In a video game climate that bends over backwards to make sure the cute little creatures you play with can’t be harmed, it was shocking to hear the mother fox’s neck snap. Endling – Extinction is Eternal. I was running with my trio of kittens, trying to escape the murderous claws of a furrier when he grabbed me. I struggled as he held me down before hearing the cracking of bones as the screen faded, informing me that I had failed as a mother and my little ones were going to die. And while I thought it was a little too a lot, this kind of unflinching look at the reality of survival in a world ruined by climate change is exactly what the developers were looking for.
“We wanted to put everything into it”, Javier Romello, CEO of endlingHerobeat Studios developer said The edge. “Of course, we avoided adding violence or gore just because, but in the real world, that kind of stuff happens.”
In Endling – Extinction is Eternal, you play as a pregnant vixen who, after escaping from her forest habitat destroyed by an endemic fire, finds refuge near an area populated by climate refugees. There she gives birth to four cubs and, as a mother, it’s your job to venture into the devastated landscape in search of food, avoid danger and teach your cubs the skills they will have. need to survive as the last foxes on the planet. .
endling is really good at building up tension, which is extremely satisfying to try to manage. At the start of the game, one of your cubs is stolen. As the days progress, you find food for your remaining cubs, you pick up the scent trail of the one you miss. Scent trails don’t last forever, forcing you to follow them as they appear, but in the meantime, babies still have to eat.
Foxes are omnivores and can eat anything from mice and fish to human remains and berries. But the world you inhabit is a desolate place, and the areas where you once found food are drying up. One interesting thing about the realism of the game is that some foods just don’t fill up your hunger meter very well, which reflects how climate change can reduce the nutritional value of the foods we grow. I found no food except for a few bushels of berries that barely filled the cubs’ hunger meter before it got dangerously low again.
I had to search further and further from my den in hopes of finding something that could keep the little ones full. But I smelled the scent of my little missing. One of my little ones was starving – if he went on like this too long, he would die. I kept looking for food on the same trail as my cub’s scent and found nothing. By the time I finally reached the end of the trail (trails end and can be retrieved after a certain number of days) and could focus on foraging again, it was too late. My hungry little one was dead.
In a cruel twist of fate, my hunger meter filled up after he died. Not because of something unsavory like cannibalism, but because my other two little ones weren’t as hungry and now I had one less mouth to feed. This is life for you, baby. In an even worse punch, my little ones’ bodies didn’t dissolve like dead creatures sometimes do in games to clear up visual clutter. When I revisited this area, his body was still there and when I walked past, my tail and ears and those of my little ones drooped in mourning for our deceased family member.
Romello understands that this kind of unfortunate realism isn’t for everyone. “The name itself tells you what kind of game it is,” he said. “It’s ‘extinction is forever.’ We don’t try to hide the kind of game we made.
Romello said that endling was designed with three pillars in mind: authenticity, meaning the developers wouldn’t allow fox mama to do things a fox wouldn’t; bond with the cubs – when they are born you can customize their fur color and face markings, when they are scared or sad you have to cuddle them to make them feel better; and an environmental message.
“Much of the gameplay was based on [the environmental] pillar, because we wanted the player to feel how the environment would be destroyed by humans.
endling tells the larger story of the world in its small moments. As your little ones grow, you are forced to go from one den to another in a dense forest. Over time, humans move through this forest and slowly cut it down until in the end it is just desolate stumps.
But not everything in the game is designed to wreak maximum havoc on your emotions. There are sweeter moments. There are humans who sing to you and give you food, and, if you play the game well, there’s a helpful animal friend who plays a big role in one of the game’s endings that I won’t spoil. But endling is not a hopeful story. There is no time in the end when the fox family ends up in a still untouched part of the world where they can live out the rest of their lives in peace and comfort.
“What we’re doing is showing you what things are probably going to look like in the next 100 years,” Romello said. “We want everyone to think about it, think about it, make their own decisions and conclusions, and see if there’s anything they can do to change that.”
As much as this moment between the fox and the furrier discouraged me, I was forced to reason with myself. The furrier is presented as an evil character. It chases you, seemingly to grab you and skin you, maybe even eat you too. But he, like the many humans you meet in Endling, just trying to survive, and sometimes survival means something – yes, even the too-cute-for-words fox family – has to die.
I enjoyed the most endling. I am sometimes bored by games and animal stories by proxy. They’re meant to evoke maximum empathy from the player, as if a human wouldn’t deserve, justify, or elicit the same type of response. It reminds me too much of the particular strain of white supremacy in which my black human life is worth less than my dog’s. When I’m walking my dog and a neighbor talks to him even though he can’t speak, but won’t respond to my greetings, is that racism? Probably not intentionally. But damn it feels good.
It would have been easy for endling painting all humans as these utterly vicious creatures while supporting the fox family as moral and virtuous. In place, endling paints the picture, “nothing is right or wrong when survival is at stake.”
“We put a lot of effort into trying to make refugees, who are climate refugees, survivors,” Romello said. “They will do everything in their power to continue to survive in this dystopian future.”
So even if the furrier is a bastard, I can’t blame him. I also don’t blame Herobeat Games for taking a hopeless approach with endling. No one has time for the feel-good morality game endling could have been. Shit it’s serious now.
“I think it’s very important for everyone to be aware of what can happen,” Romello said. “It’s up to each of us to decide how we can help save the day.”
Endling – Extinction is Eternal is available now on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.