Gallus gallus domesticus. The humble chicken. Scratcher of dirt. Layer of eggs. Clucker of clucks. As if the indignity of intensive farming and being perched at the wrong end of the Kentucky Fried food chain isn't enough, this stoic, domesticated fowl now finds itself the most hated, ridiculed and victimised animal in video games.
This cruel turn of events - the story of which we are charting in this article - has to be seen as yet another evolutionary blow for the bird that is incapable of sustaining flight over long distances without the aid of a jetpack or other aeronautical propulsion device.
It's widely accepted that Street Fighter II, released in the early 90s, contains the first example of virtual, orchestrated chicken abuse. Observant gamers at the time noticed that one of the background characters populating Chun-Li's stage was in the process of choking a live chicken.
But rather than cause distress, the three frames of crude animation were met with universal amusement thanks to the euphemistic connotations attached to the phrase 'choking the chicken'. Which roughly translated is man-talk for having a masturbation with oneself.
Until the arrival of Street Fighter II and its seemingly innocuous debasement of a flapping bird, the portrayal of chickens in games had been extremely favourable. The feathered farmyard animal's gaming career got off to an auspicious start in the 80s.
The chicken landed leading roles in Freeway (Activision's subtle, pseudo-political metaphor that rallied against the climate of aggressive urbanization) and Chickin' Chase (in which players took the role of a cock that shags a hen and has to protect the resultant eggs).
As you can see from the Freeway advert below, the chicken was a unique selling point for games in the 80s, so playing an Atari 2600 in a coop made perfect sense and was a tantalising prospect for savvy consumers. Unsurprisingly, the game was a hit.
However, the end of the 80s heralded the start of dark days for coop dwellers. And, despite a mini-renaissance in the shape of 1993's Alfred Chicken, the status of the world's most ubiquitous bird as a respected patron of gaming began its doomed journey on an alarming downward trajectory. Like an egg tossed from the window of a 747 cruising at 40,000 feet.
The chicken was rapidly relegated to the position of lowly collectible roasted foodstuff in titles such as Streets of Rage 2 and Capcom's 1994 coin-op, Alien vs Predator. But the future fate of the chicken was ultimately stuffed forever by a certain pointy-eared fairy lover.
Next: How Link single-handedly screwed the chicken...
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