It Takes a Garden – Chao in Sonic Adventure 2: Battle and Reflections on Child-Rearing

The future rests in the innocent.  The ways in which children are raised, encouraged, and taught shape who they are and who they will become, and the methodology behind the upbringing of youth provides an active commentary of societal systems and cultural beliefs.

I vividly remember the day that Pebbles was born.  A child still in primary school, I watched my older brother manipulate our glittery GameCube controller as he fought forces of military robots, explored pyramids, and floated around in outer space.  After he completed a stage, he embarked for the floating Chao Island, stepping out of the staticky portal with collected rings in tow.  After a brief pit stop at the Black Market to purchase a cherry red Chao egg, he stepped through the Chao Garden entrance and into the sunshiny tropical paradise.  

Screenshots of an active Chao Garden.

Coos of crawling Chao punctuated the soothing ambience, an oasis of a nursery to rival all others.  Then, my brother shattered the soothing nature of the Chao Garden like the shell of his egg as he threw it against the rocky cliff. I shrieked.  His sudden and violent act of impatience in extracting the child shattered my heart.  The poor baby!  Without pause, he carted the newborn to the Fortune Teller for a name, randomly agreed to their suggestion of “Pebbles,” and tossed him into the Dark Garden.

From that moment on, I vowed to be a good guardian to Pebbles.  As soon as my brother lost interest in him (which was saddeningly quickly), I withdrew him from the Dark Garden and placed him back into paradise.

I shook the trees in the garden to gather fruit to build his stamina.  I brought him back Chaos Drives from the levels that I conquered to continue to build up his stats.  I brought him animal friends to play with and emulate.  I occasionally transferred him to my brother’s Game Boy Advance so that I could raise his stats remotely using the Sonic Advance companion game.  I took him to Chao Kindergarten to learn how to sing and play instruments, and I entered him into races and Chao Karate to bring out his competitive side and to gain eternal glory.

My dear, lovely child – Pebbles.  Screenshots from my game.

Even after I hatched and raised other Chao with care, my favorite is and always will be my son, Pebbles.

It would be completely ludicrous to say that Sonic Adventure 2: Battle has prepared me to raise a child in the future, and yet I dare to say it here.  In a final attempt to stay my absurdity, one might even say that my experience with raising Pebbles is identical to an experience created through collecting Pokémon or raising a Tamagotchi.  I beg to differ.  The structure of this game makes for a unique experience of raising curious creatures because of its marked dichotomy between good and evil, and the implications of “good parenting” that follow directly from this premise.

The cover of the official GameCube manual.  Notice that the “normal/neutral” Chao sits in the middle of the Hero vs. Dark dichotomy.

In the Sonic the Hedgehog universe, Chao are small creatures resembling a cross between a teddy bear and a teardrop. They are hatched from eggs and may have many different colors – the standard turquoise, red, gold, and more. In many Sonic games, Chao are background NPCs that enrich the environment with their existence as a variety of lifeform.  In games like Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, however, your successes in the story line directly translate in interaction with Chao through their hatching, raising, and training in Chao Gardens.

Selections from game manual.  Instructions are vague, and the true experience of raising Chao may only be understood through actual play.

Before it is hatched, a Chao egg is a blank slate. Yet the first action toward becoming a Chao parent – hatching the egg – greatly determines a Chao’s inclination, particularly their permanent facial configuration.  Gentle methods of hatching like holding the egg or placing it softly into water (without bashing it into the walls) gives a Chao a neutral or sweet-looking, innocent face, as opposed to throwing an egg, which has a higher likelihood giving your Chao a pensive or cross face.

In raising children, environment plays a major role in the development of psyche.

In Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, there are three Chao Gardens.

The Hero Garden.  For all your little angels.
The garden to which I refer most often, where Pebbles resides: the Chao “Neutral” Garden.
Is that blood?  The Dark Garden is markedly different from the other Chao gardens.

Even Chao Garden music varies – the standard Chao Garden music is bright, peppy, and cheery, which is manipulated as airier in the Hero Garden and darker with spooky animal noises in the Dark Garden.  Chao displaying corresponding attributes “fit in” with their respective environments.  It feels wrong to put a Hero Chao in the Dark Garden, and vice versa.

The player’s choice of character also determines who the Chao will grow up to become.  Choosing a Hero character to care for Chao – Sonic, Tails, Knuckles – will generally result in Hero-attribute Chaos, while choosing a Dark character to enter the Chao interface – Shadow, Dr. Eggman, Rouge – will generally result in Dark-attribute Chaos.  The exception is when you use a character to complete actions against their “true nature.”  Actions considered “Heroic,” like petting with Hero characters, saving low-level Chao from drowning, and taking Chao to kindergarten, encourage an angelic path. Actions considered “Dark,” like mistreatment (i.e. picking up and throwing Chao), petting with Dark characters, and waking Chao up (which makes them incredibly grumpy), encourage a life path toward the demonic.  The resulting Chao, through its different stages of life, is the sum of its parts, as each player action impacts the growth and development of a constructed “person.”

Chao from left to right: Hero, Neutral, Dark.

Two “sides” of the story – Hero and Dark – eventually converge in the game’s plot, as all characters must team up to defeat a mutual enemy who want the destruction of EVERYTHING, not just controlled world domination as desired by Dark.  In the resulting fray, Dark characters must sacrifice in order to restore balance to the universe.  Why does that act of selflessness not translate into the Chao raising system? The perception of Dark characters as parents is highly reductionary in nature, as it is built upon a very black-and-white view of the world.

Everyone has their own idea of what a “good parent” is and how one should behave – cultural relativism at its finest.  In every instance, the Chao receiving any sort of attention by the player reacts directly to the type of attention given, positive, and negative alike, like the stereotypical idea of a child saying “Mommy, I wanna be just like you!”  

Yosh.  Good (evil) dad.

In the vein of “proper” child-rearing, what constitutes a “good child” as opposed to a “bad” one?  As a Dark parent, shows of affection essentially result in a “spoiled rotten” Chao as subsequent head pats “bruise” a typical light blue creature with purplish color, resulting in a speedy transition into a small demon child. The good intentions of Dark characters, signs of true care, create a “brainwashing” effect, and mistreatment by any character inclines any Chao on the path toward darkness.  The petting of Hero characters also essentially “brainwashes” Chao, but, since that heroic action by a hero produces a good result, it feels wrong somehow to refer to it in that way (my personal bias?).  Are Dark characters able to enact any quality of “goodness” toward Chao? Yes – in the sense that the Chao raised by Dark characters become Dark, a desired trait for said parents.  Essentially, “good” parenting in this game results in children just like their parent – you.

Chao Kindergarten. Look at those cuties.

In examining my “proud parent” dialogue, I realize that my brother and I are very different parents.  My brother wanted a little red demon, while I wanted to act as “savior” toward an “abused” child.  When I took charge of my family’s copy of Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, I obtained an overabundance of Hero-designated Chao.  My strong beliefs in the power of “good” over “evil” makes my parenting style heavily reliant in treating Chao as though their fragile prototypical form persists throughout life.  My brother enjoyed the Dark Garden for its unique environment and the use of Dark characters in-game, and his style of parenting, though brash, reflected his preferences for the Dark storyline perfectly.

In the end, considering all aspects and decisions required within Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, it takes more than a garden to raise a Chao.

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