Video games have a long, rich history of recreating scenes of nature’s beauty and allowing players to explore them. Be it the educational classic Oregon Trail (where your cattle constantly die from dysentery) to the beautiful forests in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, many video games have been fond of nature. However, a lot of these games often get lost amidst the industry’s fascination for post-apocalyptic wastelands, which is why Meriweather: An American Epic is another commendable addition to a counter-culture of natural appreciation.
Currently being funded through Kickstarter, the six-man developed indie project puts players in the shoes of Meriweather Lewis. As leader of the Corps of Discovery, it will be the player’s job to follow Thomas Jefferson’s orders and explore the newly purchased Louisiana. The role-playing game will incorporate a Mass Effect-styled dialogue system and will contain levels exclusively dedicated to traveling, making natural exploration a crucial part of advancement. While primarily a consumer product, creator Joshua DeBonis also wishes to distribute the game to schools and museums.
The game should be a positive addition to the likes of industry giants such as Assassin’s Creed III and Red Dead Redemption, both of which incorporate heavy natural scenery (even though the former is sci-fi). It should also work to counterbalance games such as Mirror’s Edge and Fallout III, where nature seems utterly absent or absolutely deformed. DeBonis himself calls the game “a cultural reaction to the harsher themes that we typically see in games: sci-fi and fantasy.”
The fact that the game already has more than half its funding is a good sign because it means that gaming is not rejecting the nature-loving roots established by classics such as Ecco the Dolphin or The Secret of Monkey Island. However, the industry is still led by a game series that is horridly against nature, a game so vile that it brings tears to my eyes to see it in the hands of children. That game is Pokemon.
Easily the most disturbing game that Nintendo makes, Pokemon is a game that tasks players with assuming the role of children that enslave tiny creatures and make them fight for money and glory. The most successful cockfighting champions are given their very own, officially sanctioned “gymnasiums” where they face new opponents every day.
Along the way, the “trainers” must practice by defeating wild creatures and there is no rule against letting a 28 ft. long rock snake attack a 1 ft. baby bird. There is even a specific section called “The Safari Zone,” which allows you to either feed the creatures to lure them in or throw rocks at them to make them easier to catch.
Also, Pokemon’s torturous take on nature isn’t even restricted to just mobile creatures and even actively requires hurting natural objects. If there is a tree in your path, you cut it, regardless of the animals that may use it for shelter. If you think there is a pokemon in the tree, headbutt it so the creature falls out and is forced to fight. If there is grass in your path, another habitat for many animals, you may remove it with the press of a button. If there is water, climb on the back of your miniature goldfish and have it carry you to the other side.
The game even features tree houses and, as Demetri Martin says, “building a treehouse is like killing something and asking one of its friends to hold it.”
So, amidst all the evil that Nintendo puts forth (their mascot crushes mushrooms and turtles for a living), it is nice to see games such as Meriweather allowing players the chance to actually explore nature.
Personally, I have a soft spot for every Kickstarter game because the makers have vision but lack resources, which is often the opposite of big companies. And while I am entirely joking in my attack on Nintendo, I am legitimately glad there are videogames that balance all the space travel and warzones with something a little more serene.
Meriweather is developed by Sortasoft LLC and is currently being funded on Kickstarter with a January 6 deadline.