In 1945, war across the continents was nearing its end. Fascism had been stifled, or perhaps prolonged. The threat of further conflict loomed large, with the idea of a new war brewing. Artists were just coming to grips with the ugly truths that political conflict had shed on nations around the world.
Cut to September, 2021. Not much has changed.
What we see connecting the dots between these two moments in history is the need for artists to express the horrors of time and history through their work, the need to explain these atrocities. Seeing the animalistic behavior of their fellow man, it is only fitting that artists like George Orwell chose to treat the subjects of his art as such. Thus was born Orwell’s masterpiece novella, “Animal Farm,” a work that commented on the nature of mankind, the political structures of our society and the decay of our humanity through greed and corruption.
Orwell’s book was published in 1945. 76 years later, its successor is born.
“Super Auto Pets” brings to mobile games a craft of allegory and satire not seen in the genre since the likes of “Clash Royale.” It sprouts from the roots of Orwell’s dystopian outlook to deliver a delicate mixture of truth, philosophy, political theory and microtransactions. It’s no surprise that Team Wood Games, the artists behind this tour de force, decided to base their mobile game off a work so renowned for its ability to journey into the absurd and prevail with a mirror of society. It is obvious from even a few playthroughs of this game that Team Wood Games is familiar with the historical context of “Animal Farm” and chose to base their game off of this work to comment on the genre of transrealism as a whole.
There are two defining elements to this game, as there are with any work of transrealism. There is the real, and the poignant absurd. In “Super Auto Pets,” these elements are the capitalistic struggle of man, and the turning of man into animal, respectively. The goal of this game is to build a team of animals and to fight your team against another player’s team, with the outcome of win, lose or draw, before the player is sent back to the shop to purchase more items for their squad. But this description plants “Super Auto Pets” firmly in the realm of transrealism, when in reality, “Super Auto Pets” has ended the movement as we know it.
Take, for instance, the fact that when you sell a pig in “Super Auto Pets,” instead of the usual one gold you receive from selling a pet, you receive two total gold. An upgraded pig, fattened on the blood of its fellow pigs, sells for three. A top-level pig sells for a whopping four gold. Team Wood Games does not hold its punches when showing how the becoming of a “pig” is, in fact, the selling of one’s soul, netting no positive gain for the individual pig, just a commodity of a gold coin for the player.
In fact, by placing the player as the authoritarian force behind the game, “Super Auto Pets” reaches its pinnacle of genius. We as the player are never made to fight. We cannot click, tap or swipe during combat, only during the buying and selling phases of the game. We think ourselves players, heroes, but come to realize we are nothing but warmongers. We are the ones who hold the gold, and with money, we can buy anything we wish. We can buy other lives. But it is never enough. We must not only purchase, not only upgrade, but we must send our pets to fight, fattening them before they risk their lives for us. And once they are in combat, we cannot touch them. We can only pause the game. The winner is not the player who earns 10 trophies — they are just as quickly encouraged to play again, to do even better. The true winner is the player who breaks the system and pauses the fight.
I assert that no one will bridge the absurd and the real so well as “Super Auto Pets.” Transrealism is no more. All we can do is acknowledge its death, like when you’re playing “Super Auto Pets” and you come across a team running a fly and a turkey.
For this and other articles on transrealism in mobile games, please consider buying my book, Transrealism and the App Store: The Rejection of Reality, or purchase a subscription to my podcast, “The Existential Tap with Phillip K. Dick and a Seven-Year-Old who Stole my Smartphone.”