2013 was not the year of the bow; it was the year of the alpaca. This year, more games than ever featured our furry friends in both starring and supporting roles. At this rate, videogame development as we know it will end by the year 2034 as alpacas overtake the industry. You might be wary of this inevitable change but I, for one, welcome our new camelid overlords. As the Internet’s most renowned expert working at the intersection of videogames and alpacas, it’s my responsibility to teach you more about the best videogame alpacas of the year so that you can better prepare yourselves for the coming alpacalypse.
Ingrid is dear to my heart. I created her in the form of a song during the summer of 2006, in the midst of a deep malaise. At the time, Ingrid was a symbol of freedom from the cruel exigencies of reality. Seven years later, that song inspired a musical auto-running platformer. Because of my obvious bias in her favor, I have to place her on the bottom of this list. But still, in the pantheon of videogame alpacas, Ingrid is one of the greats. Alpaca Run designer Cameron Kunzelman painstakingly researched alpaca leg movements to create a perfectly jaunty two-frame running animation. And Guy Conn carefully mixed actual alpaca orgle noises into the soundtrack. For her authenticity and cuteness, Ingrid at least deserves a mention. But if you know Ingrid, you know she won’t be content with last place. Expect her to top this list next year. She can’t stop now. She’s on a roll.
Alpaca Evolution is the Human Centipede of alpaca games. In the game, you play as an alpaca that cannibalizes other alpacas, absorbing their corpses into your own body until you become a hydra-headed, Kafkaesque alpaca abomination. Let me be clear: This game is repulsive and vile. It takes delight in transforming the most adorable animal under the sun into a genocidal killer. The noble alpaca should never be a vehicle for shock value. If I didn’t have to place Ingrid last on this list for ethical reasons—and if there were any more than five prominent alpacas in games this year—I wouldn’t even mention Alpaca Evolution. Apple should remove it from the App Store. The United States Supreme Court should deem it obscene because it is devoid of value and meaning. If you love alpacas, avoid this game at all costs. (Ed. note: Paste contributor Joe Bernardi enjoyed Alpaca Evolution a little bit more.)
In November of this year, FarmVille 2 added a quest that allows you to adopt a “skittish alpaca” with splotched khaki wool and big brown eyes. The Homesick Alpaca is undeniably cute—what alpaca isn’t?—but its appearance is wholly incidental to the cold utilitarianism of the game’s mechanics. FarmVille 2 reduces the noblest creature on terra firma to a simple wool machine. You lovingly collect parts to build the alpaca a bed, to make it feel “right at home,” but the tenderness stops there. Once you’ve adopted the alpaca, all you do is clicky-clicky Bogost-style to harvest its wool for cash. The noble alpaca has its place in local economies, to be sure, but it should never be reduced to dollars and cents. More troubling still is the fact that the alpaca is not native to the FarmVille universe; it followed an NPC home from his “trip to the Andes.” Farmville 2 encourages you to use the alpaca for profit rather than allowing you to return it to its home. To me, that callousness speaks volumes about Zynga’s calculated approach to this beautiful beast.
With realistic alpaca noises and a running animation that surpasses even Ingrid’s, the alpaca pet from Torchlight 2 handily takes second place. Some glaring factual inaccuracies, however, prevent it from rising to the top of the heap. The alpaca pet is depicted as a pack animal but everyone knows that alpacas, unlike their larger llama cousins, are much too small to carry heavy loads. Furthermore, the alpaca pet’s primary offensive maneuver is a brutish headbutt, but actual alpacas bite, spit, neck wrestle and pull hair when they are provoked; they fight more like teenagers than gladiators. I personally would prefer an alpaca spit attack in Torchlight 2. I know that a ranged attack would defeat the purpose of having a pet in the first place (crowd control) but I’d gladly pick up the slack for my pet if I could watch her drench my foes in projectile saliva.
Torchlight 2 and FarmVille 2 both place the alpacas in a relationship of complete subservience to the player character whereas Alpaca Evolution swings hard in the other direction with a downright megalomaniacal alpaca protagonist. Very few videogame alpacas occupy a space between these extremes of representation, prompting me to ask: Where are the believable alpaca characters? Where are the alpacas that are neither pets nor monstrous killing machines? Animal Crossing: New Leaf fills this void with gusto and, in so doing, earns the top spot on this list. Reese and Cyrus, the owners of Re-Tail, are confident, independent alpaca characters who are neither domesticated farm animals nor murderous villains. The game does justice to the multi-faceted nature of alpacas: Together, Reese and Cyrus are small business owners, artisans, financial traders and philanthropists. Sure, they can be a little heteronormative—Cyrus is gruff, Reese is sweet, and both jealously ward off romantic threats—but they still represent a positive step forward for videogame alpacas everywhere. Nonetheless, here’s hoping that 2014 brings us more queer alpacas.
Samantha Allen is the creator of Ingrid the Transcontinental Alpaca, star of the hit game Alpaca Run. She has a theory that alpacas are the result of centuries of Muppet-llama crossbreeding. Follow her on Twitter @CousinDangereux.