Open-world games are giving wolves a bad name
Open-world games have been around for a long time, but their popularity has skyrocketed since The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim went mainstream in 2011. Since then, games like Elden Ring, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, The Witcher 3, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and many others have greatly increased the exploration area of their games. Alongside these large maps are roaming enemies, and some are very common despite being in entirely different titles. These enemies are wolves.
Wolves have long been recovering from a bad reputation in the media. Man versus nature is one of the oldest conflicts the stories have explored, and wolves have been an avatar of this concept for many years. While many people love wolves and what they represent, many media, especially open-world video games, can’t let go of the portrayal of the bad wolf.
What wolves represent in open world games
Hostile wolves are not just a product of man versus nature, but part of certain media genres. They’re incredibly popular in dark fantasy stories, and open-world video games love this genre. Dark fantasy is the kind of Dragon Age, Elden Ring, Dragon’s Dogma, The Elder Scrolls series, the witcher seriesDark Souls, Bloodborneand the devil may cry, just to name a few. Most of these games also pit players against wolves.
A product of dark fantasy is that nature is wicked, so wolves, bears, and other predators can hunt people. Not only is nature wicked, but it’s more untouched. In these fantastic open-world games, there is no urban development. Most of the map is usually made up of woods, fields, hills, and mountains. In these open-world games, it’s completely normal to get attacked by a pack of wolves. Usually wolves are actually not reminiscent of known wolves in the real world. Video game wolves are often larger and sometimes have a different bone structure to make them look more monstrous.
Some wolves were integrated deeper into the story, rather than just hostile wild animals. The Dreadwolf and Werewolves are relevant storylines for dragon age. The Dreadwolf is an ancient god who deceived the pantheon of elves, while werewolves are a curse. These two examples further perpetuate the misrepresentation of wolves. In Ring of Elden, there are wolf shadows like Maliketh and Blaidd and there is Radagon’s red wolf. All of them turn out to be hostile at some point in the game.
Overall, open-world games show wolves as products of darkness in the world of dark fantasy. They are associated with the night when the world is more dangerous. They are often in groups, so the developers are making them easy to fight individually while being more difficult when in groups.
Wolves who broke the mold
Although most wolves in video games are misrepresented as hostile monsters, there are a few examples of positive representation. Amaterasu’s Okami is perhaps the most powerful and kindest wolf in media, saving the world, helping people in minor ways, and growing plants. However, this game is strongly derived from Japanese culture, where wolves are a sign of good luck. When Amaterasu enters a village, although some may be afraid, most greet her as a good omen. Another example of an open-world game is Link’s wolf form in Zelda: The Twilight Princess.
However, Link and Amaterasu are outliers that don’t really help the regular portrayal of the wolf. Amaterasu is a goddess whose true form would be a woman, not a wolf. Link is similar in that he is actually just Link and is transformed into a wolf due to special circumstances. Going forward, it would be great to see more games move away from wolf stereotypes.
MORE: Dragon Age: Who is the Dread Wolf?