Shelter: The Circle of Life Mommy Simulator

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Many years ago, for Earth Day, my middle school decided it would be a great idea to have the school all gather around the flagpole outside and hold hands while singing Elton John’s “The Circle of Life” from the Lion King. We did this at nine o’ clock on a cold morning, confused about what it meant or what we were supposed to gain from it. To this day, I have no idea what the purpose was.

Closely related to “The Circle of Life”, Shelter is a game where you play as a mama badger who has to take care of her little badgerlings. You have to escort them through the woods across a handful of dangerous areas while foraging for food. They are too young to get food themselves and will turn grey and sickly if you don’t find anything to munch on.  Each area has some kind of danger that will almost inevitably result in the death of one or more of your babies. It’s Escort Quest: the Game. Your children will get lost, get eaten, run away when spooked, and do other frustrating things to put themselves in danger.

If anything, this game showed me that I do not have the patience to handle children, or at least herding a bunch of them to safety through a forest fire. I found that the game was enjoyable as a short experience but went a bit too long with a section in the dark/at night particularly tedious. I don’t particularly enjoy escort quests in games to begin with (who really does?) and kind of wished you were free to do a little more in the game. It was fun exploring and trying to avoid the puzzles and obstacles in most parts of the game, but the aforementioned night time area changed the feel and mechanics dramatically enough for me that it was frustrating and almost caused me to bounce off the game. Not only was it difficult to keep the kiddies alive, the visibility was so low that I got lost and turned around multiple times despite the level being fairly linear. I probably spent more time in that area that all the other areas combined.

The story of the game is also quite perplexing. You begin in a small cave, quite literally a shelter, and you need to feed one of your young ones before they die. There are no instructions about what to do and it took far more time for me to figure out how to feed the baby badger than it probably should have. In the rest of the game, instructions are delivered by simple pictograms, and while some were easy to interpret, others we much more ambiguous. One example is what to do about a fox you meet very early ni the game. The pictogram looks like you should scare him away to protect your babies but what it really means is that you can kill the fox for food.

There was also no explanation given (or that I could discern) about why you and your family had to leave the shelter you start in to begin with. What ensues is this trek through a dangerous forest full of predators and hazards that will quickly make food of your young. It is not so much a story of a mother badger than a story of mother nature delivered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

The player comes to see the hawks and other predators as “the bad guys”, evil doers that want to do the badger family harm.  The other side of that is they just want to feed their own children and the badger cubs have the unfortunate quality of being food. By the end of the game, life almost seemed pointless. I had done my best (well, kind of…) and lost most of my cubs, and then I got eaten by a hawk. It’s as if there was no point to existing in the first place. My badger hadn’t really accomplished anything worthwhile except getting most of her children killed. And now because I became bird food, that little lone cub I left behind would surely die.

And that’s the part that was left out when we swayed awkwardly around the flag pole singing a Lion King song that day. We were celebrating life but death is a part of it too.  We will one day return to dust so to speak and the atoms and elements of our body will slowly transform into something else. Our food is someone else’s family (an animal family I hope) and we can become food for an animal family as well, although that does seem to be pretty rare. And when we look at nature, we think it is cruel and unfair and these wild animals are horrible and dangerous. What we forget is that nature keeps going, perpetuating itself forward without caring about who or what can’t keep up.

Kind of like me playing this game.

 

Nature is indifferent, and it is a truth and a trope wrapped in one. Shelter’s story isn’t bad nor is it really refreshing, although for some it will definitely be touching. I just wished that there was a little more to do, the instructions were clearer, and, for the love of badger, that the night level was much shorter. Badgers are nocturnal dammit, why is that level the hardest one!

 

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