On paper, the relationship between fishing and video gaming might seem strange. It’s possible to base a game on just about any topic (e.g. paperwork in Papers, Please! and living as a caprine maniac in Goat Simulator) but fishing seems to take the bait for the most popular concept out there. Yet, all that’s a little ironic, given that dedicated fishing games are still a bit of a niche genre.
Resident Evil 4
There are plenty of “real” fishing games out there, of course. Fishing Planet, Ice Lakes, and Sega Bass Fishing err on the side of realism, while Cat Goes Fishing and Ridiculous Fishing try to inject a little humor into the genre. Also, franchises like Buzz Bingo offer a slot based on humanity’s oldest hobby called Fishing Frenzy. This simple 5×3 reel game tasks the player with lining up pictures of boats, bait and fish, among other things.
Despite that, fishing arguably gets its popularity from one place – the minigame. As an escape from building, fighting, and adventuring, fishing can be found in Red Dead Redemption 2, Minecraft, Far Cry 5, and most Final Fantasy titles after XI (2002). Resident Evil 4 offers a reversal of fish-human roles in pursuit of the Do Not Shoot the Water! achievement, where protagonist Leon can end up “fished” himself.
Fishing actually started out as a much more complete gaming experience, way back in the late 1970s. The text-based title Gone Fishing from Tyne Tees Television in the UK served as the public’s first introduction to fishing games, even if it was just a bunch of text scrolling down the screen. We have to thank World of Warcraft developer Activision for making the first fishing title with graphics though.
Back in 1980, an early Activision working out of a garage created four games, each one made by a single person. This group had recently fallen out with management at Atari, Inc. over royalties and sought to create a studio that would treat developers almost like popular musicians. This “garage band” ultimately produced Boxing, Checkers, Dragster, and Fishing Derby in their first year.
What set Fishing Derby apart was its appreciation of aesthetics. The box art offered screenshots and a representation of in-game graphics, in contrast to Atari’s use of fantasy paintings. This more customer-friendly attitude would come to typify Activision’s character in the 1980s and result in the trade of woven patches for high scores by 1983. Game Informer would later describe these as the “original gaming achievement”.
Similar to early games like Pong, Fishing Derby was also competitive. Sitting on opposite piers, a red and a green fisherman battled against each other (and a hungry shark) for fish. The objective was simple – to get to 99lbs of fish – but quite difficult to achieve, as the minimum number of fish required was around sixteen. As an extra challenge, the heavier fish lived closer to the bottom of the lake.
Like tennis and getting a frog across a road, the simplicity of fishing meant that it was easy to program even back in the early days of video gaming. While it’s now more of a side-adventure in blockbuster titles, fishing has always had an important part to play in the history of video gaming and, indeed, Activision.