PETA, Pirates, Pokémon, and You

Shiver me timbers, mates! Batten down the hatches, PETA’s off the starboard side! Hop on the ‘mature games having mature content’ bandwagon and join me, as we explore the big controversy behind Ubisoft’s latest announcement – the release of Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag.

Where there is news in the gaming industry, there is ultimately controversy. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has launched statements against Ubisoft, claiming that the in-game whaling is unacceptable. In a statement provided to Venturebeat, PETA stated:

“Whaling—that is, shooting whales with harpoons and leaving them to struggle for an hour or more before they die or are hacked apart while they are still alive—may seem like something out of the history books, but this bloody industry still goes on today in the face of international condemnation, and it’s disgraceful for any game to glorify it. PETA encourages video game companies to create games that celebrate animals—not games that promote hurting and killing them.”

In response, Ubisoft succinctly stated:  “History is our playground in Assassin’s Creed. Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag is a work of fiction that depicts the real events during the Golden Era of Pirates.”  They go on to mention, “we do not condone illegal whaling, just as we don’t condone a pirate lifestyle of poor hygiene, plundering, hijacking ships, and over the legal limit drunken debauchery.” This is probably the safest and most poignant way they could have replied. Frankly, I wouldn’t have blamed Ubisoft for refusing to respond in the first place. Those of us who pay for these games already understand Ubisoft is recreating history through fictional eyes in their Assassin’s Creed games, and Black Flag is no different.

Keep in mind, PETA also has a list of games on their website that they find acceptable – the newest installment of Assassin’s Creed not being one of them. In fact, there are several well-known games PETA is against, such as the Pokémon franchise, or even Super Mario’s Tanooki suit (introduced to us in Super Mario 3).  Though the Black Flag scandal may not be front and center, PETA has a gaming section on their website, and even their own unique games you can play. One such game (as linked above), is a disturbing game involving a Tanooki running around skinned, jumping after an evil Mario who’s carrying its fur atop his head and dripping blood everywhere he flies while you chase him down. Are you kidding me? This game is accessible to anyone, at any age, who may wander across the PETA website. In focusing their efforts on attacking animal cruelty in video games by generating violent video games, PETA is potentially ignoring the fact that they are posting things that would be harmful to children. Yet we take issue with a game that can only be purchased by someone over the age of 18, created with the intent of having various types of inappropriate behaviour part of a fictional storyline, depicting a not-so-acceptable time in our history. I think I’ll pass up on this particular Kool-Aid, thanks.

I don’t deny that there was a time when women were considered property, and if I was playing a game set during that point in history, I would expect that to be an element of the game. I enjoy historically accurate pieces because it reminds us how far we’ve come, and pushes us to make strides towards a better future – for those of us who pay attention in the first place. You wouldn’t edit out the offensive language in To Kill a Mocking Bird because the whole idea is to understand where we came from – and it reminds us that we can evolve past that point, and why it is important that we do. As offensive as I find even some of my older Bond novels when they treat women, homosexuals, or even people of different races and religions poorly, I understand that it was culturally acceptable at the time – and I can appreciate and enjoy the work for what it is. Black Flag is not for children (I will put money down that Black Flag will be rated M for Mature by the ESRB), and as an adult playing a game, it is a nice touch that they try to be as historically accurate and true to the culture during the time period you’re playing, even in a fictional story.

Let me make one thing clear: I’m not a fur-wearing, seal-clubbing, card-carrying member of the Guns Against Gophers society or anything even close to that. I stop my car if I see a squirrel scampering across the road in front of me, and I grew up in the country playing with snakes and crayfish, making sure to always put them back. I learned at a very young age to respect the Earth and everything in it. I’m the chick who gets all misty-eyed screaming, “Don’t go after the puppy – the puuuppy!” when you see a dog in danger in a movie, or hear about some of the horrible, real-world stories out there.  I also have two pets I love dearly and would move Heaven and Earth to protect, and I typically buy World Wildlife Fund gift bundles for my friends’ birthdays (which I would suggest you do because they are helpful and cute)! I’m not saying that I am a saint, but I have a lot of love for the environment and all its creatures –that includes human beings as well.

