This morning, I awoke as I usually do to the dulcet, lugubrious tones of Sir Terry Wogan and his fine radiophonic programme, and decided to lie there listening to it before actually getting up and delving into the daily grind. Whilst I was there, I heard a news report which said that the government are setting up a committee or somesuch to investigate violent videogames and the effects they have on people, if they have any at all. Whilst I am firmly of the mind that videogames don't alter the behaviour of people, though they might influence people who are already of a violent mindset, I do find it strange that the usual suspects (GTA, Manhunt, Hitman etc.) are being wheeled out when there is a game out there which not only features mindless violence but also features, and actively promotes, incest, cannibalism, the use of mood enhancing drugs and unsafe sex.
I speak, of course, of Viva Piñata.
Now, those of you who have played the game, which admittedly isn't that many, will probably think me mad for suggesting such a thing; ''It's a kid's game!'', you decry, ''Where do you get such notions?'', you intone, and ''Witch!'', some of you bellow and I must confess that the innocuous cover used by the game's developers to slip such material into living rooms across the globe is ingenius, a subterfuge worthy of a Bond film. Not a good Bond film, admittedly, but it's a damn sight better than the latter Moore films. However, beneath the veneer of cheery characters, catchy theme song and gardening related fun (itself a cunning joke on the part of the makers, for did not all sin originate from the Garden of Eden?) lies a murky world of death, candy and the most foul depravity.
For those out of the know, Viva Piñata is a game in which the player is given a garden to cultivate, and by doing so they hope to attract animals, or 'Piñata', to the garden where they will live and procreate, allowing the player to progress up the levels, attracting bigger and better piñata until they reach the zenith of gardening. It's thrill a minute stuff, I can tell you.
Even from this short description, you can see where some of the subtext of the game starts to creep in; for the player to progress, they have to breed piñata. This may seem fairly innocuous at first, after all, the foreplay is disguised behind little minigames the player has to complete (though the top-down perspective of these does make some Piñata look disconcertingly similar to scurring sperm) and the actual fornication is represented by fairly tame ''romance dances''. Nevertheless, there is something undeniably sleazy about the whole thing. First off, in order to fulfil the requirements allowing for certain piñata to breed, they often have to feed. With some, this may just mean giving them a bit of fruit, but with most it requires the piñata to be fed other species of piñata, so the player has to effectively order them to kill their fellow inhabitants of the garden in order to reproduce. A potent allegory for American capitalism, perhaps? Maybe, maybe not, but it is by no means the end of the sleaziness.
During the romance minigames themselves, the players have the opportunity to collect coins to bolster their funds. In other words, by forcing two piñatas to have sex, the player makes money, effectively making the player a pimp, and the whole act of romancing piñata an all too thinly veiled version of digital prostitution.
If that wasn't bad enough, the piñata themselves are not picky about who they 'dance' with. Initially the player has to attract two of one kind of piñata to the garden in order to mate them, so their mating options are fairly limited. As things progress and their family grows, though, an altogether more disturbing situation arises. Regardless of shared genetics, the player can breed any two piñata together and they will still produce healthy offspring. Ignoring for just one second this complete disregard for all laws of science, that's just sick! I mean, brothers and sisters, mothers and sons, great-grandparents and great-grandchildren, what kind of sick, twisted world are children being exposed to?! Birmingham?!
Of course, players can avoid this route, and they can always just have the two 'originals' be the sole breeders, leaving them with just the two generations of piñata and no nagging voice at the back of their mind telling them that they are an inhuman monster. However, there's always the chance that one of those parents will die. Maybe they're walking/slithering down the street one day when a Sour Sherbat leaps out and knifes them, leaving them in a pool of their own candy, crying out the name of their lost love; ''Whirlm 2! Whirlm...2...'' before expiring in a puff of smoke and tears. Suddenly, the player is faced with a crisis. They can't just let the family die out, they need those Whirlms to feed other larger piñata (by this point they've already become accustomed, as we all must, to the knowledge that to survive in this world they must grease the wheels with the candy of others and have somehow justified it to themselves so that they can somehow sleep at night) and it's at times like these that one can ill-afford morality. Maybe just breeding two of the second generation together will work, after all, it's only a minor transgression compared to the Oedipal orgy that is their other choice. But therein lies the danger; suddenly they've got three generations instead of two, and they've already crossed a line that they drew in the sand, and the new one doesn't look quite as sturdy at that one, like it could be blown away by the wind, or obscured by an ''accidental'' sweep of the foot...
