The game, called “Dog Wars,” sparked outrage among animal activists earlier this year and the wave of complaints led to Google removing the game from the Android app market in April. The game can still be found on third-party sites, however, and it is these unauthorized download sites that are carrying the hacked version of the game.
The hacked game contains a trojan that sends out a text to all contacts in the user’s phone saying “I take pleasure in hurting small animals, just thought you should know that.”
There’s disagreement within any group of activists or advocates and I’m no stranger to arguing with the majority of the animal advocacy community. Usually, however, I find myself advocating that issues should be taken more seriously, not less seriously.
This is one instance though, where I feel that the “activists” behind hacking this game are more than misguided, they’re downright wrong. I remember shaking my head when many groups and individuals manufactured outrage about this game on Twitter and Facebook, encouraging people to complain to Google and eventually succeeded in having the game removed from the app market.
Of course the game is distasteful, but how much video game content isn’t distasteful? If a dog fighting video game promotes real life dog fighting, does a war game make people want to join the military? Are all the people who play Grand Theft Auto also murdering, car-stealing drug dealers? Of course not.
The US Supreme Court decided in June that video games are entitled to the same free-speech protections as other forms of media. That decision not only elevated video game content to a higher tier of legal protection, it also elevated debate about video games to the same tier of debate that we use for literature, film and stage drama.
This conversation may seem silly, but it’s important that we understand what we’re arguing about. Critics of the Dog Wars app have tried to turn a matter of poor taste into an ethical stance and in the process they’ve trivialized a whole branch of the animal rights debate.
The outrage surrounding the Dog Wars app is reminiscent of the outrage that surrounds all dog fighting scandals, especially the lingering resentment toward NFL player Mike Vick. Certainly real-life dog fighting is wrong, and of course it’s cruelty that can’t be ignored. But we are remiss when we fetishize our companion animals to the extent that we ignore other issues of animal cruelty. How many omnivores were suspiciously eager to criticize Mike Vick for fighting dogs as they chewed on a burger made of another tortured dead animal?
We need to take dog fighting seriously, but we don’t need to take it more seriously than we take other animal protection issues simply because we think dogs are cuter than other animals. When we put companion animals on a pedestal, we not only penalize other animals, but we find ourselves wasting valuable time debating bad taste when we could be fighting to save animals’ lives.
Photo credit: Jetalone