By Michael Allen Rose
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Our ancient ancestors, those from whom we all evolved through countless generations of biological adjustments and cultural upheaval, have often been used as video game fodder. And, why not? When we look back at the people we were five or ten years ago, we often find reason to feel shame. Were we really that naive? That ignorant? Did we really run naked through the parking lot of the police station with two tangerines held between our ass cheeks on a bet because we were out of beer and the creepy guy who hangs out at the gas station and smells like ranch dressing dared us to and said he’d buy us a 6-pack if we didn’t get arrested? We learn from our past mistakes, collecting solutions to problems, words of wisdom, lived experience, and of course, advice from our court appointed attorneys. It stands to reason, then, that we shouldn’t be too hard on our prehistoric forebears; they didn’t have the benefit of hindsight. The video game industry, however, certainly holds the average cave-person in contempt, judging from the depictions in several of the arcade games of the more recent past. Today, we’re going to analyze some of those depictions to see if these are Neanderthals worth aping, or just apes worth throwing into the rotten banana bin of history.
Caveman Ninjas (Joe and Mac)
Protagonist: Joe and/or Mac.
Caveman calling: Heroes, cavemen, ninjas.
Appearance: Neon hair, very punk rock, surprisingly great teeth, loincloth.
Tools of the trade: Fire, the wheel, flint spearheads, stone axes, clones of themselves, spicy hot-peppers.
Goals: Sexy cave-kisses.
Analysis: Joe and Mac are cast as heroes in this adventure, using their martial arts skills to rescue a long line of damsels in distress who have been tied to various poles. Although we see a group of Neanderthals at the beginning of the game dragging all these women off, the guardians of these kidnapped hotties are almost all dinosaurs. The caveman ninjas fight T-Rexes, plesiosaurs, and even an entire school of leaping Ichthyosaurs that remind one of the offspring of smug dolphins and psychopathic sawfish. Joe and Mac are certainly the heroes, but they hardly represent the majority of cavemen in this game. They walk a bit more upright than their Neanderthal enemies, which seems to indicate that even this early in the evolutionary tree, a class system had been implemented. That doesn’t mean that some of the Neanderthals don’t have something on the ball through—paradoxically, they can’t master the wheel, but have invented pedal-powered personal stone helicopters. That’s pretty impressive, despite the fact that boulders are generally the bleeding edge of their technological prowess. Joe and Mac also get all the girls, as they rescue all the distressed and tied up cave-women, who for the most part, are supermodel hot. They almost look like a different species entirely from the boys, being taller, curvier, and less obsessed with eating hot peppers and throwing fireballs.
Protagonist: Various dummy-thicc dinosaurs with rage issues.
Caveman calling: Animal trainers, whip enthusiasts, particularly lively food source.
Appearance: Brightly colored doll-hair, straight out of a 1980’s girls toy line about magical rainbow dolls and their animal friends, loincloth.
Tools of the trade: Whips that match the hair (the carpet does indeed match the drapes).
Goals: To train a successful fighting dinosaur in the bloodsport arena, to not become food, to wake up from dream induced time-travel disasters.
Analysis: Some astute gamers might recall the fighting game Primal Rage, where two dinosaurs went head-to-head in a bloody brawl to the death. There was also a pair of farting apes. Primal Rage was popular in the mid-90s with the violent fighting game crowd for its over-the-top gore, gigantic monsters, and innovative use of puke as a weapon. Dino Rex is the GENERIC NON-COCAINE COLA to Primal Rage’s Coke, the SOFTPUFF EXTRA (NOW WITH LESS SHARP EDGES) to Kleenex. The COMEDY ROBOT 5000 to your favorite standup act. It starts with the same formula (dinosaurs battling to the death in an arena under the auspices of their caveman trainers) and takes it to a kind of crappy looking, much weirder place. Not all of it is bad though; for example, they added a story that involves dinosaurs dreaming about travelling through time and ransacking modern day cities. Also, the T-Rex is purple, and chunky. We’re talking full on thick thighs and twerking tail. Large and in charge. And bitey. In Dino Rex, cavemen are definitely the villains, as they spend most of their time whipping their charges, trying to motivate them to do their special moves. If you’ve never seen an Ankylosaurus try to throw a dragon uppercut, what are you even doing with your life? Ironically though, cavemen also serve as hors-d’oeuvres, as the loser is often eaten by passing Pteranodons.
B.C. Kid (Bonk’s Adventure)
Protagonist: Bonk, a gender-fluid bald-headed cave-baby-adult hybrid
Caveman calling: To bonk. To rescue Princess Za, a plesiosaur, from King Drool, a Tyrannosaurus.
Appearance: Gigantic head, perfect for bonking, loincloth.
Tools of the trade: Skull, anachronistic footballs and baseballs
Goals: To bonk.
