Are these four-legged friends destined to be nothing more than mounts?
This time of year, you’re bound to notice the insane amount of ads for the horse racing festivals that have hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world going crazy with excitement. There’s talks of horses with strange names like Odor in the Court and Onoitsmymothernlaw, and bets and racing schedules, and it got us thinking: Why hasn’t a game been made in celebration of the strange phenomenon that is horse racing yet?
Well, to be fair, there are hundreds of games that are dedicated to horse racing and betting, but there aren’t any that do horse raising justice. You see, horse racing isn’t just about being the quickest off the starting line and being the best at jumping hurdles, it’s also about the love and care that trainers and jockeys give their horses. Although it’s an unspoken rule amongst trainers to never grow attached to their horses or give preferential treatment to any of them, it’s rather unavoidable. Even Paul Nicholls, renowned jockey-turned-trainer and ambassador for Betfair, having trained over 2000 winners (including Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup winners), revealed in his book that he couldn’t help but have favourites. It’s the same for just about any racing sport – you try to be objective, but as you spend more time with your animals, it’s hard not to grow attached.
This is what’s missing from horse racing games today. In most games, horses are nothing more than mounts that players can choose to ride or replace at whim. Some games, like the largely obscure Equiverse, have tried to capture the essence of raising horses and racing them, but for the most part, games replace these majestic animals with their own bestiaries. In fact, the closest thing to horse raising is Final Fantasy VII’s Chocobo Breeding sidequests, where proper feeding and care of your Chocobo could result in you winning in the races at the local casino. Square tried to recreate this with the Chocobo Racing minigame in Final Fantasy XIII-2, but it just wasn’t the same. The level of care that goes into prepping your bird for the race just wasn’t there.
Still, Chocobos get much more love than horses ever did. Could it be that there’s just no place for the ordinary, real animal in video games? Are they meant to be nothing more than mounts in medieval fantasy RPGs?