PETA’s taken the gaming world by storm with Pokemon Black and Blue, a parody of the famed monster battling RPG aimed at teaching players about the dangers of animal abuse. The Flash-based game stars a beaten and battered Pikachu as he attempts to free other Pokemon from their evil trainers. Expectedly, it’s a bit over-the-top and heavy-handed with its animal-friendly dialogue, and oftentimes it’s just plain brutal to look at given the injured states of Nintendo’s typically cute characters. The first trainer Pikachu fights, for instance, looks like a shady drunk who’s stumbled home from a bar fight.
Half an hour spent slogging through Pokemon Black and Blue made me want to run down the street and hug the big black cat that gives me the stink eye on my way to work every morning, even at the risk of getting my eyes clawed out. There are few more effective (and, arguably, cheaper) ways to get your message across than subverting the look and feel of famous character. Pikachu always seemed so happy to be electrocuting Magikarp or Quick Attacking Ghastly; watching him get whacked with a baseball bat wielded by the town drunk or stabbed with some crazy doctor’s scalpel’s is downright brutal despite the game’s cartoony appearance–or perhaps because of it, given how similar it looks to the real Pokemon games.
And for the love of all that’s holy, don’t watch any of the videos. If those Sarah McLachlan commercials make you want to run screaming from the room, these will make you want to hang yourself so a mink can wear you as a coat.
In the end, though, it just seems too ridiculous to really sway people to PETA’s cause. There are a lot of people out there that dismiss PETA and other similar activist groups as institutions that go too far and need to find something more important on which to spend their time and energy; a parody of a beloved game that’s about as subtle as a Tauros in a China shop will merely make these people roll their eyes and pay even less attention to the group’s next campaign. Given Black and Blue’s ridiculousness and how pissed I am that it tricked me into watching that video, I’ll probably do the same.
That said, I have to commend PETA for embracing the video game medium as a means of communication. The game works, and it’s obvious that they paid attention to the source material and gave the thing some thought. But I can’t help thinking that a subtle approach would be better. Rather than slapping gamers in the face with their message, PETA should bankroll a quality game with an understated narrative that makes us think about animal cruelty without relying on shock value and graphic videos. Give us a main animal character to which we get attached who then suffers a tragic-but-preventable fate. Put us in the shoes of an abusive antagonist and make us really think about what we’re doing. Or have they done that all ready? Was PETA involved with Shadow of the Colossus? Hmm. Maybe they should just focus their next campaign on the Colossi and Wander–or at least use them as inspiration.
Regardless, using video games to really make people think is no different than doing it through quality cinema or fine literature. It requires a strong, compelling narrative and characters to which we become attached, and it makes us thinking about the subject matter on our own because we want to think about it. Pokemon Black and Blue isn’t going to make anyone think about animal cruelty; all it’s going to accomplish is scaring a few sobbing seven-year-olds away from playing with Pikachu. You can do better, PETA.