War Emu-Lator


This game was born out of a paper that I presented at a LINCS-DSES Doctoral Course in Gothenburg in 2014. The idea was to create a game from a dark heritage period to try challenge the divide between popular memory (presented through film, tv and image) and the 'reality' of the events of the past in new ways. To this end I selected 'The Great Emu War' as my focal event and begun building a game which attempted to flirt with both the severity and hopelessness of the the event, thereby subverting the popular narrative, whilst still referencing these popular memories as a method to bridge engagement into this past.

For anyone not familiar with the 'Great Emu War' the popular memory of the event is that in 1932 Australia, somewhat comically, waged war against a flock of flightless birds, and by 1948 had admitted defeat. The general framing is one of incompetence - a comedy of errors on behalf of the army. The situation however was much more complex and depressing - after WWI veterans and expats had been subsidised to settle in marginal areas of the Australian tundra, but these subsidies never came, leaving the settlers to fend for themselves - an especially difficult feat in the face of the 1929 depression. In 1932 a flock of 20,000+ emus began migrating across these farmlands - destroying the rabitproof fence, trampling crops and spreading ecological disaster throughout the area. With no food, no money and no support (and ever increasing hoards of emus, totalling 58,000+ per annum) the farmers needed to start taking action. But the birds were a protected species. Finally after two years of lobbying they were granted permission to cull the birds, and an artillery division was sent in to assist. As it turns out emu's are suprisingly hard to kill, each bird taking 10+ ammunition rounds to kill. In the end the artillery only culled 986 birds, ran up irreprible debt at a national level and left the community straddled with the birds, lead laden fields and a hefty amount of debt.

The game tries to capture both these approaches, setting the game as an sidescroller-shooter with ridiculous music, soundbites and ranks. On the flipside in the top left corner you see the number of bullets being fired, the amount of money being spent and when you fail, no matter how many birds you manage to kill, you are confronted with a status report informing you of how far you have left to go. The game is unwinnable. Its ridiculously hard to actually kill an emu. And you continue to rack up debt for no conceivable gain.

The game attempted to use history as the driver for the mechanics, not just the set dressing, and as such the act of playing itself is what allows one to engage with the concepts that remain outside of popular-memory.

As Emu-Lator was produced in the short time frame of 3 days (partime), and was my first attempt at a 2D game, it is incredibly rough and ready and many of the features I wished to add simply are not present. It should therefore be treated as a proof of concept rather than a finished product.

Currently working to have a version of the game in Unity Web Player for play online.

Images from the Game

Demonstrating the loading screen of Emu-Lator

Demonstrating the 'killscreen' - note the number of emus killed, rank and still left statistics. These operate on perma-state so will be coninuous between play sessions.

Demonstrating in-game. Top left is tracking the ammunition used and the dollars spent to fund the operation whilst the feathers are used to arbitrarily level up (the army collected the feathers for use in the light horse uniforms).

Slides from the Gothenburg Presentation

Click here or on the image above to see the slides from the presentation on 'Emu-lating war'.