Saturday, June 6, 2015

Hunting in Red Dead Redemption

Rockstar Games' Red Dead Redemption is often described as "Grand Theft Auto with cowboys", and attempts to provide gamers with an experience of life in the Old West that is unashamedly theatrical. An in-game toggle option turns all of your equipment into solid gold, and the word "pard'ner" is used liberally enough throughout the dialogue to sour the roof of the mouth; however, the game does not shy away from realistic depictions of violence.

Poaching is a performable action in Red Dead Redemption: the game takes place in a vast simulated tract of the American West, and multiple species of traditional "game" animals as well as Western icons like wild broncos, buffalo and rattlesnakes populate the wilderness. Animals may be killed with any weapon, with no in-game penalty or restrictions imposed on the quantity of animals hunted or the manner in which you hunt them. The game does award benefits for poaching, as the skins and meat of animals you kill may be sold at the general store in towns for cash. After being in this class and thinking about animals from a nonhumanist perspective for more than two months, I personally believe that recreational hunting has no place in a game that may potentially be played by children; however, it is important to remember that within the context of the time period when the narrative takes place, hunters and trappers had a unique societal role. They were often among the first white settlers expanding the western frontier, and subsisted by selling the furs of animals that they caught/killed in towns; that the protagonist of Red Dead Redemption may hunt or poach in the simulated environment of the game for an in-game currency reward closely mirrors this. However, from my own experience the activity serves no real purpose: the game rewards the completion of in-game story missions more than generously, and there is no great incentive to hunt or perform any other act of seemingly random violence. It seems as though the game gives you the option to hunt and kill animals simply to lend more authenticity to what the game designers perceived to be an ideal representation of life in the Old West

Poaching is in essence a recreational activity within the context of the game, and I feel as though recreational hunting in reality is ideologically very similar. Hunting wild animals in the 21st century no longer serves the purpose of subsistence, and none of the hunters I've personally spoken with give subsistence as a reason when asked why it is they hunt. In the case of my roommate, hunting is an activity that facilitates a temporary altering of perspective - a brief sensory and stimulatory return to a time when natural competition and a daily struggle for survival dictated the behavior and pastimes of human beings. In my own personal experience, recreational hunting fetishizes violence, and provides a (currently) legal and socially acceptable outlet for aggressive human impulses. After taking this class, unlearning my old mental structures and perspectives regarding animals, and objectively considering the issue of recreational hunting as presented in Red Dead Redemption, I am of the opinion that the killing of animals for any reason is morally equatable with the killing of a human being for any reason. Whether animals suffer or not, whether they are as intelligent as we are or not, whether or not they feel pain, it is obvious to the unbiased and unlearned observer that animals and humans behave with a free agency indicative of consciousness as we think of it from our human perspective. The motivations of the animal may be romanticized or reduced to biological statistics, and the same is true of human beings. Animals are alive, animals want to stay alive, and by virtue of that simple fact the taking of an animal's life is fundamentally immoral by HUMAN standards. However, human beings do not exist solely in the realm of values and ideas; we are physical beings subject to physical laws and indeed the whims of our own biology. People suffering from iron-deficiency anemia, for example, pose serious risks to their health by going vegetarian or vegan, and the lifestyle of subsistence farmers in parts of the world that lack the agricultural surplus we have here in America cannot be appraised by the same standards.

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