When is it Not “Just a Game?”

Samm May 11, 2011 2 Comments »

A few weeks ago, the bully breed blogs I read were in an uproar over a new app released onto the Android Marketplace by Kage Games, LLC. Originally called “Dog Wars” (aka“KG Dog Fighting”), players breed, raise and train dogs to fight. That’s right, it’s a dog fighting game. Pit Bull advocates, animal shelters and animal welfare groups are up in arms over Google’s seemingly silent “support” of this game. Google not only refuses to comment but also silently refuses to remove this game from their marketplace. Apple recently pulled a baby shaking game from their iPhone marketplace, so why won’t Google do the same in this case? It’s a tricky issue that raises a lot of questions. We’re talking about censorship, freedom of speech and good old common sense. When it comes to video games, where do we draw the line?

Games like Grand Theft Auto perpetuate killing, stealing, drug dealing and violence that many would find abhorrent. While we know that all of these actions are both morally and legally wrong, many buy the game and play it anyway. So what’s the difference between killing a hooker and killing a dog? One difference is that Grand Theft Auto has an MA rating, meaning that no one under the age of 18 is allowed to purchase the game. Kage Games’ dog fighting game, however, is not rated, though the disclaimer on the app says that you must be “13 years or older” to play. Anyone with an Android operating system can pay $2.99 and download the game. Like the other games most adults would consider inappropriate for minors available on the Android Marketplace, there is nothing to stop a child from downloading this game. However, the lack of rating doesn’t seem to be one of the main issues being tossed around.

 

It’s “Just a Game”

Screen Capture from Grand Theft Auto

The argument coming out of Kage Games is that, well, it’s just a game. That people 13 years or older would know the difference between right and wrong. Just because they buy the game doesn’t mean that they’ll go out and start a dog fighting ring. That much is true; just like it’s true for other games that are said to perpetuate violence. Because someone plays Grand Theft Auto doesn’t mean they’re going to go out and assault a police officer. We would like to think that people would use some good old common sense and be able to differentiate between reality and fantasy. Granted, in some cases this isn’t true, but the percent of the population that applies to is minimal. It would be unfair to punish the entire population for one person emulating what they saw in a video game. The only people raising fighting dogs today are a small group (est. 1-2%) of criminals and gang members. These people also sell drugs, carry guns and are a threat to society on many different levels. There are a ton of scientific studies that either confirm or debunk the link between violent behavior and video games. Needless to say, the studies all contradict one another and are likely inconclusive. Given that each person is different it’s nearly impossible to draw a definite conclusion in this area. But the chances of someone without preconceived acceptance of violence or notions that dog fighting is acceptable,  starting a dog fighting ring based on a video game is very slim. Those who know it’s wrong and buy the app are not going to go and abuse animals.

 

So how do we justify what’s “okay” in a video game and what’s not? Where do we draw the line? It’s a nearly impossible question to answer. Aside from the obvious illegality of dog fighting and the horrific cruelty the animals endure, what has advocates and dogs lovers up in arms?

 

Part of What Advocates of Bully Breeds Fear

 

I could sit here and talk about the abuse dogs face as a result of dog fighting rings, but every other article I’ve read about this app already touches on that, most with pictures to illustrate their point. What few actually do mention is the monstrous stigma that the app will likely help promote. Dog fighting has helped form a stigma against the breeds of dogs commonly used for fighting. Incidents with dogs labeled under the  “bully breed” category have led to things like Breed Specific Legislation (BSL).

 

BSL is bad, aside from the fact that it doesn’t work, because it promotes the stereotyping of breeds that fall underneath that legislation without focusing on the root of the problem…poor ownership. These are the breeds, like pit bulls, that are commonly blamed by the media for dog attacks. Breeds that fall under BSL often include more than just pit bulls. Various BSL have also included the American Bulldog, American Staffordshire Terrier, Akita, Presa Canario, Japanese Mastiff, Cane Corso Mastiff, Boston Terrier, Bull Terrier, English Mastiff, Shar Pei, and any dog displaying the majority of physical traits of any one (1) or more of the above breeds.

