So apparently the new Assassin’s Creed is going to be set in the Caribbean during the 1700s, and as a pirate, you’ll be able to harpoon some whales. And while you’ve always been able to more or less harpoon your fellow humans in the Assassin’s Creed series, and literally went around the American frontier skinning innocent little animals for trading/crafting purposes, PETA, the attention-sucking monsters from the deep, have decided to surface, in their attempts to tentacle themselves into pop-cultural relevance. And you know, I don’t have a problem with that: instead, I take issue with the justification that Matt Bruce (of PETA’s International Grassroots Campaigns) comes up with: “PETA encourages video game companies to create games that celebrate animals, not games that promote hurting and killing them.” No, sir. You do not “encourage” companies; you attempt to publicly shame them; if you truly wanted to make a game that “portrayed the cruelty and horror experienced when a whale is literally fleeing for her life and then shot with a harpoon — or even several harpoons — and forced to struggle for hours or be hacked apart while still alive aboard a ship,” you could fund that game. Just talk to the guy who made The Majesty of Colors. Ask SEGA to bring back Seaman or Ecco; either you and your constituents have enough money to fund and support the development of the highly commercial (and twisted) IPs that you’re proposing, or you’re irrelevant.
I’m also unclear as to the broadly stereotypical complaint in which Bruce alleges that “Joe Shmoe who plays this game in his mother’s basement in the safety and comfort of his home will feel a sense of accomplishment by killing this whale.” That’s possible, I guess, but I’d rather have creepy basement-dwelling Joe Shmoe killing whales in a video game than in real life, and let’s not pretend for a second that ambergris-farming is a thing that someone will become motivated to rush out and do because they did so in a video game. That’s even less plausible than someone working up the gumption to steal your idling vehicle by walking up beside you, pressing the triangle button on their controller, and scowling at you through the window. Next thing you know, I’ll find myself being prosecuted for the abuse I heaped upon The Sims and my poor old shit-covered Tamagotchi, since it’s apparently unethical to kill imaginary creatures. If I invent a creature in Spore and then kill it, have I caused the extinction of a species? If I write a story that involves the ritualistic harvesting of unicorn horns for their magical properties, will I be going straight to hell? Remember: No animals were actually harmed in the making of this video game. (And when animals do bite the dust in the making of art, as with Luck, they should consider themselves lucky that they managed to serve a purpose larger than Ikea’s.)
A single-player video game has no victims, so there’s nothing to ethically question. But seriously, PETA, I’d love to play the game that you describe — make it a 1-on-1 multiplayer experience where one player is the carefree buccaneer, tacking left and right in pursuit of some dumb old whale . . . and give the other player control of that majestic, doomed creature. Actually draw out the agonizing aspects of the harpooning and butchery, and make sure that both players have a moment where they look one another in the digital eye. Then ensure that the next time either person plays, they’ll have to take on the other role; will the “whale” revenge itself when reborn into a pirate’s body? Ethics, morality, basic empathy: you see, PETA, how rather than complaining about something, you could actually step forward and constructively offer a thought-provoking game? Now pardon me; I’ve created some PETA Sims, and I’m going to spend the next few hours slowly killing them.