FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Video Games Normalize Animal Cruelty

by JON HOCHSCHARTNER

Animal exploitation is all pervasive in video games. Not in itself a problem, this virtual exploitation is a reflection of speciesist reality. But by presenting exploitation uncritically, interactive media helps to normalize that reality.

This is not to say that, as a medium, video games are uniquely regressive or damaging. That’s an alarmist argument most often put forward by those who have little experience with video games. Film, books and music are equally anthropocentric. But I write about video games and will focus on those.

This is also not to say that the medium’s anti-animal content is a result of conscious speciesism. Video game makers and audiences create and play the games they do because they are socialized into society’s anthropocentrism, a value system so engrained it’s practically invisible. While video games play a role in this socialization, they are just one regressive influence among many.

One would be hard pressed to find a game that portrays animal exploitation while providing editorial signals the practice is problematic in its direct form, such as farming — let alone its indirect form, such as meat-eating. Uncritical representations of animal exploitation in video games are so ubiquitous that I will focus here on games in which direct exploitation is the defining element. I will highlight titles that belong to what have become genres in themselves: farming, fishing, hunting, riding, circus and zoo games.

While “pet” games are their own genre, and pet ownership is on the whole bad for animals, I will not examine these games here. The issues involved are more complicated because adopting companion animals is at the moment a progressive necessity since the non-humans in question have already been brought into existence and many will receive lethal injections if homes for them are not found.

Games centered on animal agriculture are a popular genre, of which the following are a few examples. In “Harvest Moon: A New Beginning,” released in 2012, players are encouraged to raise “livestock” who can be exploited for products such as milk, eggs, and wool. “FarmVille,” a similar 2009 social-networking game, boasted 84 million monthly users at its peak. In “Chicken Riot,” a 2010 shooter, players defend their farm with a firearm from what’s described as an “all out chicken rebellion.” “Farming Simulator,” released in 2012, attempts to portray animal agriculture in a less cartoonish way while still glorifying the institution.

The fishing genre, which boasts many titles, exemplifies the speciesism inherent in the industry’s rating system. For instance, games such as “Bass Pro Shops: The Strike,” released in 2009, “Fishing Resort,” released in 2011, “Reel Fishing Paradise 3D,” released the same year, and “Rapala Pro Bass Fishing 2010,” all received ratings of “E” for “Everyone,” the second-lowest category. One doubts titles with a similar premise, suffocating sentient beings, but in which the victims were humans, would receive the same rating.

Hunting games probably make up the most popular animal-exploitation genre. The following is a very small selection of these. “Remington Super Slam Hunting Africa,” which came out in 2010, encourages players to shoot exotic animals while on safari. “Bass Pro Shops: The Hunt,” which came out the same year, is a similar game set in North America. “In “Cabela’s Dangerous Hunts 2013,” released late last year, players kill wave after wave of what are described as “the most vicious beasts the animal kingdom has to offer.” The hunting genre is so large it’s even provoked parody in “Deer Avenger 4.” While deeply problematic in other areas, the 2001 game inverts the speciesist status-quo by imagining a buck who hunts humans.

Riding games also represent a perennial genre. “Champion Jockey: G1 Jockey and Gallop Racer,” released in 2011, encourages players to beat horses with whips to win speed competitions. “PBR: Out of the Chute,” released in 2008, places players in the role of a professional bull rider. Other titles, in which the use of non-humans as transportation is the central element, include “Horse Life,” released in 2007, and “Riding Academy 2,” released in 2010, among many others.

Developers have long viewed the circus industry as fertile ground for game making. Here are a few recent titles. “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus,” released in 2009, allows players to train animals to do performance tricks at the notoriously abusive company. In titles such as “Shrine Circus Tycoon,” released in 2004, “Circus Empire,” released in 2007, and “Circus World,” released in 2012, players take control of the entire business, including the exploitation of stage animals.

Zoo games also constitute their own genre. Business simulation titles, such as “Zoo Tycoon,” released this year, “Wildlife Pak 2,” released in 2006, and “Zoo Resort,” released in 2011, allow players to manage the imprisonment of animals for human edification and entertainment. Most Orwellian, in “Shamu’s Deep Sea Adventure,” released in 2005, players control a captive orca who attempts to stop the destruction of SeaWorld.

