Media has a history of giving the wolf a bad name. “The Big Bad Wolf”, for example, prescribes to the idea that the wolf is a villain whose only goal is predicated on eating humans. Wolves are commonly perceived as bottomless beasts whom no amount of human flesh can satiate their appetites. This fear inducing myth continues to be prevalent and is quite common in video games.
Hundreds of years ago, different breeds of the wolf could be found all over the world. Due to the increased population of the human race, most of them have been slaughtered into extinction. The North American wolf was recently removed from the endangered species list. Now, hunters continue to hunt for wolf pelts, claiming that the wolves are consuming all of the deer that would normally be seized for the hunters reward.
The continuation of demonizing wolves has seeped into newer forms of media. Most recently, the film Into The Grey was the biggest culprit of wolf demonizing. Daniel MacNulty, a wildlife ecology professor who studies Arctic wolves and was interviewed about the realistic nature of wolves in Into the Grey, stated, “If I was lucky enough to encounter a large male gray wolf in the wild, he would turn and run…”.
Video games have become an easy way to portray the wolf falsely. According to the Giant Bomb wolf page, there are 174 accounts of wolves in video games (and most likely, many more). They are mostly used as enemies and are rarely illustrated in a realistic fashion.
We’ve all experienced it for ourselves, walking down a dimly lit path in a video game until you hear that cursed howl and you know, it’s about to go down. With titles such as Fable, Tomb Raider, Until Dawn, Red Dead Redemption, Dark Souls and many others, we have begun to feel accustom to the underlying skepticism towards in-game wolfies. However, our assumptions of the animal couldn’t be further from the truth.
Wolves are most commonly found in fantasy games, usually embodying a creature that possesses many characteristics similar to wolves. The quintessential portrayal of the wolf often depicts them as being aggressive and antagonistic; this is entirely false. The recorded amount of deaths in North America due to a wolf attack is a minuscule two. Despite this fact, wolves continue to be rendered with malevolent intent.
The common behavior found among most wolves is not aggression, but rather apprehension. Although encountering a wolf in the wild is quite rare, as they are shy and stay away from humans, their true nature involves maintaining a safe distance from humans. Considering that most wolves are extremely family oriented and are likely to preserve long-lasting interpersonal relationships, they are reluctant against those who have a tendency to bring harm to their pack.
However, the behavior found in video games paints a different story. Rather than staying away from strangers as they do in real life, wolves in video games are typically seen hunting down their prey, stalking them, and waiting for the proper moment to strike. In most open-world RPGs, wolves attack at night when you least expect it and they typically bring friends with them for the hunt. Considering the previous statement, this classic misinterpretation is one of the biggest fundamental flaws when it comes to the representation of the wolf species.
How can video games remedy this? For starters, wolf attacks portrayed in games should be made to express justification with the wolves actions. For example, it would be common for a mother wolf that was protecting her pups or a wolf that was defending their pack to attack a persistent human. That being said, rather than depict wolves as seeking out confrontation, video games should rather emphasize that most wolves only attack when feeling threatened.
There are a few games that illustrate wolves in a more realistic manner. Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain gives the player the option of having a wolfdog as a “buddy”. The dog is trained to be used in combat and is obedient towards its master. In Minecraft, wolves only attack in defense, and never attack first. Other examples such as Wolf Link and Amaterasu have fantasy elements attached to them and do not exemplify regular wolf mannerisms, however they are far less damaging to the reputation of the wolf in comparison. These video game representations are much more positive overall, and do the intricate and majestic species far more justice than its predecessors.
It is very likely that video games will continue to demonize wolves, considering that the developers who are creating these games are often using previous fiction to justify their artistic influences. This is why the myth that wolves are innately antagonistic continues to seep its way into our video games (and all other forms of media). One can only hope that over time, games will begin to correctly illustrate how wolves actually behave, and then maybe the ongoing myth that wolves are our enemy can finally be laid to rest.