Before they know it, the garden is over-run with inbred mutants wandering around, fucking everyone that looks like them. Sure, they may look normal on the outside, but on the inside their minds look like the ''Home'' episode of the X-Files playing on an infinite loop.
However, there doesn't have to be such a connection between sex and death, something which most people would consider a bit of a turn-off, because there are always artificial aids available. The player can buy ''romance sweets'' in order to get their piñata in the mood, something which seems slightly more plausible as an aphrodisiac than a radish, but doesn't it also sound a bit wrong? At best it's like viagara for digital rabbits and at worst it's some form of virtual rohypnol. Well, at least Rare got there before Second Life did.
And, reach a high enough level, and the player can buy ''happy sweets'' for their piñata to boost their mood. Great, tell kids that all their problems can be solved by just popping a few ''sweets''. So when a whole generation is lying on the floor, empty tub of happiness lying next to their spasming forms, you can bet a copy of Viva Piñata will be spinning in their 360.
What's even better, though, is that the reason for all this sex and putting cute creatures into a Lithium haze is so that you can get piñata that cool enough and happy enough that they can be sent to a party and, presumedly, be smacked around by fat kids with sticks. And this is one of the goals of the games; a lesson in sado-masochism, painted with primary colours. Admittedly, the piñata don't seem to be as joyous when they return from parties as they are when they leave for them, but that might be because they're so disappointed to return to a world where the master so rarely spanks them that they can't help but be depressed by it all. So they load up on happy sweets, lie down and wait for the next party to begin. It's like the acid house scene with purple horses. Exactly like the acid house scene, then.
And, if all this wasn't good enough, if the player breeds too many piñata they get a pleasant little message saying that their garden is full and that they should ''reduce the population of [their] garden''. Now we've got ethnic cleansing on the agenda as well.
Beyond the sexual dimension, Viva Piñata also has a seemingly harmless way of allowing piñata to die painlessly, but which in itself is actually quite disturbing. When a piñata dies, whether it be by predator, some rotten fruit or the player's boredom driving them to stove the creature's head in with a shovel, they break open and, being piñatas after all, candy falls out. ''Oh, how sweet'' you think, but wait a minute, look at what the rest of the piñata in the garden are doing, they're all looking up, sniffing the air, and walking, no they're running to the scene of the death, all trying to get at that sweet, sweet candy. And it's not just the predators, the deceased's family are coming over, their kids, parents and grandparents are all tucking in and all the while they're smiling as they devour their loved one's innards. These doped up, inbred, masochistic cannibals are what passes for kid's entertainment these days? Bring back Tom and Jerry smoking cigars!
Videogames used to teach lessons, and I'd like to think that I am the man I am today because of what they taught me. Sonic taught me that it's much better to run really fast away from something than to actually confront it, Mario showed a generation that if you jump on someone's head, you will kill them, and Pac-Man is directly responsible for the acceptibility of taking ecstacy in the modern age, and no one can say that these aren't great and just. If Viva Piñata defines the next generation, humanity will be extinct by the year 2100. Except for a few ragtag Sega fans who survive by their wits in a world similar to, but legally distinct from, that of I Am Legend.
So the next time someone says that GTA or Manhunt is corrupting our children, just ask them if they've ever sat down and played on that copy of Viva Piñata their kids sit there all day playing. For all our sakes, pray they act swiftly.
-Viva Piñata is available from all good retailers. And some dodgy ones.