 

What is BSL? Let’s say your local government decides to enact BSL in your town and that you own a dog that falls into that BSL category. In the best case scenario you may have to pay a fine or get a special license to keep your dog. In the worst case, and often more common scenario, you’re forced to get rid of your dog or your dog is taken from you and euthanized (based solely on its breed). If you fail to get rid of your dog you’re either given a fine or sent to jail regardless of whether or not your dog had any previous history of aggression. The goal of BSL is to limit the number of dog attacks by banning what people consider to be “aggressive” breeds.

 

Scientific studies have proven that there is no genetic link between aggression and specific dog breeds and data collected from towns with BSL has shown that no improvement is actually made by the legislation. Furthermore bite statistics are skewed because the exact population of pit bulls in the United States is unknown and the identification of the actual breed in each individual occurrence is often left up to the victim, witness, responding officer, or someone else who is unqualified to make that determination. It’s important to note that “pit bull” is not a specific breed of dog. It’s a term used to describe American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers. Do you think you can identify a pit bull? Check out this game and see how well you do. It’s easy to see why other dogs are often mistaken for pit bulls.

 

Jonny Justice (one of Michael Vick's pit bulls) was trained as a therapy dog and worked with children.

Perpetuating stereotypes is the one thing that animal welfare and bully breed rescue groups have been fighting against for many years. It’s their fear that a dog fighting game will only help perpetuate the stereotypes they’ve worked so hard to fight and that it will increase the passing of BSL. Their fear that people will set up dog fighting rings in their backyards or that people will start beating their dogs is only a small part of it. What they fear most is that attitudes will take a step back when it comes to the breeds of dogs commonly used in dog fighting and perpetuate the myth that those dogs are naturally aggressive and vicious killers.

 

Who can forget the bust of Atlanta Falcon Michael Vick’s dog fighting ring a few years ago? Numerous dogs were taken into custody and while some were in such poor condition that they couldn’t be saved, the majority of them were rehabilitated. (You can view a video of the rehabilitated dogs HERE). Most were placed in loving homes and have become great family dogs while others have even gone on to become service dogs that work with children. Do those sound like vicious killers to you? And yet when you open the news you still read stories of police officers shooting pit bulls for so called “aggressive” behavior, and “pit bull type” dogs attacking unsuspecting people for no reason. While the vast majority of that is the media following its own rule of “if it bleeds, it leads,” it’s doing nothing to help erase the stigma of the breed once called “the nanny dog.”

"What?" says Bunny. "I'm totally comfortable!"

 

I admit my own trepidation when it came to bully breed dogs. When Lord Monkeypants and I were looking for a dog to adopt we never expected to come home with a pit bull. Bunny won our hearts from the moment we saw her as a six month old pup who had spent the vast majority of her life in a shelter because her owner was arrested. But we were determined to not only learn as much as we could about pit bulls, but to train Bunny so that things such as aggression were never an issue. So we took her to a trainer who runs a rescue and specializes in bully breeds, their behavior and rehabilitation.

 

Cesar hangs out in his favorite spot on the couch.

We chose our trainer because he trained in a pack, much like Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer does and we wanted Bunny to be socialized around other dogs. During her training she met Cesar, one of the dogs in the rescue. Cesar was a 2 year old hybrid pit bull that was originally from what was believed to be a fighting ring in California. I admit it. When I first saw him he was scary with his big block head, sharp teeth and tiny docked ears. But when he saw us for the first time he wagged his tail so hard his entire butt wiggled, then he rolled over onto his back for belly rubs…we were sold. That was almost a year ago and they’ve been nothing short of amazing companions for us. Neither has shown aggressive behavior towards humans, including children, or other dogs and they even get along well with our horse. We’ve had them in all sorts of situations and they’ve always been superstars. I admit, the best feeling came when our friend, who is terrified of dogs due to a terrible dog biting incident in her past, snuggled Cesar on our couch and said “I’m scared of dogs but I love pit bulls!”