What bothers me is not that PETA is against this game, it’s that we are making waves over whales, when they have no problem with the fact that you are an assassin, a pirate, a drunk (and so on). Killing whales at a time when it was perfectly acceptable is the issue with a game like this, not the fact that if anyone acted like Kenway in real life they would end up in the slammer – and quick. When you look at it plainly, the Assassin’s Creed franchise is based on an entire ancestry dedicated to killing people. What makes this game a stretch to people that you would also hunt as one would hunt during that time? I think with a game like this, centered around trying to define yourself by a moral code in a world with loose morals, hunting will be the least of your problems. Resident Evil 4 even requires you to kill a whale with a harpoon – and guess what? Resident Evil 4 wasn’t set in the right era for that kind of behaviour, but this type of thing is not uncommon in a fantasy world, and people need to remember that.

You miss the point of the fantasy when you think people are playing this game because they want to actually go be assassins, or hunt giant whales like in Moby Dick. People can’t time travel yet, and even if we don’t agree with everything in a time period, hiding it leaves people uneducated and unaware of the reality. Mankind has made some huge mistakes, and done some very terrible things that we should not forget, lest we do it again. Do people still hurt animals and hunt them illegally? Of course they do, but the solution isn’t scaring people into behaving – it’s using tools like the International Whaling Commission (ICW), our schools, and even animal rights movements, to remind people that we can correct the mistakes of the past. PETA could make a huge difference without bludgeoning people to death and making them feel guilty they were ever born. If PETA is so upset about Black Flag, why not use this as a way to educate the masses instead of simply attacking the makers? When your words are loaded and aimed at people who are admired by many (like Ubisoft), you create a response from their fans ignoring your viewpoint. This is the wrong way to get your message across.

I understand this kind of game may be offensive to some, and it may turn out I’m actually put off by the whole whale hunting business, but I am willing to purchase the game and figure that out for myself. I buy these games knowing that I am doing things for the thrill and excitement of living as an assassin, because in reality I never would. In a world where everything has consequences, it’s nice to sit down at the end of the day and jump into a novel, movie, or game where you can be a completely different person, doing things you would never really do yourself.  It’s called escapism. From what I understand, it is also optional to hunt whales in the game anyway – and something that many may choose not to even bother with.

Whichever side of the argument you’re on, this is not an uncommon occurrence; people have major issues when video games release anything that may even closely resemble controversy. Remember the huge issue people made over the Mass Effect 3 and its “pornographic content”?  It was even on Fox News, and the thing that stuck out in my mind was that many people protesting had never even played the game – which just adds to the audacity of it all. I do not go into the local Love Shop and protest against people buying the merchandise because of its inappropriate nature. They know why they are in there, and they know what they’re buying isn’t something they would share with their family – but they are there for the fantasy of it nevertheless. In fact, you don’t have to dig very deep to discover there are some pretty disturbing videos out there. But label it a video game, and suddenly it’s evil, disgraceful, disgusting filth, and must be stopped at all costs.

If you’ve played through the content, and want to debate the context and appropriateness, fine. But for a game that has not even hit the shelves, with only a mention of including whale hunting, it’s a little ridiculous for those who are not going to bother playing it to outright condemn the game. We don’t know how the whale hunting is going to be portrayed, and it may be even more offensive than those opposed to it expect – but then again it may not. If you are taking a stance against games like Mass Effect 3 or Black Flag, but aren’t willing to play through the content you’re so against, your argument is invalid as you’re not even going to do the research to support your statements. I doubt PETA is going to change their mind on this, and they are more than welcome to feel how they feel, but so am I. I for one will be buying Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, living like the scumbag pirate I am not, and discussing the content with my friends over coffee in the real world when I’m done.

About This Post

March 12, 2013 - 7:07 am

Gaming, Opinion

  • Deaden Dawater

    Shiver me timbers, mates! Batten down the hatches, PETA’s off the starboard side!

    SIDE? All that Pirate talk and you go with SIDE? Turn in your eye patch, peg leg, and license to be scurvy!

    • Rachel McBurney

      Oh… Okay… *sniff* (BTW – I absolutely love that this is the problem you have with my article lol)