‘Cow Crushers’: A Message Game Done Right


Auroch Digital  has released a new relevant game, Cow Crushers, around the recent scandal about fast food beef tainted with horsemeat. I’ve written about GameTheNews’ previous titles, My Cotton-Picking Life and Endgame Syria, and mostly concluded that although I admired the motivation behind relevant games, both titles ultimately fell flat for me.

But Cow Crushers is exactly what relevant gaming should be.

The mechanic is clear and engaging, and never deviates from the message. At it’s most basic, Cow Crushers is a pattern matching game. Animals appear in front of the players, as if brought in a conveyor belt, and the player needs to tap a burger, steak or chop button to smash that cow into the assigned cut of meat. Blood splashes up as animals become meat, and it’s surprisingly gristly for a stylized 8-bit game. As the game progresses, horses come in with the cows, and the player’s goal is to makes as many cow-burgers as possible without tainting the meat with too much horseflesh by accidentally making horse steaks. The contrast of gristly blood splash and the cute burger icon is particularly effective.

An effective message game needs a solid, playable mechanic like Cow Crusher’s pattern matching. Players engage the game, and then Cow Crusher’s message, through the conveyer belt, the repetitive actions, and the scoring system that allows a certain percentage of horsemeat into the food. Hey, that’s just a simple mistake made by someone hitting buttons on a hurry to make steaks and burgers. The player is that “someone”, not some faceless baddie, and we’ve already seen how effective it can be to put the player in the role of the villain in many other serious games like Train and McVideogame.

Cow Crushers is available to play online, like Auroch Digital’s previous titles, but it’s also available for iOS, despite Apple’s policies against publishing serious games. The policy has been well discussed, but the crux is this passage from Apple’s developer guidelines.

We view apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate. If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical app. It can get complicated, but we have decided to not allow certain kinds of content in the App Store.

(The full text is available here.)

LittleLouds Sweatshop game, Molleindustria’s Phone Story, silly border-crossing game Smuggle Truck, and even Auroch Digital’s Endgame:Syria have run into App Store trouble on this account. Endgame: Syria was renamed Endgame: Eurasia, the specific names were changed, and the game is now available on the App Store. Molleindustria’s Phone Story is a snarky satire about iPhone manufacturing, including sweatshop conditions and worker suicides, so it’s not entirely surprising that there would be some difficulty in getting it onto the App Store. Still, a policy against messages in games and serious games is distressing information for developers of serious indies and other devs experimenting with pushing the art form in new ways.

I’m glad that Cow Crushers made it onto the App Store to allow more potential players to check it out, and try such an engaging, and clever relevant game.