October 25, 2011

Hunting, Fishing Video Games Threaten the Real Thing

Indoor pseudo-birding on a computer screen is bad enough. Maybe it is not a threat to real birding.

On the other hand, hunting and fishing video games like "The Strike" and "The Hunt" from Bass Pro Shops could threaten real hunting and fishing while pretending to promote them. In the fishing game,
The player starts out as a rookie looking to climb the ranks against competitive pros, collecting sponsors, boats and prize money that players can use to upgrade their equipment as they progress. Each tournament features a Sports Ticker to keep you updated on how the competition is doing. [from a news release]
See anything in there about species knowledge, about conservation, about habitat, about ethics? No, me neither. It's all about things.

And as a Nintendo Wii "hunter," 
The player also has to stay alert for one-of-kind Legendary animals as well as Dangerous predators hunting you.  Each level also allows the player to hunt a real life record-setting King of Bucks™.

The new Career Mode offers more realistic hunting challenges set in a Last Man Standing tournament structure.  
Real hunting is not a "tournament."  And the "King of Bucks" is not something you find in real life.

When you go hunting and you kill a rabbit, for example, you have ended the life of a living creature with whom you share the earth.

Its heart stops pumping, its brain stops buzzing, its essence goes to wherever a rabbit's  essence goes.  It was not a creation of pixels and electrons—it was alive the same as you are.

So eat it with respect and understanding.

Why would a game like The Hunt, to pick that one, threaten hunting?

• If it were realistic, it would show you that there are more places with no deer than with trophy bucks. But to keep game play moving, you have to find a pixel-deer quickly. Real hunters might walk or watch or sit in a stand all day and see nothing. Can't have that!

Of course, when you "see nothing," there is a lot to see. Real birds, for example. All the processes of nature—a coyote hunting mice while you watch him through binoculars. 

Consequently, someone who plays the game and then goes hunting—unless it is on a well-stocked commercial game farm—will probably feel cheated. How come they have to wait for hours for the action to start???

They will end up more interested in the video version of hunting than in real hunting—until another game comes out that they like better.

• There is no emotional investment in place. If I hunt an area for deer, I want to see it protected. I don't want to come back next year and find an oil well or an illegal off-road motorcycle track or anything else incompatible with the deer's existence as a species. Pixel-hunters probably could not tell you plants deer eat in their area.

•  They may end up confusing living, sentient animals with "targets." Bang! And your score goes up. They will never have to confront their direct, personal, bloody-handed involvement in processes of life and death. Instead, they just see what is on the screen.

They will never have to think things through: Should I take that shot? If I miss, will the bullet sail off toward the ranch house? If I kill an elk in this canyon, how will get I get it out?

• They will not understand that the work only starts when the animal is down. Field-dressing, transporting, butchering, cooking, and eating—those are all part of the hunting experience too.

• They will not be participating in the inevitable politics around hunting and fishing: habitat protection, gun rights, public input on wildlife management—all vital.

• Their hearts may race when the play the game, but they will never experience love—love of a place, love of wild animals (yes, even though we kill some of them), love just being "out there."

Put down the Wii controller, pick up a real fishing rod or gun. And if it's off-season, the membership fees at a lot of shooting ranges (around here, at least) are less than the cost of the game.


Phillip said...

This is a conversation that's popped up around here a few times, especially this time of year as the game-makers are looking for folks to review their products.

I disagree that the video games are any kind of real threat... at least not any more than the existence of video games already is (a distraction to keep young folks indoors and promote the short-attention span epidemic). I understand your points, of course, because the video games are not realistic. But they're not really supposed to be.

There have been a couple of attempts to make realistic hunting games, by the way. TheHunter.Com is an interesting, immersive experience. But the problem with "real" hunting in video games is that it moves far too slowly. Slow doesn't generally sell games. So the pretense of realism is generaly dispensed with, and replaced with fast action and competitive features.

The idea that this false representation of the hunt somehow sullies the sport, or teaches the wrong message is flawed in the same way that the idea that video wargames make killing and death acceptable recreation. Most normal gamers are perfectly capable of separating game play from real life.

Do hunting games enhance recruitment of new hunters? I doubt it seriously. But maybe they get some people thinking about it.

Do they enhance the image of the hunter? Probably not, although I don't think they do the damage that some people would claim. I doubt that any rational person believes these games are intended as any kind of real representation of hunters or hunting.

Overall, I think these games pretty much a wash when it comes to the future of hunting or fishing.

Chas S. Clifton said...

I would assume that Bass Pro Shops see these game as a recruitment tool, thus building their customer base.

I agree with you that the games present an unrealistic--but I would say also an emotionally stunted--picture of hunting and fishing, and thus would not really do the job.

Holly Heyser said...

First, this is an awesome opportunity to say how much I HATED the Cabela's game when I got a chance to see it earlier this year at a friend's house.

Everything about hunting that's out in the world makes an impression on non-hunters, even video games. All that game needed was a few sixpacks of cheap beer and the ability for the player to chuck the cans out the window of his truck to play into stereotypes about gun-happy nutballs a little better.

Phillip, while I agree in principle that these games might not be the tipping factor for someone deciding whether to hunt, I can tell you this true story: One of my students, when he found out about my life outside of school, told me that his dad was an avid duck hunter. I asked if he tried, it, and he said, almost exactly, "Yes, but it was too slow. I like video games better." I will concede, however, that he was referring to shooting games in general, not a hunting video game.

But Chas, I agree with every single criticism you leveled against these games. It's one of the reasons I reach out to my students who express curiosity about hunting: I want to show them the rich layers of the real world. And I'm gratified to see how many urban kids - utterly removed from the cycle of life - are interested in learning more about it.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

A thought-provoking post, Chas, with thought-provoking comments. Thanks.

Of late, I've been too insanely busy to make my usual rounds to favorite blogs...