In protestation of Thanksgiving, PETA is making us aware that we are torturing turkeys for this national holiday through the game, Cooking Mama: Mama Kills Animals (The Unauthorized PETA Edition). This is one of the latest rhetorical games (a game that tries to convince the player to accept a particular viewpoint) and while it’s better than the poor attempt at decrying KFC in Super Chick Sisters, it’s not taking full advantage of the medium. I’d also like to brag that I managed to post a review of this before Ian Bogost over at Watercooler Games, the current master of Rhetorical Games.
Mama Kills Animals is a parody/repurposing of the Nintendo DS and Wii game, Cooking Mama, a game that simulates cooking. PETA’s version features a psychopathic Mama who tortures turkeys for the Thanksgiving Feast and copies the gameplay of the original fairly well. The controls can be a bit awkward to control the hand. My old PowerBook G4 ran particularly slow on the organ removal part. The game has great aesthetic and humor through the banjo music and Mama’s diabolical personality.
Gameplay focuse on gross-out through imagery. Players tear off the turkey’s feathers and rips out its guts. There are copious amounts of gore and blood splatter that gets more intense the more the player mutilates the turkey. There are also other touches like hair in the stuffing and sawing off the turkey’s head. The rhetorics here is clearly one of grossing out the player to make him or her decide against preparing a turkey, albeit through a healthy dose of unrealism. At the least, the final depiction of the turkey as a horribly prepared meal seems to match my current cooking skills.
Scoring (and evilness) is based on how well the player performs the task. Note that players can also choose to be pro-turkey (or just do a really bad job) and get a scornful look from Mama and a rating of ‘Don’t Be a Saint!’ This suggests that the game supports a ‘pacifist’ mode, or at least a nod to players who don’t want to hurt the poor dead turkey.
Unfortunately, the end of the gameplay section uses the nonludic media of text to tell the player about the evils of turkey farms. After a round is completed, the player is told that turkeys have their throats slit while still conscious and millions are scalded in tanks of hot water each year. While PETA may have decided not to depict this in ludic form, telling this rather than showing through gameplay is not taking full advantage of the medium.
A more effective message would have involved gameplay where the turkey is actually killed. PETA may have chosen not to allow Mama to do this, thinking that gameplay would have been used by carnivorous sadists and adolescents to mutilate digital animals without remorse. Gameplay need not have been from Mama’s perspective though: the player could have also taken the role of a turkey who is forced to live in terrible conditions on the turkey farm, only to be cruelly slaughtered in a decidedly non-Kosher fashion. This give-and-take rhetoric of saying ‘yes, it’s ok to eat animals, even if we disagree with you, just so long as you don’t treat them horribly’ would be much stronger and accepting than the extremist inflexible rhetoric that ‘eating animals is wrong and disgusting.’
This lack of killing turkeys also makes the title a bit misleading: Mama only kills an animal (we think, at least) in the introduction, and is instead shown preparing a dead animal. While the preparations resemble mutilation more than actual cooking, the turkey is clearly not feeling any pain at this point, and so to the mind of a player who might be supportive of kinder treatment to animals (while still supporting eating turkeys), the game has no impact. By telling through text rather than showing through play, the designers of Mama Kills Animals have committed the ludic equivalent of the literary crime (or rather, lack) of showing rather than telling.
PETA’s reliance on text and video over gameplay to communicate its message is a flaw in an otherwise decent attempt at a rhetorical game – it certainly is a bit more effective than Super Chick Sisters by closely tying the player’s actions (preparation of an animal) with the rhetoric (eating animals is disgusting). The game’s release around Thanksgiving is timely, but it doesn’t seem very convincing of anything other than awareness of turkey raising conditions through text rather than ludic rhetoric, meaning PETA is really primarily preaching to the choir. The gross-out factor only gets this game so far and seems to reinforce the fact that I’m a poor cook rather than it’s a horrible thing that I enjoy eating well-prepared, defenseless, furry and feathered animals.