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What Could The Rise Of Animal Cruelty In Games Mean?

Animal welfare, like many things, is a divisive issue. Society is brimming with people standing on both sides of the argument, with some holding the opinion that animals exist solely for our own use, and some holding the contrasting perspective that showing compassion and love towards our fellow earthlings is essential to the wider intellectual growth and development of our own species.

Personally, I’m a liberal ‘not fun at parties’ vegan, so the argument category that I fit into is unsurprisingly the latter. Being passionate about both games and animal welfare, the gradual increase of themes relating to animal cruelty within modern mainstream games intrigues me deeply, and it seems to be debated on a rare basis. Given how heavily animal exploitation is ingrained into our society, it seems logical that analysis and discussions of/on this subject should be a more frequent occurrence. Whatever side of the animal welfare fence you may stand on, from steak devourer to plant fanatic, from gun toting hunter to kitten loving cuddler, there’s never a wrong time to become offended at somebody else’s opinion.

My first experience of noticing animal cruelty within a mainstream game was in 2012’s Assassin’s Creed III. As I trekked through the American civil war themed time period, as the bland and monotone assassin Connor, I contemplated just how much I would rather be playing Assassin’s Creed II, an infinitely superior game. My train of thought was abruptly shattered however, as Assassin’s Creed III suddenly instructed me on the benefits of butchering hares, deers and bears in order to extract their skin and fur. My bubble of thought at the time was something akin to “Assassins’s Creed III kind of sucks”, followed by “What?! An animal?! Oh, are we doing this now in games?!”. Of course, I complied, because I aspired to perform a Scrooge McDuck-esque dive into my virtual Assassin’s Creed III dollars. Regardless, it startled me at first, and some adjusting to the concept of carrying out acts of animal cruelty within games was needed for me.

If 1984’s Duck Hunt can show us anything, it’s that there has always been a certain demand for the hunting of animals to be featured in games. It makes sense, given that journeying outside to shoot a living being until it is dead has long been a popular pastime for many individuals. As said individuals stand over the corpse of a bullet-riddled deer, their one inch manhood stiff with joy from the sensation of power that they so desperately relish from effortlessly pulling a trigger and extracting the life from an innocent creature, one must wonder why murdering has become their hobby of preference over such things as listening to music, going shopping with their friends, or reading articles on Goomba Stomp?

Naturally, if the surge in popularity of virtual hunting had torn away many real life hunters from indulgence in their shooty shooty bang bang time, then I would be embracing it with open arms. However, this is unsurprisingly not the case, since activities carried out within a game rarely, if ever, equate to the raw sensation of performing it in the non-polygonal dimension. For this reason, the presence of animal cruelty (and in certain cases, the normalization of animal cruelty) within games achieves little more than incorporating a negative aspect of our society into a phenomenally popular form of entertainment.

“But wait, games have you killing hordes of humans in such frequent cases. Why are you so biased towards animals?”. This is a natural argument in response to my obnoxious ramblings, and in truth, it is one with much merit. Unsurprisingly, we are extremely accustomed to the death of humans within games, from Mortal Kombat to Grand Theft Auto, and from Call Of Duty to a franchise quite literally flaunting the name Destroy All Humans!.

The presence of antagonists/opponents in the forms of humans is one that occurs with an overwhelmingly higher frequency than the presence of animals in games, and as a result it is treated with significantly more tolerance. Personally, I am for the argument that anything existing within a game, including animal cruelty, rarely equates to endorsement of said activity outside of the game world. With this being said, however, one must ask how far games are willing to push the ‘realistic reflection of society’ factor.

Is the presence of animal cruelty, including cruelty one can inflict upon domesticated cats and dogs in Grand Theft Auto V, simply a sign of how far down the rabbit hole of animal exploitation society has tumbled? Is a game as magnificent as The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild attempting to trivialize the hunting of animals, providing a vibrant and cel-shaded Link the ability to harvest the spoils of foxes, wolves and bees via murdering them? If all manner of mainstream games flaunt some form of animal cruelty, is it perhaps an upsetting reminder of just how reluctant society is to progress beyond the widespread killing of animals for food, fun and fur?