As we have seen, uncritical portrayals of animal exploitation in video games are omnipresent, so much so that genres centered on specific forms of abuse have flourished, helping to normalize exploitation. Video games are not unique in this when compared to other mediums and reflect society’s anthropocentric values. But because of games’ increasing cultural dominance we must examine them critically.

Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from upstate New York.

Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer. 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
August 25, 2016
Mike Whitney
The Broken Chessboard: Brzezinski Gives Up on Empire
Paul Cox – Stan Cox
The Louisiana Catastrophe Proves the Need for Universal, Single-Payer Disaster Insurance
John W. Whitehead
Another Brick in the Wall: Children of the American Police State
Lewis Evans
Genocide in Plain Sight: Shooting Bushmen From Helicopters in Botswana
Daniel Kovalik
Colombia: Peace in the Shadow of the Death Squads
Sam Husseini
How the Washington Post Sells the Politics of Fear
Ramzy Baroud
Punishing the Messenger: Israel’s War on NGOs Takes a Worrying Turn
Norman Pollack
Troglodyte Vs. Goebbelean Fascism: The 2016 Presidential Race
Simon Wood
Where are the Child Victims of the West?
Roseangela Hartford
The Hidden Homeless Population
Mark Weisbrot
Obama’s Campaign for TPP Could Drag Down the Democrats
Rick Sterling
Clintonites Prepare for War on Syria
Yves Engler
The Anti-Semitism Smear Against Canadian Greens
August 24, 2016
John Pilger
Provoking Nuclear War by Media
Jonathan Cook
The Birth of Agro-Resistance in Palestine
Eric Draitser
Ajamu Baraka, “Uncle Tom,” and the Pathology of White Liberal Racism
Jack Rasmus
Greek Debt and the New Financial Imperialism
Robert Fisk
The Sultan’s Hit List Grows, as Turkey Prepares to Enter Syria
Abubakar N. Kasim
What Did the Olympics Really Do for Humanity?
Renee Parsons
Obamacare Supporters Oppose ColoradoCare
Alycee Lane
The Trump Campaign: a White Revolt Against ‘Neoliberal Multiculturalism’
Edward Hunt
Maintaining U.S. Dominance in the Pacific
George Wuerthner
The Big Fish Kill on the Yellowstone
Jesse Jackson
Democrats Shouldn’t Get a Blank Check From Black Voters
Kent Paterson
Saving Southern New Mexico from the Next Big Flood
Arnold August
RIP Jean-Guy Allard: A Model for Progressive Journalists Working in the Capitalist System
August 23, 2016
Diana Johnstone
Hillary and the Glass Ceilings Illusion
Bill Quigley
Race and Class Gap Widening: Katrina Pain Index 2016 by the Numbers
Ted Rall
Trump vs. Clinton: It’s All About the Debates
Eoin Higgins
Will Progressive Democrats Ever Support a Third Party Candidate?
Kenneth J. Saltman
Wall Street’s Latest Public Sector Rip-Off: Five Myths About Pay for Success
Binoy Kampmark
Labouring Hours: Sweden’s Six-Hour Working Day
John Feffer
The Globalization of Trump
Gwendolyn Mink – Felicia Kornbluh
Time to End “Welfare as We Know It”
Medea Benjamin
Congress Must Take Action to Block Weapon Sales to Saudi Arabia
Halyna Mokrushyna
Political Writer, Daughter of Ukrainian Dissident, Detained and Charged in Ukraine
Manuel E. Yepe
Tourism and Religion Go Hand-in-Hand in the Caribbean
ED ADELMAN
Belted by Trump
Thomas Knapp
War: The Islamic State and Western Politicians Against the Rest of Us
Nauman Sadiq
Shifting Alliances: Turkey, Russia and the Kurds
Rivera Sun
Active Peace: Restoring Relationships While Making Change
August 22, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton: The Anti-Woman ‘Feminist’
Robert Hunziker
Arctic Death Rattle
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail