Should Google ban a dogfighting app?

A brutal game sparks outrage -- and shows the blurry line between entertainment and criminal reality

Topics: Android,

Should Google ban a dogfighting app?

A game app is, by virtue of its nature, a visit to the world of pretend. But if you can download an app to hunt a deer — or slay an enemy in battle — why recoil at one that simulates the world of dogfighting?

When the beta version of “Dog Wars” became available on Android earlier this month, it swiftly sparked outrage for its cruel premise: giving players the opportunity to “feed, water, train, and FIGHT your virtual dog against another player’s.” The app, by Kage Games, has attracted the attention of actress and animal rights advocate Alicia Silverstone, who wrote an open letter to Google CEO Larry Page stating that “I join PETA’s millions of members in imploring you to cancel this game immediately. If one dog dies as a result of this game, you will not forgive yourself.” And Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who served nearly two years in jail for his role in a dogfighting ring, continued his campaign against the practice by issuing a statement via the Humane Society: “I’ve come to learn the hard way that dog fighting 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.” The sentiment was echoed among gamers – commenters on Google’s Android forum were generally in consensus over its status as “most offensive game ever.”

It seemed for a brief time that the outcry over the vicious game might have had an effect – SF Weekly and other outlets reported Wednesday that the app was being pulled. But as of Thursday it remains available – its image of a dog with a blood-red-streaked face and its promise of racking up “street cred” or “police heat” defiantly still out there for the downloading.

It would be hard to argue that turning animal cruelty into entertainment is anything short of revolting. And the developers’ absurd argument, issued in a statement Monday, that that the app represents a “net benefit to dogs” because they promise to give a portion of the proceeds to animal rescue organizations, rings phenomenally hollow. It’s a safe bet that when your email is, you’re not trying to broadcast your respect for all living creatures to the world. “This is a satire about the ridiculousness of dogfighting and we believe in the power of a modern media tool to educate and raise awareness of the real horrors,” said the developers, which is flat-out pathetic from an app that promises a chat room to “talk fight or talk smack with other players” and teaches players to “train and feed your dog before you can fight,” and brags it’s “a game that will never be in the iPhone app store!”

But even douchebags can make somewhat legitimate points, and the folks at Kage are correct that “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.” And while their challenge to “go complain to someone who cares about Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Weed Farmer, Smoke a Bowl” and  “just go slingshot some virtual birds to kill some virtual pigs” is a rather simplistic way of putting it, they do raise a legitimate point about the nature of gaming – much of which equates killing with winning. “Dog Wars,” after all, doesn’t violate the Android terms of service. Why then, is an app about killing pigs a wildly successful phenomenon, while one about dogfighting is outrageous?

Judging from the response the app has generated, the reason is clear: There’s a difference between cartoony fantasy – which is why wasting zombies or zapping monsters never goes out of style – and something that resonates closely with a real criminal activity against defenseless living creatures. And there’s a huge difference between playing an antihero gangster and simply pretending to be an abuser. As Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society, explains, “Because ‘Dog Wars’ actually instructs players on how to condition a dog using methods that are standard in organized dog fighting, this game may be a virtual training ground for would-be dogfighters. Its timing and message are all wrong.” It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t violate any terms of service. It chafes against basic human nature. And when there are no real bad guys to fight, there is no imaginary glory to savor. There’s just the fantasy of dead dogs.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Rose Jay via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Labrador Retriever

    These guys are happy because their little brains literally can't grasp the concept of global warming.

    Hysteria via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    German Shepherd

    This momma is happy to bring her little guy into the world, because she doesn't know that one day they'll both be dead.

    Christian Mueller via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Golden Retriever

    I bet these guys wouldn't be having so much fun if they knew the sun was going to explode one day.

    WilleeCole Photography via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America


    This dude thinks he's tough, but only because nobody ever told him about ISIS.

    Soloviova Liudmyla via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America


    This little lady is dreaming about her next meal-- not Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

    Labrador Photo Video via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Yorkshire Terrier

    This trusting yorkie has never even heard the name "Bernie Madoff."

    Pavla via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America


    She is smiling so widely because she is too stupid to understand what the Holocaust was.

    Aneta Pics via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America


    Sure, frolic now, man. One day you're going to be euthanized and so is everyone you love.

    Dezi via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    French Bulldog

    He's on a casual afternoon stroll because he is unfamiliar with the concept of eternity.

    Jagodka via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America


    Wouldn't it be nice if we could all be this care-free? But we can't because we are basically all indirectly responsible for slavery.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>