How True are Rats in A Plague Tale: Innocence

We look into the role that rats played in human history and compare their real life behavior with the way they are depicted in the new game from Asobo Studio

On May 14, A Plague Tale: Innocence released – an adventure game about the survival of two teenagers which is set in the world of rampant plague, horrors of Inquisition and the Hundred Years’ War of the XIV century. The developers claim that one of the main features of the project are rats – a huge living wave that has a collective mind which serves both as an insurmountable obstacle and a way to achieve heroes’ goals. Let’s try to figure out how realistic are rat features proclaimed by the studio and recall other good games with rats in main (or secondary) roles.

How True are Rats in A Plague Tale: Innocence-1

Rats in reality and in A Plague Tale: Innocence

Even today, with all technological achievements, humans fail to get rid of rats or even keep their population under control. According to available data, rats bite about 20,000 people in the US every year. In New York City alone, 400 people suffer from rat bites each year, according to NYC Department of Health report (PDF). Things were obviously much worse in more ancient times, when humanity had neither the technological means to exterminate rodents nor the knowledge about toxins (the first poisons aimed at reducing rat population were used in the middle of the 19th century), while the limitations of building materials allowed rats to enter any buildings (pressure of brown rat’s teeth when biting reaches 500 kg/cm2, which allows this rodent to gnaw through metal and concrete).

How True are Rats in A Plague Tale: Innocence-2

If we recall the Inquisition, one of the options for torturing a heresy suspect was the use of an ordinary brown rat:

The victim was stripped naked and tied to a table. Then, a cage with a sawed-off bottom was placed on the stomach. Hungry rats were located inside the cage. The torture started when hot coal was placed on top of the cage. Gasping and escaping from the heat, the rats started to gnaw their way to escape which lied through the guts of a man. This method was very effective for interrogations as the criminal experienced a powerful mixture of disgust, fear, and pain. In many cases, he confessed long before rats turned his body into a bloody mess. In the other case, painful death was inevitable.
How True are Rats in A Plague Tale: Innocence-3

Let’s check whether developers’ ideas about rats are true:

Rats awaken ancient fears in us, they hide in darkness and move in huge hordes. Their sheer number creates a real threat.

Indeed, the monstrous fertility (one female rat can produce 6-12 rats every 2-3 months) creates big hordes that pause danger due to the number of rats in them.

How True are Rats in A Plague Tale: Innocence-4

Humans tried to fight against rats starting in the 15th century. The chosen method was traditional for that time – a prayer. In his book Brehm’s Life of Animals, Alfred Brehm, a zoologist, claimed that one of the German cities had a special day devoted exclusively to prayer against rats. The problem was so difficult that theologists called rodents the offspring of the devil himself which served as the official Church’s blessing of the fight against rats.

The beginning of the 16th century marks the appearance of devoted specialists – rat catchers. The rumor has it that they raised rats in their free time to ensure future work or increase the remuneration received from their employers.

How True are Rats in A Plague Tale: Innocence-5

The attitude towards rats in the European culture is the result of their interaction with people: the destruction of crops and supplies, spread of disease – for a long time, rats were considered the main cause of the spread of plague throughout Europe (later, the researchers disproved this theory – plague was spread by fleas and lice which were carried on rats’ bodies).

How True are Rats in A Plague Tale: Innocence-6

Here’s what the developers say about the rodents’ intelligence in the game:

Each of them has its own artificial intelligence and its own behavior, but the “collective mind” controls everything – thanks to it, the whole flock receives the most important information at once. This helps them to move in an organized and convincing way, even in the closest places.

At this time, there is no evidence of collective mind in rats or other species. However, some experiments suggest that rats are much more intellectual and organized than is commonly believed. It is appropriate to talk about the transfer of information from one rat to another with the help of ultrasound signals that cannot be heard by humans – this allows huge flocks of rats to react and interact simultaneously and according to certain patterns.

How True are Rats in A Plague Tale: Innocence-7

In another devblog, the developers say the following:

Rats are afraid of light; they huddle in dark corners and reign in the night.

This is not fully correct: rats are nocturnal animals who are not afraid of light but simply prefer to avoid it. For example, if you have rats in your house and turn on the light in the night, they will flee from surprise but not because of fear of light. After all, domestic rats easily deal with daylight and light from electrical appliances. If hunger or rabies forces rats to attack people, miserable torches won’t scare them as they don’t deal direct damage.

