Video games have had their fair share of controversies over the past few decades. Games like Manhunt, Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 have all caused some measure of public outrage for their depictions of violence. However all three games had two things in common – they do not suggest they are anything but pure fiction, and the violence means the games have a mature rating, suitable only to those 17 or more years old,
Peta’s new video game “Cage Fight” involves the player taking the role of a famous Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter as he travels through a university lab, military installment and pharmaceutical lab, assaulting scientists and freeing animals. While the game is not as visceral as those previously mentioned, it is no less disturbing. It also breaks the two important strands common to the previously mentioned games. Below the game window it notes:
Animals abused in laboratories in real life need your help. Complete this action to unlock the next. Complete them all to earn a special Cage Fight cheat code.
Essentially gamers are tempted to carry out PETA’s actions in order to improve the game regardless of whether they support (or understand) the implications of these activities. The first of these activities is to send a letter to the NIH to oppose sound-localization experiments carried out at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which have already been improving our understanding of brain mechanisms for spatial hearing. Essentially, PETA is trying to connect, to the players mind, the ridiculous representation of torture labs (see below) with the ethically conducted research carried out at universities like UW-Madison.
The second strand common to games like Manhunt and Grand Theft Auto is that they are intended only for mature audiences who can understand what they see – with clear differentiation of fact and fiction. PETA is marketing this as a game for children of all ages. It promotes violence against researchers with only the barest of disclaimers:
Note that PETA does not say we should not assault researchers because it would be wrong, but only because it is illegal. The phrase “it is still illegal to punch animal experimenters” [My emphasis] suggests not only a degree of disappointment in not being able to attack animal researchers, but also suggests that it may not be illegal in the future. Disturbing indeed.
The game opens with the player’s MMA character of choice travelling to a university animal research laboratory:
Now, PETA, please tell me the name of any laboratory in the US where blood is spattered across the wall and floors, scientists walk around with machetes, and cats are kept in cages less than 4 cubic feet in size (less than half the size recommended by the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals).
Here is what Justin McNulty, Research Compliance Oversight Administrator at the University of Texas at Austin said about the image:
Those who work with animals in a laboratory setting must adhere to strict guidelines to ensure animals are provided an environment that allows them to grow, mature, and reproduce normally while providing for their health and well-being. This cartoon is not representative of any laboratory that adheres to the Guide. For example, animals must be provided enclosures that allow normal posture and movement, unlike the small cage depicted in the cartoon. The cartoon does not show that the animal is provided any food or water, which, researchers MUST provide (why would a researcher want an unhealthy animal)? Finally, laboratories must remain clean – not covered in blood as depicted in the cartoon. Federal regulations require a level of cleanliness at par with a food service kitchen.
Later in the game the “hero” (if you can call someone who beats up scientists that) travels to a pharmaceutical company (another blood spattered affair, this time with dead mouse pictures and an incinerator to boot). Before unleashing hell on the scientists within (and a few military personnel who are inexplicably wandering around there), he converses with Igor, who says:
PETA are making misleading accusations about the law. As Justin McNulty goes on to explain:
While the Animal Welfare Act and Regulations may exclude laboratory mice and rats, these animals are protected by other policies and guidelines. For example, for Federally funded research with laboratory mice and rats, researchers must follow the provisions of the Guide, which requires the same level, if not more, protections than the Animal Welfare Act. This cartoon is not even close to portraying what a laboratory would look like – incinerators in a laboratory? Blood-covered walls and floors? Unsanitary conditions in laboratories are not allowed and violate numerous laws, regulations, and guidelines. In addition, the government has established pain and distress management policies – anything that would cause pain in a person is assumed to cause pain in an animal and therefore pain management drugs must be provided. Finally, there are no laws that allow a researcher to poison a monkey. Perhaps PETA’s game makers needed to see images of a real lab before they embark on their next game.
So let’s look at some footage from inside a real lab and see how similar it is to the picture:
You’ll notice the lack of blood stains, evil scientists and tortured animals in the video.
The game then finishes with the player’s MMA character beating up researchers, soldiers and scientists in an MMA ring. Having completed this final level the gamer is rewarded with a gish gallop of images from labs (not all in the US and certainly not recent), mashed together without context or even enough time to think about each image. Examples of clever imagery used include the misleading clip of a monkey clutching its leg
This game allows PETA to pump its false-advertising into children and game-maker “This is Pop” should be ashamed of their needless promotion of violence against researchers. Games like this trivialise the violence which has affected many researchers who have had their cars burned, their houses flooded and their families threatened. The game also fails to make any reference as to why animals are used in laboratories. Children playing could be forgiven for thinking that researchers experiment on animals for their own sadistic pleasure – rather than to conduct important medical research that saves lives in a strictly regulated environment. Games such as these go some way to explaining why support for medical research on animals has dropped almost 20 percentage points to 47% over the last 12 years.
PETA has continued its mission to discover new lows to climb down to.
Read our follow up post showing how PETA has been heavily hypocritical in the manner in which it promotes and defends this game on Twitter