Viva Piñata Taught Me How to Kill My Pets
One of my favorite games of all time is the Rare cult-classic Viva Piñata. From its unique economy systems to its incredible art direction, Rare put out a game unlike any other I had ever played when it first released in 2006. But this blog isn’t a review of Viva Piñata, this blog is intended to dive deeper into the more impactful moments I had within the game, and how games can teach you about purposeful choice for a greater good.
It starts out easy: Having soil in your garden attracts cute little Whirlms (VP’s version of a Worm). You’re taught how to convince a piñata to stay in your garden through love, taught how to romance two piñatas, are treated to a delightful minigame and cutscene of the two piñatas dancing together, and finally receive an egg of a new baby piñata you helped conceive. It’s all a lot cuter than it sounds, trust me.
Once you’ve got a healthy, thriving family of worms living in your garden, you begin to attract Sparrowmints. These sparrow lookalikes will only visit your garden if you’ve got worms as residents. But in order for you to begin to romance these birds together, you must have a family of worms, and each Sparrowmint must eat one whirlm.
Let me remind you that in November 2006, when Viva Piñata launched, little Julian was a 10 year old. My experience with animals was quite different from a normal 10 year old. By the age of 10, my parents had donated two dogs (RIP Wrinkles, RIP Coby) to their coworkers that were starting to get old. That was it. That was the only “problem” with them in my parent’s eyes. My parents wouldn’t consult my sister or I, we would just wake up one day and realize that our dog was gone. In both cases, they took us to eat breakfast at a restaurant and explained to us that they didn’t want us to remember our pets as sick or in pain, so they donated them to families they knew could help handle the stress of a sick animal when the inevitable happened with age. By the age of 10, I had yet to experience a death, let alone the death of an animal I had loved.
So, when a game asked me to kill a newfound pet I was caring for (a fucking adorable one at that), I took a second to think about it.
“There has to be another way for me to romance this Sparrowmint,” I thought to myself. I tried waiting it out, and kept romancing my Whirlms in an effort to convince the sparrows that the worms would go nowhere, and that seeing a buffet of worms would get their bodies all hot and bothered enough to just want to romance anyways. They had an evil look in their eyes, and it was no surprise. Rare knew exactly what these Sparrowmints were for… teaching children about the harsh realities of animal husbandry.
I didn’t know the word for pacifism at age 10, but by-golly I was desperate for some in this game. I wasn’t ready to see one of my pets die. I walked around my garden and looked for clues to a secret way of romancing sparrows when I suddenly heard the cheers of children coming from within the game. I looked back at where the noise came from and saw one of my sparrows eating candy off the grass. It then received a pink heart over its head (the universal sign for “I’m all hot and bothered now”). It was ready to romance. I wondered where that magical candy on the ground came from, then looked over at my second Sparrow. It was crouched over, and looked like it was going to attack one of my Whirlms. “Here it comes,” I thought to myself. Rare must’ve had a hunch that some players wouldn’t find killing their pets as easy as others, so they implemented a system where the piñatas begin to fulfill their own requirements for themselves if the player take too long to complete the deed.
The first death of a pet I experienced was in a game. After the death of the cute little Whirlm, kids cheered, candy fell out, and my other pet Sparrowmint ate his candy guts.
And yet, I wasn’t traumatized. The family of piñata Whirlms I spent the last hour raising and caring for went on about their wiggling business, and the two Sparrows went in to their house to romance. I was again treated to a cutscene of two sparrows flying around each other, and an egg landed in my garden with a soon-to-be-hatched Sparrowmint inside.
I expected to be hurt, but Rare’s masterpiece was so good at easing me into death that I felt progress instead of pain. I quickly readjusted to my newfound population, and began to worry about how to attract a nearby Fudgehog that was lurking in the background in all its colorless goodness.
By the end of my prime Viva Piñata days, I was literally begging new visitor piñatas (which you can’t forcibly control) to eat my pet piñatas in hopes of increasing the diversity rate in my garden.
It all got better from there when I realized that these deaths weren’t the end of the world. These deaths were simply codas leading to new beginnings, cuter piñatas, and gardens full of more bustling critters than I could have ever dreamed of as a 10 year old.
Growing up, my parents were quick to trade in old for new. We never had a car for longer than 5 years, and we always got rid of pets that were too old for us. Now that I’m older, I have Rare’s timely cult classic to thank for my ability to say goodbye to those I’ve cared for. I now realize that my parents were only trying to prevent us from seeing our cute pups in a pitiful manner. They were protecting us from the harsh realities of life, whereas Rare was quick to shed light on those truths. Viva Piñata taught me how to kill that which I worked so hard to achieve for the bettering of my world. Sure, its ways of animal husbandry are gruesome, but what in life isn’t, amirite?