Analysis: B.C. Kid, or Bonk’s Adventure for those in the know, really only depicts one cave person: the titular Bonk. Well, that’s not entirely true. If two players are playing simultaneously, player 2 is a female presenting version of Bonk, with eyelashes and lipstick. Either way, Bonk is a strange little person with a huge, thick skull, which they use to bash the hell out of anything that moves. As enemies fall, they drop smiley faces, diamonds, and meat. If Bonk collects all the smiley faces, and brings them to the goal, that’s worth extra points. Bonk can also bring along footballs, soccer balls and other sports equipment. Where the sporting goods came from, who can say? B.C. Kid seems to portray cave people as adventurous, hydrocephalic, a little sociopathic, and sporty. Occasionally, Bonk transforms into a skull-faced stone demon, or a fire dancer, so that he might more easily defeat the half-cracked eggs, robotic tanks, and goofy cartoon dinosaurs running around the levels, making his life a living hell. Nothing I said in that sentence is incorrect, which makes me think that in addition to fire, the wheel, and stone carving, this caveman might have been the first to discover hallucinogens.
Roc N’ Rope
Protagonist: An archeologist in search of the legendary phoenix. The bird, not the State with the big canyon in it.
Caveman calling: Random acts of villainy in regard to adventurous mountain climbers.
Appearance: Red hair and beard, loincloth.
Tools of the trade: Club, association with Dinosaur-men, phoenixes.
Goals: Possibly to murder, possibly to be left alone, hard to tell.
Analysis: Roc N’ Rope presents us with the classic “adventurer’s gaze” conundrum—would these cave people be enemies in another context, or are they simply defending their traditions and values from an outside interloper? More importantly, is this another example of a narrative where the “civilized” outsider comes to “save” the “savages” from themselves? Are things like class, race, and social standing the real enemy in Roc N’ Rope? Will I get a good grade on the thesis for my Cultural Studies MA? Play Roc N’ Rope to find out!. Seriously though, this explorer is trying to steal the legendary phoenix, and I don’t think his motives are altruistic. Are phoenixes endangered? They just burst into flames and emerge as brand new eggs when they die—they are the most extinction-proof cryptid in existence—so no, that can’t be it. We’re meant to take the side of this Indiana Jones type asshole, climbing around the hills, throwing kunai knives and flashing lights at confused primitive humans and dinosaur dudes, so he can climb up and pluck himself a few tasty phoenix feathers. A sad depiction of our ancestors, really. I bet lots of them would let me pet their phoenix, if I asked real nice and didn’t come barging in with mountaineer’s tools and a bad attitude.
Protagonist: Rex, the totally radical 80s style party animal dinosaur.
Caveman calling: Obtaining dinner.
Appearance: Cyclopean demi-humans with colorful fashion sense.
Tools of the trade: Fork, knife, possible spoon, perhaps a spork.
Goals: To eat that pesky dinosaur.
Analysis: Trog looks at the primitive world through the eyes of a young dinosaur named Rex. Rex isn’t just a dinosaur though, he’s a dinosaur 1990s style. He’s so rad, it hurts. When he wins a level, he does the classic “YES! TOTALLY RAD!” arm pump gesture while graffiti style icons appear behind him, like stars, and the word “Yo!” Sometimes, the game will even declare his performance “Dino-mite.” The trogs (surely an epithet spoken against the cave-people by dinosaur culture), on the other hand, are pretty uncool. They walk around, with their one-eyed stare, vacant smile, and pot-belly, trying to eat dinosaurs. This happens quite often, as there are many of them, and for some reason, they travel underground, but Rex has several secret weapons. If he eats a flaming stick, he can breathe fireballs. If he eats a gemstone, all the trogs freeze in blocks of ice. If he eats a pineapple, then things really get serious, with him immediately evolving into a large T-Rex and chowing down on the terrified cavemen. The hunter has become the hunted, thanks to citrus. Trog depicts people as slothful, gluttonous, and greedy, which kind of makes for a pretty apt point of view, actually.
Protagonist: Sonlo, Milo and Ballo.
Caveman calling: To compete in caveman games such as chopping eggs, long jumping over Pterodactyls, throwing large rocks, and even inflating a dinosaur by the tail and letting it fly like a balloon to get the most distance.
Appearance: Sonlo is a short, squat, male, who smiles like a fanged gorilla. Milo is a sexy female with immaculate makeup and hair. Ballo is a tall, lanky, bald caveman with tribal under eye makeup.
Tools of the trade: Mostly rocks, useful dinosaurs, can-do attitude.
Goals: To win the “ugh-limpics” and become tribal chief, as the elders foretold.
Analysis: This is a perfectly accurate depiction of caveman life.
My most recently published book, Jurassichrist, is available now direct from the publisher at the following link: https://perpetualpublishing.com/product/jurassichrist/. The book further explores the relationship between humans and dinosaurs, through the eyes of a lost and errant man-god trying to get back home. Guaranteed 100% historically accurate specifically dealing with the origin of tardigrades.
Michael Allen Rose is a writer, musician, editor and performance artist based in Chicago, Illinois. His stories have been published in such periodicals and anthologies as the Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, Heavy Feather Review, and Tales From The Crust. He has published several books including Embry: Hard Boiled (Eraserhead Press), Rock And Roll Death Patrol (Rooster Republic Press), The Indifference Of Heaven (Omnium Gatherum) and more. In Spring of 2021, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing released Michael’s newest book, Jurassichrist. He is the host of the annual Ultimate Bizarro Showdown at Bizarro Con in Portland, OR. Michael also releases industrial music under the name Flood Damage. He lives with an awesome cat, helps his girlfriend make internet porn, and enjoys good tea.