Perfectly Peculiar Penguins: An Unpacking of “Cold War”

posted by on 5th September 2015, at 10:59pm

As I have previously stated, although I do enjoy a massive quest every now and again, I really do enjoy the smaller quests just as often. In the making of my perfect small quest, the recipe list is as follows: witty banter, puns galore, satire, and pop culture references. No quest series better captures that picture of lighthearted humour than the Penguin Series. Most people I know feel these quests are pointless and dumb, with nothing more to them than a simple storyline that really has no ultimate impact on the rest of the game. True, the penguin storyline hasn’t led to a worldwide penguin takeover (yet), but just below the surface is a deep and beautiful collection of jabs and parody.

The first quest in the trilogy is the aptly named “Cold War”. In this tale, we meet and team up with Larry to learn more about the penguins he holds so dear back in the Ardougne Zoo. You travel to an iceberg, get squeezed into a clockwork penguin suit, and take a detour to Lumbridge where a couple disguised penguins are doing undercover work. After this, you find the penguin hideout on the iceberg, use Ping and Pong’s musical talents to sneak into the planning room, and discover that the penguins are not only amassing and training an army, but they intend to take over the whole of Runescape! Pretty simple quest, right? Wrong! This quest is chock full of Easter eggs you may or may not be aware of, but here are the ones I can still recall.

First, when trying to determine who destroyed the first outpost, your character says they don’t believe the penguins are to blame because of the tracks left. Larry will then tell you, “Well of course you can’t make out tracks. Penguins walk single file to hide their numbers.” For those out there keen enough to recognize it, this is of course a nod to the original Star Wars in which Obi Wan Kenobi states that Tusken Raiders “always ride single file to hide their numbers.” Adding on to this, later you encounter a KGP interrogator and he tells you to “Move along, move along.” This is another callback to the original Star Wars from the scene where Kenobi uses the force to pass by Stormtroopers. During another portion of the quest, as you prepare to investigate Fred the Farmer, Larry will say to you, “So you’ll be a human, pretending to be a penguin, pretending to be a human.” To which you will reply, “Curiouser and curiouser!” which is a line straight out of Lewis Carroll’s novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Ping and Pong are not only a reference to the classic game of table tennis, but they are also thought to be a reference to the comedic duo Cheech and Chong. During your adventures with your two musical friends, if you examine a trumpet nearby, the resulting text is “Miles Davis is looking for this…” referring to the famous trumpeter. If you also examine the piano, it says “I only know Chopsticks” making reference to the ubiquitous and simple piano tune. Last and possibly my favorite of all the pop culture references in this quest is the point at which Ping exclaims, “We need more cowbell” which is an allusion to the famous Saturday Night Live sketch featuring Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken, which if you haven’t seen before, I insist that you please do!

All of this and I haven’t even touched on the best part of this quest. As you might be able to tell by the rather on-the-nose title, the whole quest is a parody of the real Cold War, a nearly 40 yearlong era of tension and hostility between the USSR and the rest of the free world. Through the quest, several aspects point even further to the parallel. First is the KGP, the penguins’ version of the Russian KGB, a state security police force that was in power during the communist reign of Soviet Russia. Throughout the quest, penguins refer to Acheron (their home) as “the motherland” in addition to constantly addressing fellow penguins as “comrade.” The prior term was popularized as another name for the Soviet Union and the latter was used in left-wing circles, often communist, to address friends or allies. Additionally, we find in this quest that a city on Acheron is called “Palingrad,” which isn’t so coincidentally similar to the city in the USSR which was, at one time, named Stalingrad after the infamous Joseph Stalin. Lastly, the posters found in the penguin outpost are very much in the style of communist propaganda posters, and the giant penguin suit found at the end of the quest is likely a reference to the intercontinental ballistic missiles that the Soviets had in their possession during the real Cold War.

Despite the fact that I only dove into the first of the three penguin quests, I hope you can now see the reason so many of us love our deviously cute penguins. Quests like these are few and far between, so next time you get a chance to do one, take some time to read all the chat, and think about what they might be referring to. Heck, maybe even stop to examine some random objects just to see if hidden gems lie within. The penguins haven’t fully enacted their plan to take over Runescape quite yet, but when they do, I, for one, will welcome our waddling overlords.

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