The Amiga classic Lemmings turns 30 this year. To celebrate, current license holder Exient (who acquired the property from Sony) is producing a documentary titled Lemmings 30th: Can You Dig It?, which follows the series from its European PC origins to its current mobile iterations.
Even though it has been ported to a seemingly infinite number of consoles in the US, Lemmings is deeply British. It’s a game about guiding blue-robed, green-haired critters to an exit before they accidentally kill themselves along the way.
The game’s dry humor and puzzle design eschewed the typical ’90s American-style action/arcade platforming for something less reflex-intensive, helping Lemmings become a hometown favorite. “If you visit Dundee, where Lemmings was originally created for the Amiga by DMA Design, there’s even a park with three little monuments to the Lemmings characters,” Exient Creative Marketing Manager Jamie Wotton told Ars. “Quite clearly—and hopefully the documentary will show this—the franchise has a special place in British culture.”
Lemmings’ gimmick is based on an untruth; the real-life creatures do not regularly engage in mass suicide. That idea goes back a long way but was popularized by an infamous Disney documentary, 1958’s White Wilderness, in which a narrator says that lemmings often fling themselves off cliffs during migration. In truth, the film’s producers allegedly pushed lemmings off a cliff into water to capture footage for the segment, and the images weren’t of the Arctic Ocean as stated (the video showed a river in Calgary).
When asked about those shaky origins, Wotton said, “There’s certainly plenty of discussion over the origins of the game concept in the documentary, including how the gameplay influenced other titles of its time and since, including the likes of Populous. And it’s been fascinating to hear about the origins and legacy from so many different points of view. Perhaps Disney’s legacy on lemming behavior was a little wide of the mark though.”
Lemmings 30th: Can You Dig It? is set for an online release in late 2021 and is directed by Richard Wilcox from the team at That Video Company. Interviewees will include the original developers, industry veterans like Peter Molyneux, journalists, and fans.
Listing image by Exient