April 25, 2011 at 4:22 PM ET
By Helen A.S. Popkin
"Raise your Dog to Beat the Best!" reads the Android App Market description for "Dog Wars," by Kage Games. "A GAME THAT WILL NEVER BE IN THE iPHONE APP STORE!!!"
If animal welfare advocates have their say, "Dog Wars" won't stay in the Android Market, either. The ASPCA, Best Friends Animal Society and the Humane Society of the United States have all issued statements condeming the game. Even Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick — who served 21 months in jail for operating a dog fighting ring in which dogs fought to the death, were hung and killed by repeated slamming into the ground — released a public statement against the free app, currently in beta testing.
The game, in which a player "feeds, waters, trains and fights the virtual dog for virtual money," is too close to the inhumane blood sport, protesters contend, and encourage animal lovers to sign a petition to have the game removed and complain directly to Google, which owns the Android Market.
"It is clear to me that the people at Google/Android /Kage Games think dog fighting is a joke and that perpetuating the myth that pit bulls are inherently aggressive has no repercussions," writes Sloane Quealy-Miner in a call to arms on Breed Specific Legislation News, a pit bull advocacy blog.
Call to Action: Contact the Android market team here and email firstname.lastname@example.org to demand this disgusting application be banned from the Android Market.
REPEATEDLY EMAIL until they take this application off the market.
A petition inspired by the BSL News post was launched at Change.org, the same open petition website on which in March more than 150,000 people signed a successful petition demanding Apple dump a so-called "gay cure" app from its App Store.
Kage Games seems ready for the complaints and it seems the developer is already deluged. This defense/justification is offered on its Android Market page:
Remember this is a Beta release...
If you get a bug, please send us the report or email us.
If you have a bug up your b*tt about the game concept, remember:
1. It is just A VIDEO GAME
2. Perhaps one day we will make gerbil wars or beta fish wars for people who can't understand fantasy role play games
3. Just because something is illegal in real life in certain countries, does not mean it is illegal to make a song, movie, or video game about it (looking at you XDA Developer Forums... deleting our beta testing thread and banning our account?!)
4. Just go slingshot some virtual birds to kill some virtual pigs.
5. Go complain to someone who cares about Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Weed Farmer, Smoke a Bowl (these two are listed in the top 15 of casual games on Android Market) and maybe even Sierra's Leisure Suit Larry from 1987.
Let's Get it On!
One could make the argument that "Dog Wars" violates the Google market term for, "Violence and Bullying: Depictions of gratuitous violence are not allowed. Applications should not contain materials that threaten, harass or bully other users." Though given the open discription, it could be argued either way. (Google has not yet answered our request for comment.)
"Anything that in any way appears to promote or condone the serious, violent crime of dog fighting is cause for concern," said Dr. Randall Lockwood, Senior Vice President of ASPCA Forensic Sciences and Anti-Cruelty Projects said in the ASPCA statement. "This 'game' comes at a time when public outrage and law enforcement concern about dog fighting is at an all-time high, and the public should make this outrage known to those who promote it."
Regarding Kage Game's all-capped boast, "A GAME THAT WILL NEVER BE IN THE iPHONE APP STORE!!!" Apple's App Store restrictions are notoriously more strict and arbitrary. Notably, "Baby Shaker," an app in which an image of a crying baby is shaken until it dies, was removed after complaints in 2009.
Google, meanwhile, has an opposite reputation when it comes to content, permitting "adult" applications even when anti-porn groups protest.
A sex-positive permissiveness may seem to some more reasonable than allowing the virtual abuse of dogs who, unlike consenting adults, have no agency in the real world.
"While most fantasy role-playing games are based on cartoon worlds and an unrealistic premise, like 'Grand Theft Auto,' the world of dog fighting is neither outlandish nor unrealistic," Francis Battista writes on the Best Friends Animal Society blog. "Dog fighting is real. Dogs die and suffer every day, and the culture of dog fighting drives shelter populations of backyard-bred pits in cities across the country, leading to the killing of hundreds of thousands of pit bull terriers and their mixes every year."
Michael Vick and the Humane Society of the United States released a joint statement asking Google to remove "Dog Wars" from the Android Market:
The following is a statement from Michael Vick regarding the Android-compatible application "Dog Wars":
"I’ve come to learn the hard way that dogfighting is a dead-end street. Now, I am on the right side of this issue, and I think it’s important to send the smart message to kids, and not glorify this form of animal cruelty, even in an Android app."
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS, writes extensively on dogfighting in his new book, "The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them," and discusses his work now with Michael Vick to reach kids in at-risk communities and to steer them away from dogfighting.
Pacelle added the following:
"Android should drop ‘Dog Wars’ from its online market and join the national movement to save dogs from this violent practice. Because “Dog Wars” actually instructs players on how to condition a dog using methods that are standard in organized dogfighting, this game may be a virtual training ground for would-be dogfighters. Its timing and message are all wrong."
Further, facts animal protection groups such as the Humane Society and the ASPCA make a good case against the gamification of cruelty:
As with any other illegal underground activity, it is impossible to determine how many people may be involved in dog fighting. Estimates based on fight reports in underground dog fighting publications, and on animals entering shelters bearing evidence of fighting, suggest that the number of people involved in dog fighting in the U.S. is in the tens of thousands.
While organized dog fighting activity seemed to decline in the 1990s, many law enforcement and animal control officials feel that it has rebounded in recent years. Street fighting has reportedly continued to grow as a significant component of urban crime. The Internet has also made it easier for dogfighters to rapidly exchange information about animals and fights.
Whether Google relents and drops "Dog Wars" from the Android Market is not a matter of free speech, a term bound to be thrown about erroneously in this debate. Google is a business, not the government, and the 1st Ammendment doesn't apply. Businesses tend to bend to the will of the customer majority — that's just smart capitalism. Whether Google adopts a "no censorship" stance, goes with the majority customer morality, or some other stand we're not privy too, we'll just have to wait and see.
Hat tip to Aliana Messinger and Ahimsa Dog Training in Seattle, Vanessa Black, and Michael Preston for the background info.
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