Mourning over the death of Cecil the lion … aka why I hate video games about hunting

I grieve with the rest of the world over the death of Cecil the lion. The idea of hunting a semi-tame lion – or “canned hunting”, as such faux hunting is called – sickens me. But the worldwide uproar over Cecil allows me to bring up another bugbear of mine: why I hate videogames about hunting.
I am a lifelong gamer. I’ve played all the controversial videogames: Doom, whose graphic, explosive violence made it instantly controversial; Grand Theft Auto, which allows you to rob virtual hookers and run over policemen; Mortal Kombat, where you can rip out your foe’s spine; Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, with a mission that includes a massacre at an airport.
I’ve seen dragons tear people apart, aliens shot by lasers, soldiers blown to pieces storming beaches in World War II and watched entire civilisations been destroyed, all without shedding a tear.
I’m even the author of an ebook military thriller, The Spartan, which has no shortage of violent action. Hence you could say I’m not particularly squeamish.
I have resisted the calls to ban certain video games, and applauded moves to create an R18+ rating for games in Australia, which allows older gamers such as myself to purchase games with more “adult” themes. I always viewed the linking of games to violence or anti-social attitudes with a jaded, suspicious eye, particularly when such views form part of some politician’s crusade to scare the public and win votes.
Largely, my only real objection to video games, apart from the usual moral qualms against excessive levels of violence or tasteless sexual titillation, is whether a game is “crap” or not.
Yet there is always one genre of games that triggers an instinctive revulsion in me whenever I see it: games that glorify the hunting of animals. It disgusts me to walk into a pub and see a hunting video game positioned in the corner, plastic gun mounted on the console inviting drunken patrons to shoot defenceless animals.
I’m amazed when I go into stores and spot hunting games for sale to anyone, including teens. I’m surprised there hasn’t been a bigger outcry against a genre that thinks there’s something cool or brave about gunning down rare or even endangered creatures for “sport”, when we should have morally evolved past that point.
Reading the blurbs that come with such specimens as Cabela’s Big Game Hunter 2012 brings a sick taste to my mouth. “Can you outsmart the true-to-life animals that can now see, hear and smell you” goes one such blurb, which claims that “to bag your trophy, you must avoid detection through cunning skill and deception”. The idea that such a hunt is some kind of grand battle of wits is nauseating, particularly when the gamer is armed with a high-powered rifle with telescopic sight.
What is the particular trophy on offer? The head of a bear or the antlers of a dear, procured by our hero after sniping creatures going about their daily foraging? Perhaps a bogus element of danger is introduced to make the game seem fair – as if the gamer is in “imminent threat” after the beast detects his presence.
It reminds me of the South Park episode where Uncle Jimbo gets around the hunting laws by claiming that every creature they face is some imminent threat. “He’s coming right at us!” he cries as he shoots a Rocky Mountain Black Bear, “one of the few remaining of its kind”, as it sits there minding its own business.
Fortunately the genre appears to be dying out for videogame consoles, with few examples on offer at Sydney’s gaming stores. Likewise, the video games at the pub are also becoming extinct, making way perhaps for pokies.
Or maybe people are too interested in playing games on their iPhones and iPads than spend money on coin-operated machines or consoles.
Unfortunately such blood-spattered fare has found a second life in the world of apps for the iPhone and iPad. There is a plethora of games available for the iPhone, many of them free, such as Deer Hunter Reloaded, Carnivores: Dinosaur Hunter, Deer Hunter 3D, Real Trophy Hunting, Bird Hunter, Big Buck Safari, Ace Duck Hunter Lite and High Caliber Hunting.
For the most part they are simple point-and-shoot games, as suited for a medium without an Xbox-style controller or large keyboard. Some might say their intent is no more sinister than Pac-Man: no actual animals were harmed during the game, merely pixels.
Yet what remains objectionable is still the idea that hunting wildlife for sport – or “trophies” – is somehow OK, particularly as we live in a world where the need to hunt food for basic survival has long since vanished. And because of their cheap price and the popularity of the iPad and iPhone, hunting games have a potentially larger reach than ever. They might even act as a soft promotional tool for the acceptance of hunting.
So why the specific objection to the shooting of animals in games as opposed, to, say, the shooting of humans, you ask? Because animals are powerless against humans: all they can do is run and hide. Because there are already hunters claiming the lives of rhinos and elephants and pretending that it’s some jolly, post-colonial wheeze, as if it was a match of wits rather than one scared beast facing a human armed with Satnav and a gun. Because trying to turn such a travesty into some game where the odds are supposedly “equal” is about as distasteful a spectacle as promoting bullfighting as an equal contest.
Because there’s nothing really “fun” about shooting a harmless, unarmed opponent … or seeing some tool posing next to an elephant he has just gunned down as he lives out some Great White Hunter fantasy.
We live in a world where the mass extinction of species is already a fact of life. The idea that it is somehow acceptable to blow away endangered lions or bears for sport is morally reprehensible, whether in the real world or in the electronic realm. We should cherish these great animals before they disappear, rather than subject them to a virtual charnel house.
Some things – whether the real-life death of a magnificent creature such as Cecil or its pixelated equivalent – just aren’t worth turning into a game.

My ebook military thriller, The Spartan, is out now on Amazon.

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