If you were a gamer in 1991 (and onwards) and someone was to come up to you and say “Oh No!” in a high-pitched voice; you would undoubtedly know that this was, of course, an impression of one of those famous green haired, blue smock wearing, suicidal tiny pixel creatures we all know and love. Yes, you guessed it. The protagonists of the Psygnosis published “Lemmings” by DMA Design!
I say suicidal but is it that they were actually… murdered? There was a thin line in this game between those multiple lovable little Lemmings jumping, and being pushed; as the player took control of their destinies, sometimes sacrificing a few along the way was no big deal and watching them go splat just so you could save enough to meet your survival quota was unfortunately unavoidable. Sometimes it could be a matter of clicking just a few tiny pixels shy of your intended frontrunner target to assign the “blocker” ability, and 4 or 5 Lemmings who were an undetectable smidgen ahead would fall to their deaths with not so much as an eyebrow raise from the player.
“Every Lemming’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how it lived and how it died that distinguish one Lemming from another.” – Ernest Lemmingway.
Lemmings’ Lives Matter.
If DMA Design had taken the decision to name each of the Lemmings, in the way Sensible Software did with Cannon Fodder; I think the player would have fought harder to get that 100% save rate (something that was logically impossible in a lot of levels). Giving something a name seems to give an instant boost of fondness, connection and creates unspoken back stories and the sense that they have a reason to live. Perhaps each of them have a family back up in that floating open trapdoor in the sky from whence they came. Perhaps within the door at the end of each level is a pardon for their crimes, some food, or a promise of a better life. Maybe the Lemmings were closer to Cannon Fodder than we thought; brave individuals, soldiers, pawns, the front line volunteers who go forth on a suicide mission rallied with the high pitched cry of “Let’s Go!”.
Next time you play the timeless masterpiece Lemmings; spare a thought for the Lemmings themselves – I don’t mean collectively I mean individually. Who is the one who is first out? Was he the most afraid, or the most brave or both. Which one of these Lemmings has little baby Lemmings waiting for them at home, and a wife, and a mortgage? Probably all of them. Maybe the first two Lemmings are Mother and Father to the rest who follow closely behind them! How does it feel to be nuking their children right there in front of them?? – what kind of sick lemmogynist are you!
DMA Design made their Lemmings “anthropomorphised” (you don’t know what that means? then let me tell you..); they are originally animals but have been applied with human-like form and characteristics – but short of their cry of “Oh No!”, where was the display of their human emotions in such a tense environment? The player was probably invoking some of them, as the frustration mounted watching the body count increase – but to give our furry friends these emotions would require the use of a willing imagination! Let us attempt to inject what I believe would have added an extra dimension to the game play….
Fun DIY Lemmings based social experiment
For this exercise, you will need: Yourself, and 1 copy of Lemmings playing on a computer or system of your choice (I recommend the Amiga). As you play, try naming a few of the Lemmings, perhaps 3 of them (pick any 3) within a level. Apply personalities to them; create dialogue for them as they progress through the level, and have them verbally interact with the other silent but focused Lemmings (you will have to use your secret voice acting skills that you mastered through years of playing with your action figures when you thought nobody was listening). See if the level plays different and see if you feel different playing it (besides feeling like a total berk). Will you try harder to save Lenny, Klaus and Brian? (feel free to choose your own names). Will you hesitate to activate their countdowns, or feel guilt as you click and witness… 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, “Oh No!”… POP.
NOW AVAILABLE ….
Lemmings Fridge Magnets