Imaginary Bird Cruelty: Ethical; Imaginary Dog Cruelty….?

If you think the birds are angry, wait til you hear the anti-dog-fighting activists.

We’re just keeping our finger crossed that Michael Vick doesn’t have this app on his phone.

“Dog Wars,” a new video game available free of charge on the Android smart phone market. The game allows players to choose, feed, train and fight virtual dogs against the dogs of other players. Predictably, animal rights, anti-dog fighting groups and social critics want the app dropped.

“Dog Wars” may be in poor taste, but it’s not unethical. Guiding pixels shaped as dogs in tiny phone screen-size battles has no more to do with cruelty to animals than biting the head off of a chocolate Easter Bunny or eating animal crackers.  Critics are saying that the game teaches people how to prepare real dogs for real fights? Right…and “Risk” teaches people how to take over the world.

This is the “Ick factor” at work—when something that seems strange, unpleasant or contrary to normal behavior is mislabeled as unethical. Yes, it’s an especially sick idea for a video game, but if “The Godfather” game isn’t the equivalent of putting real horse heads in people’s beds, and it isn’t, playing “Dog Wars” doesn’t mean that a player is going to become quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. It’s “Ick,” not Vick.

“Dog Wars” maker Kage Games says on its website: “We do not condone violence toward animals or humans and we are confident in humankind’s ability to distinguish between a game and the consequences of real life.” I don’t like these people much, and neither does the Jack Russell sitting here on my desk as I write this. But their position is air-tight, and so is the “Angry Birds” analogy they toss back at critics. They tell negative commenters on their site to “just go slingshot some virtual birds to kill some virtual pigs.” Attempts to distinguish the silly fad bird game from the nasty dog game have all failed. It’s a video game, that’s all; one that pits dogs against each other instead of the more usual human vs. human theme. Yes, ick.

But not unethical

UPDATE: Well, THAT was fast! Google pulled the app before the cyber-ink was dry on the post. I’m not surprised, and I won’t miss it, since I would rather pull out my eyelashes than play such a game. It doesn’t mean the game was unethical, of course; just the Google didn’t think such a tasteless game was worth taking a stand on. People would keep saying that the app encourages animal cruelty, just like their grandparents used to say that Popeye cartoons made kids into bullies. Both claims are nonsense.

I do miss Popeye.

97 thoughts on “Imaginary Bird Cruelty: Ethical; Imaginary Dog Cruelty….?

  1. I would like to know whether or not you would think it ethical to release an App that depicts pedophilia, rape, or an app that lets you burn a digital version of the Koran or Bible? After all they would only be a game right?

  2. I have been a gamer for years. I have played atari, nintendo, pc games, super nintendo, N64, playstation, xbox, sega, playstation 2, playstation 3, wii, xbox 360, mmorpgs, muds, board games, table top games, chess, checkers, and all sorts of handheld games.

    In online play with the Playstation 3, I was ranked under 5000 in score on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, a game with over 2 million players. I didn’t just play the game, I lived and breathed it for a time during my spare time. It’s just how I preferred to spend my time. I also was known to spend my nights reading through entire books in a night because pain kept me awake.

    I’m not some mass murdering, crazed, psychotic sociopath because of it. The years I have spent playing games should have made me this if those against video games are to be believed. But alas… people who are against video games are the same kind of people who blindly oppose vaccinations for children or blindly promote anti-gun laws or hunting.

    Video games do not cause violence. There is no proof they have ever caused someone to violence. The amount of people who play games should give a great opportunity for anyone to find a correlation AND causation between video games and violence. There has been no study to find such. In fact, psychologists seem t believe that video games STYMY violence because it gives people an outlet for their aggression.

    That’s right. Video games are giving people an outlet for their aggression to help prevent violence.

    Where is the outrage at TV causing violence? How many kids have been maimed or killed by attempting to imitate the guys on Jackass? Where is the outrage at TV desensitizing people? There is more proof there than there is on anything dealing with video games.

    Theresa Truers:
    You should watch the youtube video you linked. It doesn’t help your argument at all. Actually, it completely deflates your argument.

    Sol Fir:
    War is a necessity. There has to be someone to stop the people like Hitler, Kim Jung Il, Mao, Chavez, Stalin, etc. This is why history is so important to be recorded accurately and unchanged. We must never forget. Also, the game was not “timed” to coincide with dog fighting issues. The game was released during a time no one was thinking about illegal dog fights unless those people deal with them personally to either stop them or run them. Those running them wouldn’t care about the game.

    Pit bulls don’t always just want to fight. They are an aggressive breed, yes, but they are not a dog waiting to snap. Pit bulls were bred for war, but that doesn’t make them evil. Does it make a lion, cougar, badger, rat, or any other animal evil by following their instincts? The reason pit bulls are used for dog fighting rings is because of their size, strength, and aggression. Those traits also make it one of the best dogs you possibly could have for your house. Same can be said for german shepherds. Do research on dog breeds. Chows are worse than pit bulls.