 

You can find dozens of sites about the myths and facts of pit bulls and I’ll give you some of them at the end of this article. They’re fascinating and I recommend checking them out, but back to the game.

 

Censorship, Free Speech and Maturity Ratings

 

The argument going around is that if Google were to remove the game from its marketplace that the action would be against freedom of speech and Google’s own terms and conditions. However, this isn’t true, at least not as far as the terms and conditions goes. Google retains the right to remove any app as it sees fit. To quote The Escapist,

“Of course, while free speech is a legal right in the USA meaning that the government couldn’t do anything about the app, Google is a private entity that has the right to control its own services however it damn pleases, so crying “free speech” here is about as legitimate a defense as tissue paper is legitimate body armor…The most popular mobile game may involve flinging birds at castles, but until Angry Birds becomes a real-life problem I don’t think we have to worry about that.”

However, should Google ban the app it opens the door for others to petition for the removal of any other app that offends their sensibilities. Not allowing consumers to choose whether or not to purchase the game would be infringing on their right to choose. But to me the problem comes in that anyone can purchase the game, even a child and that the game is apparently “approved” for children over the age of 13.

 

Granted there are parents out there who purchased Grand Theft Auto and other MA rated games for their ten year olds, but that is, again, the minority. There would probably be parents out there that would purchase a dog fighting game for their child as well. What concerns me is that there is no rating system in the Android marketplace. There’s nothing to prevent a child from downloading games meant for mature adults. I don’t know how to fix this problem on a technical level either. This is why Apple screens the apps in their marketplace. They impose the censorship where the parents cannot. But is that the right thing to do? It’s a very gray area and both Apple and Google are choosing to handle it in opposite ways. As WhiteRabite said when we were discussing this recently, “Android, do you really want to be the 4-Chan of apps?”

 

Kage Games, in an effort to get animal welfare groups off its back, has issued a statement when the game is downloaded that says dog fighting is illegal and cruel to animals. In a very tongue in cheek manner, they’ve also pledged to donate some of the profits from the games to animal welfare groups. It’s a move that doesn’t sit well with me and as I’m sure it doesn’t for others who are fighting the bully stereotype.

 

In the long run we need to look at whether or not banning this game would do any good. The answer is, probably not. There will still be dog fighting rings out there and with legislation pushed by fear-driven citizens breed specific legislation will still be out there. Regardless of this game still being on the market I think those out there who are fighting to change the pit bull stigma should use this to their advantage. It’s a great opportunity for free advertising. Use the game as an example and educate about the real consequences. Turn the negative into a positive for your cause.

 

This has been a very gray area for me. As a gamer, I don’t want to see any game censored. I feel the gamer should be able to make the decision whether or not to buy a game. I may never play Grand Theft Auto and I certainly would never play this game. Knowing that I’m free to make that choice is a powerful thing.

 

Pit bulls were America's mascot during WWI and WWII.

However, as a pit bull owner, I don’t want to see the fight of these amazing dogs take a step backward because of ignorance. It may be “just a game” but dog fighting is real and has real consequences. Unlike the well known consequences of the actions perpetuated in games like Grand Theft Auto, most people don’t know the horrors of dog fighting. A dog cannot make the rational choice not to fight when in that situation. They are driven by instinct. We need to make that decision for them. I can only hope that Google will use this as a reason to institute a rating system and to research technology that would stop minors from downloading such games onto their phones without parental consent. I also hope that Kage Games realizes the message their game sends, that these animals are monsters. I would love to see them join forces with the welfare and rescue groups out there to create a companion app that would automatically download with the game which would show the real consequences of dog fighting.