Rats in the game are a natural phenomenon, they take over the world and break the balance. Being a natural disaster, they attack indiscriminately, dealing with protagonists or inquisition. This allows the player to use rats by pushing them to the enemies.

At this time, there is no documented attack of a flock of rats on a healthy man without a valid reason. Rats are pretty clever and will not attack a creature of superior size who can deal damage to them. Thus, rats may attack small children, old or sick people, and corpses. Rats do not attack humans if there is enough food. In all likelihood, a rat will try to avoid contact with humans as long as possible. For example, during the Siege of Leningrad, rats sometimes attacked people but this phenomenon was not widespread. First of all, rats got to warehouses, gnawed on the corpses of animals and people and attacked humans (mostly sleeping or sick) only in most extreme cases.

How True are Rats in A Plague Tale: Innocence-8

So, is it possible for rats to attack humans? The answer is yes, but with certain provisions:

Rabies infection and exposure to toxins

The consequences of the disease or poisoning may cause aggression, and the rat may attack humans. If we assume that all rats in A Plague Tale are infected with rabies, then their behavior is justified except for the fact that the threat paused by an adult human is much more significant than the fear of light – in this case, no torches can pause an obstacle for the flock’s movement.

How True are Rats in A Plague Tale: Innocence-9

Strong hunger

Rats can eat literally everything in search of food. The stronger their hunger is, the more dangerous animals can be exposed to their attacks. As plague is raging in A Plague Tale, there’s no shortage of corpses (food) for rats. An ordinary brown rat (weighing 300 – 500 grams) can eat about a third of its mass in a day. An incredibly huge flock of 5000 rats needs 750 kilograms of food per day, which is somewhere around 10 dead human bodies. During the five years that Black Death ruled Europe, 25 million people died. In Paris alone, 800 people were buried every day.

How True are Rats in A Plague Tale: Innocence-10

As we can see, the rat flock in A Plague Tale has little in common with reality. However, this is not required as the game is not a simulator or a scientific experiment. Hopefully, the promised features and attention to rats are not a marketing trick but a way to make the game more interesting and exciting.

Rats in other games

Rats are common guests in video games. In most cases, they serve as enemies. Role-playing games had so many tasks to clear up basements from rats that such quests became a sign of developers’ bad taste. The Bard’s Tale, released in 2004, ridiculed this stamp: the very first task that the hero gets in the tavern confronts the player with a huge fire-breathing creature rather than a bunch of small rats, forcing him to flee under the customers’ laughter.

In most games of other genres, rats are rather easy opponents that cause irritation — but not in Dark Souls II. Royal Rat Vanguard – one of the game’s bosses – attacks the player with the support of a huge pack of his defenders who can deal material damage even to a well-prepared hero. The poisonous saliva and the chance to be killed from one bite adds tension to an already difficult fight.

In Warhammer: The End Times — Vermintide dilogy, skavens (the local rat name) are the only enemies in the game. The problem is that they have the size of an adult human and are sometimes armed better than most prepared warriors. Skavens are fast, agile, and almost infinite, while a variety of classes only exacerbates the challenging situation for the player.

Besides A Plague Tale, rats are ambivalent in the Dishonored series. Thanks to a rat plague, these rodents spread in the city, posing danger both to the player and his enemies (through the use of the protagonist’s special skill).

Ghost of a Tale is an adventure game set in the world where animals take humans’ place, while the main character is a mouse Tilo who bravely fights (or, more accurately, prefers stealth walkthrough) against insidious and evil imperial rats.

In League of Legends, you can play for Twitch – a plague rat armed with a crossbow with poisoned bolts. Fond of digging in trash, Twitch wants to build a whole empire from mud and garbage on his landfill (and destroy humanity, of course).

There’s also a puzzle called Bad Rats: the Rats’ Revenge – a rat variation of The Incredible Machine in which rodents deal with their worst enemies – cats.

In classic RPG Planescape: Torment, rats were not dangerous if separated. However, the more the deadlier as in groups they become highly intelligent while controlled by a collective hive mind known as Many-as-One.

Rats, who have always accompanied humanity, have occupied an integral part in its life, and video games are no exception. Now, you have a chance to see it by yourself in A Plague Tale: Innocence.