    You should feel ashamed for attempting, and succeeding, in bullying a company to pull a harmless game, if immoral, from the “shelves.” If I used your reasoning, I would be out trying to shut down PETA right now. I would be out trying to stop Hollywood from making movies. Bullying is never right. Bullying causes death. That is proven fact.

    About Japan:
    You know all those mangas, animes, and video games with women in them? They are actually meant to be 14 or 15 years old most of the time. Sure, some are meant to be adult, but for the most part they are meant to be under 16 years of age. Japan is by far one of the oddest cultures in my eyes, but I love it. Without it, our world would be a more boring place.

    Many of the creatures in this game are based on actual creatures. Ratata being a rat, Persian being… well… a persian cat, etc. It is an easy connection to make.

    I can actually give a personal account for an old acquaintance being saved from an accident due to reflexes gained from car racing games. Does that mean games actually have benefits in real life applications?

    • Don’t worry; despite my constant ribbing of Japanese culture, I do have a certain fondness for their media.

      P.S. Wow, looks like that all the younger “geeky/nerdy” regulars on this site have been the ones to hold the line on this topic against the insanity. Still, it’s nice to have an older guy like Jack who doesn’t give in to all the hysteria.

  3. So I take it that because it is not ‘real’, there should be no boundaries whatsoever on what is allowed to be published?

    • No boundaries? No.

      Threats are a no-no. I’d also put knowingly false statements in the unethical category, even if they are often legal.

    • I never would say “no boundaries” whatsoever, but whatever the answer would be for a book, newspaper or movie, mine is the same for videogames. I could see a videogame being slanderous, for example—try a game in which your Donald Trump tried to defeat your Glenn Beck in goat raping. But that also involves real harm….BUT NOT TO THE “GOAT”!

      • And even then, if it’s obviously meant in jest, then it’s simply in very, very poor taste, of “I’m not sure I want to hang out with you anymore if you play this game” sort.

  4. Saying that Pitbulls are an aggressive breed of dog is no more accurate than me claiming that African Americans are naturally aggressive. Total B.S. Spaniels are way more likely to bite you than a Pitbull. Idiot….

    • The comment is fine (and true…there is nothing inherently aggressive about a pit bull that goes beyond what is characteristic of terriers; as terriers go, they are on the calm side) except that the gratuitous insult at the end is neither civil nor persuasive.

      The only one who gets to call someone an idiot is me, and then I always have to apologize and feel bad about it.

  5. I feel like such an idiot for neglecting to mention one of my favorite games from about 10 years ago: Black & White.

    In this game, you play the part of a deity, attempting to gain followers by either helping them to inspire love or displaying cruelty to inspire fear. Your goal is to basically get everyone on the island to worship YOU, and in later levels there are other deities like you vying for the same goal.

    But the real centerpiece of the game is your creature, and how you train it. The creature (a realistic animal* that grows in size with your own power and abilities) is really a very sophisticated Artificial Intelligence implementation (in a time when most games just needed a good graphics card, this one needed a REALLY fast CPU)–it generally learns from what you do, but you can take a proactive hand in its training by petting it when it does things you want and slapping it (gasp!) when it does things you don’t.

    Remember those other deities? They have creatures of their own. And that means that your creatures are going to have to fight–either to defend your own followers from another creature making trouble for them, or to try and impress/inspire new followers.

    Part of that training includes teaching your creature to fight. It is the one and only time in the game where you can give your creature direct orders. But as you go, if you can win these creature fights, you don’t have to because the creature will learn what to do and do it without your help.

    Now then.

    Explain to me why this game (and its expansion pack and sequel) should not have been allowed on store shelves.


    * You start with a choice of Ape, Cow, or Tiger. Other creatures become available later in the game such as Leopard, Lion, Horse, Zebra, Bear, and . . . Wolf.

  6. Sorry I’m half a month late to the party, but…

    I don’t disagree with your analysis at all, except for the validity of the Angry Birds comparison. Yes, it involves exploiting birds to kill pigs. What it does not, however, involve is anything approaching a realistic scenario. It is completely impossible to imagine a real-life scenario where a flying animal consents to being used in a slingshot to recover offspring stolen by an animal lacking agility. Can the same be said for a real-life scenario involving training dogs to fight one another?

    Since this is an ethics blog, it may be in everyone’s best interests to disclose that I’m an Angry Birds addict.

    • Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But on the matter of your distinction: so what? Are video games involving cruelty to, say, ancient Romans less objectionable than videogames involving LA gangs? Is virtually killing innocent space aliens less offensive than cyber-killing illegal aliens? Why?

      • I freely admit that the distinction made was a nitpick, and that the ethical argument posed is otherwise rock-solid. This may both date myself and out my nerd leanings, but I spent a fair amount of my teen years goofing off with Dope Wars, a fascination that failed to turn me into an inner-city pusher, unless you count mortgages.

  7. Realy what all this boils down to from what I see is that people are losing their ability to control what they beleive and what they do and this my friends is most likely laziness and unwillingness to take the blame for something that is their own damn fault. (its my screen name please ignore it)

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