Stop Treating Violence Against Animals as a Game

Gamifying violence does more than disrespect victims. It conditions perpetrators—and the public—to see victims as unworthy of respect and compassion.

Perspective Policy Sport

Words by

The El Paso and San Antonio Zoos are currently offering visitors the opportunity to name a cockroach after an ex-lover and then watch the cockroach be eaten on Valentine’s Day. Participation in the San Antonio event, called “Cry Me a Cockroach,” is $5, and participation in the El Paso event, called “Quit Bugging Me!,” is donation-based. Joe Montisano, Director of the El Paso Zoo, will personally eat a cockroach for every $1,000 raised.

Safari Club International recently sold a “dream hunt” via auction. The winner will join Donald Trump, Jr., on a seven-day trip to Alaska to kill sea ducks and black-tailed deer. The bidding for this trip started at $10,000 and closed at $150,000. This auction also includes trips to Namibia and Zimbabwe to kill elephants, among other excursions. The sponsor of the auction justifies these trips by claiming that they support wildlife conservation and local economies.

A hunting group in Arizona annually organizes the Santa Slay Coyote Tournament. Participants compete to kill the most coyotes, using “coyote calls” to attract the animals. Winners receive cash or prizes, and there is a special award for “youth hunter.” Similar hunting “contests” occur in other states as well. In most cases, organizers justify these hunts by describing coyotes as vicious predators who pose a threat to small pets and children.

Florida annually organizes the Lionfish Challenge, a program that encourages spearing, netting, and eating lionfish (“killin’ and grillin’,” as one participating company advertises). The State of Florida hosts tournaments, recipe contests, and other “family-friendly” activities in which “lionfish kings and queens” are “crowned” for killing the most lionfish. Photos from the events commonly show families with small children beaming with pride while holding up dead lionfish.

These examples of normalized violence against animals illustrate a worrying trend. Humans are not only perpetrating violence against nonhumans but also gamifying this violence, by framing it as a contest, tournament, or fun family activity. This framing undermines the idea that the suffering and deaths of sentient creatures is morally significant. As a result, it makes future violence against vulnerable populations—both human and nonhuman—more likely.

Humans kill other animals. This is not news. We kill 100+ billion nonhuman animals per year via industrial agriculture and 1-3 trillion per year via industrial fishing. Industrial agriculture and fishing also contribute to climate change, killing additional billions—if not trillions—of nonhumans each year in fires, floods, and other such events. When nonhuman survivors then seek refuge or habitat in “our” communities, we call them “invaders” and frequently kill them.

Humans cause nonhuman animals to suffer and die much more than is necessary. A strictly plant-based food system would harm animals much less than our current animal-based food system does, through both kinder food production methods and partial mitigation of climate change. Further, preserving land for nonhuman habitats and sharing space with nonhumans in “human” communities would afford nonhumans the equitable treatment that they deserve.

Some humans enjoy killing other animals. This is also not news. Humans all over the world see hunting and fishing not only as necessary, but also as pleasant and relaxing. Many humans also enjoy forcing nonhumans to fight—with each other or other humans—to their deaths, in front of a human audience. The human spectators cheer on the violence and bet on the outcomes. In the human-nonhuman contests, the human almost always emerges unscathed.

One could argue that these “killing games” have a practical benefit. When humans believe that violence is necessary, we employ a variety of strategies to make it tolerable for perpetrators. We use technology to create physical distance from victims. We use objectifying language to create psychological distance from victims. We use divisions of labor to reduce a sense of individual responsibility for systemic suffering and death. We use payment and other benefits to incentivize participation. Perhaps gamification is simply another such strategy.

This justification for these “killing games” does not stand up to scrutiny. In many cases, humans are not participating in violence against nonhumans for the sake of a further practical benefit. Instead, humans are participating in this violence for its own sake. Far from considering violence as a necessary evil and gamification as a necessary incentive, many participants in violence against nonhumans do not require any justification or incentive at all.

Moreover, treating violence as a game is unacceptable whether or not it has a practical benefit. Even if we assume, simply for the sake of argument, that violent work is sometimes necessary, there should be limits on how this work is incentivized. Framing violence as a pleasant or relaxing activity undermines the idea that violence is a tragedy that should be avoided at all costs. Once we start seeing “necessary” evil as fun, we stop seeing it as evil.

The gamification of violence thus does more than disrespect victims. It conditions perpetrators—and the public—to see victims as unworthy of respect and compassion. As a result, it perpetuates unnecessary violence against human and nonhuman populations alike. The more we enjoy violence, the more violent we become—even when less violent solutions to our problems are available, and even when there are no problems to be solved at all.

All animals matter morally. All violence is a tragedy. If we keep treating the acts of harming and killing sentient beings as pleasant and even entertaining ways to spend leisure time, then we will further lose sight of what it means to be human.

Support Us

Independent Journalism Needs You

Donate » -opens in new tab. Donate via PayPal More options »