You’ve no doubt heard by now about the Massachusetts high school students who are in a tizzy over all the dead dogs, killed by you, that litter Treyarch’s latest World War II-themed FPS, Call of Duty: World at War. Brenna Lucci, President of her school’s animal rights club, has managed to attract more than 100 signatures to a petition she hopes to send to Activision protesting the game’s pronounced lack of animal friendliness. The obvious irony, of course, is that lost in all this concern over the fate of these digital doggies is the ongoing massacre of thousands of on-screen humans who, though equally artificial, are nonetheless much closer kin to Ms. Lucci than the furry fleabags she’s so worked up about.
One wonders how such an extreme preference for shooting men rather than animals ever took root. My guess, for what it’s worth, is that dogs (or at least 12-pound Pomeranians) are cute. Maybe it’s unfair to the greater high school teenybopper demographic, but I’m fairly certain there’s a natural tendency among at least some of them to be horrified out of all proportion to the reality of certain acts, particularly those perpetrated against the world’s defenseless cute-and-cuddlies. And is the problem here really with dogs, or is it instead the perception held by the aggrieved teens, for whom every dog is just a little bit of lovin’ away from becoming a devoted and family-friendly Mister Snuggles, that’s causing all the trouble?
Let’s think about wolves for a minute. Wolves are essentially just dogs writ large, after all. But unlike their domesticated cousins, with whom many of us interact on a daily basis, wolves roam in the dark places with a fearsomely malevolent reputation. They are, for all intents and purposes, the quadrupedal stormtroopers of the animal kingdom, and as such they feature prominently as fodder in many popular MMOGs, where they’re slaughtered on a scale that makes Call of Duty seem like a few smacks with a rolled-up newspaper.
Yet nobody sheds a team for them. Nobody rails against the injustices suffered by the majestic Canis lupus. And unlike the mutts in Call of Duty, which are actively trying to render your bits from your other bits, many of these MMOWs are just standing around minding their own business. They live in the fields and forests you’re tromping through on your way to someplace bigger and better, and you’re not killing them out of self-defense or to curb some greater evil, you’re doing it because some bozo in the village said that if you want to hit the next level then you’d best be bringing him some wolf pelts.
U-Boats that preyed upon Allied merchant shipping in World War II operated in squadrons known as wolfpacks. In Alaska, despite the protests of scientists, conservationists and even many hunters, they continue to be blamed for decimating moose and caribou herds as well as farmers’ domestic stocks, and so continue to be the targets of state-sponsored aerial hunts. The notoriety of the wolf is also deeply rooted in our fiction, in everything from the Norse legend of the Fenris Wolf who will slay Odin during Ragnarok to the Big Bad Wolf of Little Red Riding Hood fame. And closer to home, let’s not forget that the favored mounts of orcs and goblins always seems to be some sort of over-sized, slavering, red-eyed wolf-cousin.
Wolves have gotten a lot of bad press over the years, and their reputation has suffered as a result. It’s why thousands of people can conjure a lupine apocalypse on a daily basis in World of Warcraft and nobody utters a peep, but plugging a few dogs in World at War – Nazi dogs, mind you – triggers a bimbo uproar over the unhinged gamers who will inevitably grow up to become the puppy-killers of the future. Dogs are loyal friends; wolves are distant and mysterious predators just waiting for an excuse to tear your throat out and make off with your chickens.
But I don’t want to be heartless or unfair: As ideas go, the protest against dog-specific violence in a first-person simulation of World War II battlefields is no more ridiculous than, say, calls from high-ranking German officials for a complete ban on all violent videogames, or statements from Missouri police claiming that the only reason an adult would own Animal Crossing is because it’s fantastic diddler-bait. Presentation really is everything, and although fanning the flames of hysteria, fear and anger that inevitably result when horrific incidents are perpetrated by deranged assholes is sleazy and exploitative, it’s also pretty damned effective. Throw a rock at a crowd and the odds are pretty good you’ll hit a gamer, but an awful lot of people – including people in positions of power – still consider videogaming aberrant behavior.
And this is where we find ourselves: Governed and policed by people who go to work with the same mentality as high school girls. Since that seems to be what we’re stuck with, maybe we should make the best of it and start electing our officials from among the ranks of real high school girls. At least that way there’s a chance they’ll grow out of it.
Playing This Week: Finally wrapped up the demo for Necrovision, the supernatural First World War shooter developed by The Farm 51. The Farm boys claim a connection to Painkiller, but where that game brought shurikens-and-lightning-powered genius to the party, Necrovision manages little more than tedium and truly awful voice acting. The Painkiller pedigree is obvious in the level design, but literally everything else falls far short of the mark. I don’t like to condemn games based solely on a demo, but in this case I’m willing to make an exception: Try before you buy, and then don’t buy.
Andy Chalk strongly recommends Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf for anyone interested in seeing wolves from a different perspective.