biased against whatever issue they are trying to promote.
PETA’s name has become so notorious that as soon as someone knows they are associated with an issue, they close their minds to PETA’s message, even if it may be an important and excellent one. If people think of them as disrespectful and uncaring about whom they hurt, PETA is killing the message.
It is not just the message that they are killing. By becoming notorious for extreme publicity stunts in order to push their ideals, they are not only killing the message, but they are also killing their own name.
Just this month, Brian Crecente of Polygon writes, PETA opened the doors to its own server in Minecraft. The main aspect of this server is that players will not be allowed to harm animals. Considering the reputation that PETA has now, I can’t imagine what the response to this by the Gaming and Internet communities at large might be. Oh, wait. Yes, I can.