I received some very pleasant emails the last week or so congratulating me on my return to blogging after a self-imposed hiatus, and for the couple of people who said they like my “lighter writing” (that’s a direct quote by the way) I’m sorry to disappoint you, but this is going to be lacking in frivolity.
I was sitting at home nursing a sore ankle that I earned in a soccer collision this week, when a commercial came on for Cabela’s Big Game Hunter video game platform. Now I’ve played these games (or similar ones before) and before anyone calls me a hypocrite or a Scrooge, or whatever else gamers call people who pointedly disagree with something videogame-related, let me state that I appreciate that this is a game, and I have no fundamental opposition to this game’s existence. I don’t think first-person-shooter games make people psychotic or desensitized to violence. Please don’t call me a nerf-herder or something like that (how behind-the-times does that make me sound?)
Now, onto my point, or more accurately, points. Call me an irrepressible optimist if you will, but I tend to think that marketing has the ability to reinforce positive messages. Sadly in the commercial I saw, no positive messages were to be had. In this commercial, a taxidermy deer has been rigged to appear to be playing the game, and with each pull of the trigger it snickers gleefully at “killing” another deer. The deer shoots four or five I think. The acts are calculated and methodical, with nothing but a smug, ruthless efficiency being portrayed as the dominant (nay, only) emotions associated with it. Which I guess is fundamentally okay because it is just a game, or so the argument would be from gamers, advertisers, Activision, and likely Cabela’s. Again this is okay because I have the ability to delineate between reality and fantasy, as do most other hunters I believe. Based on the online reviews of the game though, it looks like a gaming public thinks that this is at least a modest portrayal of what hunting is actually all about, which is kind of frightening.
My first gripe (because let’s not mince words) is that for those not initiated in the tradition of hunting there may not be any realization that hunting is just not like that, period. But beyond that I made a few other observations that I thought I would lay out more as bullet points to prompt discussion than as arguments in general. The following items should probably be thought about as we think about digital re-creations of the hunting experience.
· Hunting involves really killing something, a fact that I bet the vast majority of participants in this game have no stomach, appreciation, or potentially the will for.
· The video game doesn’t show the work side of hunting (i.e. field-dressing, skinning, transporting game, etc), it just shows the killing and presumably, leaving the animals in the field.
· There actually are (and I would argue, always should be) a complex network of emotions that a hunter is forced to deal with when they succeed in taking an animal’s life. The callousness and nonchalance in the product marketing with regards to the simulated ‘deaths’ in the game is somewhat disconcerting to say the least.
· The pretend killing in this commercial is admittedly “messed up”, but no alternative interpretation of hunting is offered, leaving the public to potentially think that hunters take a “messed up” approach (i.e. remorseless) approach to the act of killing game animals. But then again I have an almost paranoid concern about hunter representation in the media, so maybe I’m over-reacting….I didn’t really like that sketch on the Muppet Show where the trigger-happy, red-neck hunter stereotypes chased an adorable rabbit around as the rabbit and his woodland friends sang Buffalo Springfield’s “Stop, Hey What’s That Sound” either. Maybe I don’t have any sense of humour? I thought I did.
· Cabela’s likely only endorsed this for market-share purposes. At least I hope they did; if not they have a heavily skewed view of the type of hunting their generally good corporate name is being attached to, an equally frightening proposition.
So there you have it. Go ahead, shout “Bah! Humbug!” at me if you will. Tell me I missed the point; call me a pedantic reactionary with no sense of humour. Do whatever you want, I guess. But maybe, just maybe, instead of buying a game console and this game, spend some money instead on taking a hunter safety class and buying a hunting license. And rather than sitting in a basement in front of a flat screen with a miniature assault rifle in your hands shooting at pixelated deer, invest your time by seeking out a mentor that will teach how to really hunt and how to actually conduct yourself when faced with even the imaginary prospect of pointing a firearm with deadly intent at a big-game animal. Because in the end, fresh air is better than recycled mid-winter household air, walking through a forest or field is much more enjoyable when done for real, and shooting a deer, grouse, bear, turkey, or whatever else you are out hunting is more rewarding when the actual legwork is put in.
That said, I’m still not hopeful that many will choose real hunting over videogames this Christmas. But for those of you that do, you’ve got a willing supporter in this crotchety old curmudgeon, and I hope your days afield are all as good as mine are.