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 author of “The Animals’ Freedom Fighter: A Biography of Ronnie Lee, Founder of the Animal Liberation Front,” which is slated to be published by McFarland & Company. Visit his website: Hochschartner.com. Follow him on Twitter: @JonHoch3.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS’s Losses in Syria and Iraq Will Make It Difficult to Recruit
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer Bernie Morphs Into Public Option Dean
Gregory Barrett
Can Democracy Save Us?
Dave Lindorff
Budget Goes Military
John Heid
Disappeared on the Border: “Chase and Scatter” — to Death
Mark Weisbrot
The Troubling Financial Activities of an Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate
Robert Fisk
As ISIS’s Caliphate Shrinks, Syrian Anger Grows
Michael J. Sainato
Democratic Party Continues Shunning Popular Sanders Surrogates
Paul Bentley
Nazi Heritage: the Strange Saga of Chrystia Freeland’s Ukrainian Grandfather
Christopher Ketcham
Buddhism in the Storm
Thomas Barker
Platitudes in the Wake of London’s Terror Attack
Mike Hastie
Insane Truths: a Vietnam Vet on “Apocalypse Now, Redux”
Binoy Kampmark
Cyclone Watch in Australia
Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail