Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Video Games Normalize Animal Cruelty


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:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 28, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Inside the Invisible Government; War, Propaganda, Clinton & Trump
Andrew Levine
The Hillary Era is Coming: Worry!
Gary Leupp
Seven World-Historical Achievements of the Iraq Invasion of 2003
Paul Street
Standing Rock Water-Protectors Waterboarded While the Cleveland Indians Romped
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel: 1984 Everlasting
Michael Brenner
American Foreign Policy in the Post-Trump Era
Luciana Bohne
Crossing the Acheron: Back to Vietnam
Robert Hunziker
The Political Era of Climate Refugees
Stephen Cooper
Alabama’s Last Execution was an Atrocity
Pete Dolack
Work Harder So Speculators Can Get More
Joyce Nelson
Canadians Launch Constitutional Challenge Against CETA
John Laforge
US Uranium Weapons Have Been Used in Syria
Paul Edwards
The Vision Thing ’16
Arshad Khan
Hillary, Trump and Sartre: How Existentialism Disrobes the Major Presidential Candidates
Peter Lee
It’s ON! Between Duterte and America
Joseph Grosso
Starchitects in the City: Vanity Fair and Gentrification
Patrick Carr
Economic Racial Disparity in North Carolina
David Swanson
Public vs. Media on War
Chris Gilbert
Demo Derby in Venezuela: The Left’s New Freewheeling Politics
Stephen Cooper
Alabama’s Last Execution Was an Atrocity
Binoy Kampmark
Nobel Confusion: Ramos-Horta, Trump and World Disorder
Binoy Kampmark
Nobel Confusion: Ramos-Horta, Trump and World Disorder
Russell Mokhiber
Lucifer’s Banker: Bradley Birkenfeld on Corporate Crime in America
Ron Jacobs
Death to the Fascist Insect! The SLA and the Cops
Cesar Chelala
Embargo on Cuba is an Embarrassment for the United States
Jack Smith
And the Winner Is….
Ken Knabb
Beyond Voting: the Limits of Electoral Politics
Matt Peppe
An Alternate Narrative on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump
James Rothenberg
Water Under the Bridge
Louis Yako
Remembering Rasul Gamzatov: The Poet of the People
Brian Cloughley
The US, NATO and the Pope
Louis Proyect
The Outsider-Insider: Isaac Babel’s Big Mistake
Martin Billheimer
Now and Then, Ancient Sorceries
October 27, 2016
Paul Street
An Identity-Politicized Election and World Series Lakefront Liberals Can Love
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade
Robert Fisk
Is Yemen Too Much for the World to Take?
Shamus Cooke
Stopping Hillary’s Coming War on Syria
Jan Oberg
Security Politics and the Closing of the Open Society
Ramzy Baroud
The War on UNESCO: Al-Aqsa Mosque is Palestinian and East Jerusalem is Illegally Occupied
Colin Todhunter
Lower Yields and Agropoisons: What is the Point of GM Mustard in India?
Norman Pollack
The Election: Does It Matter Who Wins?
Nyla Ali Khan
The Political and Cultural Richness of Kashmiriyat