Video games love vore. This fact has seemingly gone without mention for decades but the evidence is everywhere. Why have there been so many levels in games that put the player inside of another’s body? If there was only one major example one, or even a few coincidental cases, then maybe it could be chalked up to the visions of individual developers, but this has been a long repeating pattern for decades now.
Vore levels come in many forms; sometimes they’re familiar, other times they’re completely alien. But these instances appear in games all the way back to the Atari and are still showing in titles as recent as God of War (2018). Due to this persisting theme appearing it feels necessary to unpack why video games continue to return to the theme of being trapped in or adventuring through another’s body.
Chuchel – Inside the Fuzzball
The eponymous Chuchel spends most of the game searching for a lost cherry. Near the end of its journey, a large fuzzy beast swallows the fruit. This prompts Chuchel to jump inside in order to save their precious treat. After fighting past swarms of teeth, the player must rotate the beast in order to help Chuchel navigate the labyrinth of tubes.
Upon Chuchel’s entry of the body, the creature’s organs reveal themselves as a warped, maze-like playground. As the player tips and turns the beast to reach the cherry, Chuchel slides around the tubes like a kid in a fast food restaurant playplace. Thus, the intestinal labyrinth of Chuchel rejects the idea that the body is purely functional, transforming it from a vessel to be managed for survival into a designed ruleset without liability. The body becomes abstracted space for the player to explore, feel, and search. Just as Chuchel depicts the body of the fuzzball, the body at play is a playground.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – Jabu Jabu’s Belly
As Link takes the first few steps onto Jabu Jabu’s tongue, the camera cuts to the teeth of the beast behind him. Unlike Chuchel, Jabu Jabu isn’t a playground, but it is instead a dungeon meant to evoke discomfort and fear. There isn’t any music inside of Jabu Jabu as there are in the game’s other locations. The only thing that can be heard is the breath and heartbeat of the beast.
Being inside of Jabu Jabu makes the player reassess their idea of bodies through the spectacle of not recognizing the inside. Wandering through the rooms, it isn’t always clear what part of the body Link has walked inside of. When the fleshy doors shut behind him, Link turns back in a sort of combination of fear and surprise. The only other forgein organisms inside of Jabu Jabu are Princess Ruto and the cows who are horrifically stuck in its flesh. As the player explores the insides of the beast, Link screams in fear when he falls down the various tubes, anticipating the horrors to come.
Just like Link’s screams and staggers inside Jabu Jabu, the body is a scary place because it is not fully knowable. The average person doesn’t have a depth of knowledge on biology or anatomy, and so the body often functions in ways that surprise and frighten us. A person may wake up one morning unable to feel their arm, only to realize later they lost blood flow sleeping on it. A person can live their life normally and then learn that a seemingly-innocuous mole may signal cancer. Jabu Jabu’s dungeon plays on the fear of our unknown interiors to create an atmosphere much like a haunted cave or ancient ruin.
More Vore Like This:
- Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories and the American Grotesque
- I Covered My Entire Body in Gamer Goo
- The Ultimate Fantasy of DOOM is Telling Your Boss to Fuck Off
God of War (2018) – The World Serpent
God of War treats the body as part of a grand journey. As Kratos and his son enter the body of The World Serpent, the insides of the beast don’t look disgusting or claustrophobic, but rather otherworldly. Where there used to be clouds, a long trachea stretches back into the distance, plush red and lined with tissue.
In many vore levels, debris within the body creates a hybrid of alien and familiar architecture for the player to attack, fall through, jump, run, or walk on. By designing the world with this pattern, the ends of the dichotomy become pushed further as the alien horrifyingly devours the comfortable familiar. Typically, these levels have the player interacting with the body tissue of the insides and the familiar objects from the outside become dysfunctional. However, in God of War this dynamic is subverted as the familiar objects exclusively become the objects to interact with. Kratos’s boat arrives at a surprisingly stable dock and he alights onto a mound of dirt. It’s almost like outside….if the bright red light didn’t shine through it all, reminding the player of the blood pumping through the ceiling.
Through God of War’s subversion of the alien/familiar, the insides of the serpent are depicted as a wasteland. Instead of the monster destroying the familiar, the familiar is destroying the insides of the monster. There is no dialogue from The World Serpent that implies this, but entire buildings jut out from the flesh lining, and the red liquid is stained with sickly yellow bile. As Kratos scales the pillars and walls that were once outside, it’s hard not to be reminded of the current state of waste being consumed by wildlife in our own oceans. From inside of The World Serpent, we are reminded of the living animals being affected by our actions outdoors.
Gears of War 2 – Intestinal Fortitude
As the history of anti-vaccine movements show, people get anxious when the societal standards of medication change. Gears of War 2 pokes at these anxieties when the player’s squad of soldiers is swallowed and must destroy the heart of a giant riftworm. As the soldiers infiltrate, the creature’s body violently resists — leading to a war between the body and the “treatment.”
Everything inside of the riftworm is terrifying, each element seemingly trying to kill the player in a different way. The ground is unstable and as the player first enters the body they must avoid being crushed by the beast’s digestive teeth. Saliva sticks from the topside greasy chompers to the bottom ones, indicating that the insides of this creature are disgusting and untamed, in need of purification/destruction.
The teeth are only the first line of defense, and as the soldiers venture further it feels as if the insides of the beast consciously desire to kill the player. Parasites unbury themselves from within the flesh of the monster, and when one of the members attacks the inside of the monster it sends a rolling avalanche of its consumed debris at the player.
In Gears of War 2 the untamed body becomes the vessel of a power fantasy as the military squad colonizes and conquers the intestines of a giant riftworm. The game doesn’t depict this rejection of the squadron through a socially critical lens but maintains that the squadron should be empathized/embodied throughout this romp. The body is just another warzone, hostile to the outside agents that attempt to infiltrate it, an antagonist to nonconsensual control over it.
Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story
While Mario games are fairly creative in the scenarios they throw the red-capped jumpy boy into, the Mario & Luigi series has been very specific about putting the brothers inside bodies. Both Bowser’s Inside Story and Dream Team centrally involve entering another being.
It is rare that vore dynamics in games task the eaten with helping the eater accomplish tasks. Typically the player is put in a position of fear and the body becomes an antagonizing force. However, in this game Mario and Luigi must help Bowser in order for him to successfully complete challenges and puzzles.
Generally these levels focus on the interactions between the eaten and the body to signal something about the fascination humans have with unknown landscapes. However, in this game Mario and Luigi help Bowser throughout the game in order for him to successfully complete challenges and puzzles.
The most voresome of all these intereaten moments is when Bowser is challenged to eat a massive carrot. The carrot is much bigger than himself and in order to stuff it all down, the Mario brothers have to help him digest the food. This initiates a mini-game where the player must tap all the food that drops down on the bottom screen in order to help it digest faster.
Despite the Mario brothers being swallowed with malintent, most of the challenges in this game come down to them helping Bowser out with some health problem in order to progress.
Sunless Sea – Nook
The inside of a body is a space of fantasy. To the regular human eye, it is somewhere that can never be seen without the help of developed medical technologies. But because games allow the insides of the body to be seen and explored, they provoke an emotional response rooted in our own personal experiences and histories around bodies.
In Sunless Sea, the player enters a city inside of a looming, unrecognizable creature’s body called Nook. In Nook everyone is practically naked and breathe in the water without any problems, and the homes they live in have been carved from the creature’s teeth. The Nookfolk have shed the societal constructs of the Greater Fallen London and returned to the familiar comfort of being inside the body.
Unlike other levels I’ve discussed, Nook maintains that the inside of the body is the only place where there can be true safety. During player’s visit to the town, they have the option to pull open a section of flesh and slip inside to sleep. All humans come from inside of a body, and they all must leave to go into the world. In this regard Fallen London can be interpreted as representation for the outside world; full of chance, danger, and mystery. For Sunless Sea, the only true escape comes from reverting to the human place of birth.
And Many Vore…
Taking these examples together, it’s clear that games love vore because it creates access to emotions that aren’t normally available. These levels are spaces for players to explore and interact with in order to explore anatomical systems. By setting stages inside the body, designers can evoke powerful connections to our own bodily experiences and our associated anxieties, fears, and fantasies.
We may visit a volcano, a jungle, or many other of the common locales games are set in, but none of us are likely to travel inside something else’s body. In that sense, the bodily interior is the final frontier — a world closer to us than any other, yet completely alien. In other words, the perfect place to explore through play.