 

But we don’t live in a perfect world now do we? In all likelihood Google will do nothing and Kage Games will do nothing. It’s up to the fighters for pit bulls to turn this negative attention into a positive. We need to educate about the reality of this illegal sport, the pain it causes and the lives affected by it. Taking down the game is a limitation on free speech and is a form of censorship. We need to make our own decisions. And while there are those out there who will download the game and enjoy it, there are others who may walk away with a different perspective.  We need to leave it up to the gamer to decide.

 

For more information please read:

That famous pit bull smile.

Video Game Controversy

The Video Game Revolution

Does Video Game Violence Harm Teens?

Video Game Violence: Real Problem or Scapegoat?

Cruelty is Never Just a Game

The Pit Bull Placebo

Bad Rap.org

KC Dog Blog

Dog Bites Information and Statistics

Pit Bull Lovers.com

Proud History of the Pit Bull

 

Some Facts About Pit Bulls:

Sgt. Stubby with his medal.

While our trainer does obedience training he also does behavior training. He has said that in all of his years of training he has had to treat “red zone,” or extremely dangerous and aggressive behavior, in more family dogs such as retrievers, labs, and beagles than he has in pit bulls.

Pit bulls were America’s mascot in both WWI and WWII. Sgt. Stubby, a pit bull, is the most decorated war dog in history. He was wounded in action twice, saved his entire platoon by warning them of a poison gas attack and he single handedly captured a German spy.

Pit bulls behave just like any other dog. They aren’t more aggressive or more prone to fights because of genetics. All dogs will fight if given the right circumstances and no dog will attack without reason. In fact, their love for people is so unconditional many continue to show affection to people even after they’ve been beaten, starved, set on fire, etc.

Petey and The Little Rascals

In a recent testing done by The American Canine Temperament Testing Society (ATT), pit bulls achieved a passing rate of 83.9%. Passing 4th from the highest of 122 breeds. That is better than Beagles, passing at 78.2 and Golden Retrievers passing at 83.2%. The average passing rate for ALL breeds is 77%.

Pit bulls were once considered the family dog in America and even earned the title “nanny dog.”

Nipper, the RCA dog, was a pit bull.

 

Pit bulls are being successfully used in search and rescue work. For more information check out For Pits Sake.

The #1 breed of dog found in animal shelters across the country is the pit bull. It is also the #1 breed to be euthanized.

Famous pit bulls include Petey from The Little Rascals and the RCA dog. Numerous famous people have also owned pit bulls including John Stewart, Cesar Milan, Helen Keller, President Theodore Roosevelt,  P!nk, President Woodrow Wilson, Linda Blair, Michael J. Fox and more.

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. CasualCostumerNo Gravatar May 11, 2011 at 4:48 pm - Reply

    Fantastic article. I’m totally with you on this – I don’t agree with censorship, but at the same time, this is just bad, bad news. There is already such a stigma against pit bulls, and this just makes it worse. Not only that, but it makes light of dog fighting, which is a very serious topic. The rating problem is really an issue, too. Thanks for bringing up some very valid, thought-provoking points.

    • GreenEggsNSammNo Gravatar May 12, 2011 at 9:25 am - Reply

      Thank you! I think part of what makes it so hard is that unlike the murder, robbery, arson, etc. that are depicted in games like GTA, to many dog fighting isn’t an obvious right or wrong. Law enforcement has enough trouble rooting out fighting rings as it is. People are bringing up that what makes this fundamentally wrong, as opposed to GTA, is that the animals don’t have a choice in fighting. Which is true. However, people can make the conscious choice to fight dogs. Breaking the stigma attached to dog fighting and the breeds used is what’s most at stake here. After reading that police officers shot and killed two pit bulls that escaped from their owner’s yard last week, I’m terrified the same thing will happen to my dogs if they ever get out of the yard. Luckily, we have amazing neighbors and the one time Bunny did slip out, they took her into their home and called us right away.

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