As mentioned prior, activities in games rarely equate to real life intent, and I firmly believe that violence in games plays no part in violent atrocities carried out in society (the solution to such a problem, in America at least, lies in both support for those struggling with their mental well being, and gun control). However, upon analysis, there can be no denying that fascinating social commentary can be extracted from acts of animal cruelty being adapted into all manner of modern mainstream games, from Far Cry 3 to Tomb Raider.

This article is not intended to preach at or offend those with a differing opinion. Instead, it is intended to raise awareness and/or open a debate of a controversial subject. Are we right to view the mass murder of animal kind, our fellow earthlings, as normal? What could the rise of animal cruelty in games mean specifically about the vast majority of society’s opinions on said issue? Can our own personal satisfaction when we bite into a cheese burger or wear a coat of fur be justified when considering the animals that had to endure a life of torture, pain, and a finale of slaughter, simply for Ronald McDonald to scream down your throat “I’M LOVING IT!”? Is our senseless cruelty towards animals, with the reward of our own personal food or clothing preferences, a natural occurrence within nature, or a gross example of human selfishness? Is an English person obnoxiously asking a horde of questions about animals really considered ‘good journalism’? When all is said and done however, one statement on the subject of animal welfare rings true for us all: we all totally cry when Mufasa dies.

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7 comments

Michael J. Riser August 27, 2017 at 1:46 pm

This is something I’ve thought about a lot over the last few years. Animals in games are sometimes companions, but usually in that sort of subservient sense, and are much more frequently reduced to the same thing people reduce them to in life: inorganic matter used for crafting purposes. I find this frustrating. It’s also irritating that so many cliches fall back on animals as “enemies”, like every RPG in the known universe using wolves and giant rats as basic enemies, in stark contrast to the behavior patterns of both animals in the real world.

Sadly, I don’t see it changing any time soon, as most people don’t really seem to care. It’s put me off of certain games, though, and changed the way I play some others.

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Harry Morris August 27, 2017 at 7:01 pm

I absolutely agree. As sad as it is, I feel like we’ll be waiting for a long time before animals, both virtual and real, receive any kind of widespread respect.

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Mike Worby September 5, 2017 at 11:16 pm

The disconnect is weird for me. As a vegetarian who doesn’t buy fur or leather, these things are major considerations in the real world for me but in the gaming world of say Breath of the Wild or Horizon Zero Dawn, I have no problem icing wild life by the dozens. They really are just commodities in the games, and they literally turn into useful items when they die.

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Harry Morris September 6, 2017 at 10:41 am

Whilst I remember being shocked at first, the disconnect becomes natural over time as we become accustomed to it. However, there is still a line I struggle to cross (Grand Theft Auto V’s killing of cats and dogs, for example, made me turn the game off and never touch it again). I feel that animals turning into useful items when they die, as you said, says something about societies lack of empathy towards animals, and their view of them as ‘resources’ rather than ‘fellow living beings’.

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Mike Worby September 6, 2017 at 10:45 am

Well said.

Patrick September 6, 2017 at 7:55 pm

It’s an interesting topic for conversation, but I’d caution against extrapolating too much and applying it to society as a whole. We know how the Mortal Kombat and Doom arguments turned out when people tried to link them to culture as a whole. Besides, players have been rewarded in some way or another for killing pretty much every living thing in games, from plants to animals to people to aliens, often in increasingly cruel ways. I don’t think animals have received any treatment much different from any other life form in this regard. Gamers as a whole seem fairly detached from all of it, yet hold varying perspectives on this subject when applied to the real world. For that reason I’d suggest the trend has little to no effect on them whatsoever.

Still, very good read, and definitely gets you thinking. While I have no personal interest in killing harmless animals in games (packs of wolves in BOTW, on the other hand…) or real life, I grew up hunting and have a very different take on that than you seem to. It’s always interesting to get another perspective.

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