With all the Sad Dad™ games that have cropped up in recent years, many have rightfully been asking: "Where are all the video game mums at?". Well, what if I told you that Swedish indie studio Might and Delight have been putting mums at the centre of their games since 2013? Yup, elephant mums in Shelter 3, Lynx mums in Shelter 2, and the OG badass badger mum in Shelter 1. Sure it’s kinda terrible that the only major rep mums are getting in video games is in the form of Might and Delight’s animal tales, but I’ll honestly take any story about motherhood I can get my paws on.
As much as I love Shelter 2 (less so Shelter 3, unfortunately), Shelter 1 holds a special place in my heart, mostly because no other animal-focused survival game has come even remotely close to claiming the coveted title of "most brutal animal sim that made me ugly cry."
In Shelter 1 you play as a mother badger who is searching for a new home for herself and her bundle of five badger kits, tasked with making it through the wilderness and protecting as many of your babies as you can. But, as you know if you’ve seen literally any animal documentary, nature is BRUTAL. Your cubs can get swept away by the rapid torrent of a river, burnt to a crisp in a forest fire, snatched away by a giant bird of prey, or eaten by wolves in the dead of night.
Sure, a cute animal sim about nature being harsh is not particularly novel, but I swear to god I felt more emotional connection to my five badger cubs than any other NPCs I've encountered in games. The relationship just hits different. At first, your cubs are just a bunch of dopey furballs. The way they hobble around, head empty, zero brain cells, lol so silly. But soon you notice that they get super excited when you bring them food, or how they cuddle up to you when resting, or reply to your badger shouts with little baby barks - oops, now I love them and I will do anything in my power to protect them.
This is how Shelter gets its claws in you. Being thrust into a paternal role where you care about something other than your own survival in a world that’s full of danger makes you feel incredibly vulnerable, and it's not something I’ve encountered in other games (so far, anyway). If one of your kits does die, there's no time to stop and grieve, you need to press on for the sake of the others. Yes, essentially it’s one giant escort mission, but the difference here is that this time you actually care about what you’re protecting, and in the wilderness shit can get bad real fast. Make sure your mascara is waterproof for this one, folks.