Last week a local dentist found himself in the global spotlight for doing something unspeakable. He along with 2 local guides lured Cecil, a beloved African lion from his sanctuary and killed, skinned and beheaded him. Cecil was supposed to be protected as he was collared and was being tracked by researchers. The murder of this amazing animal is disgusting and his killers deserve whatever punishment that the justice system hands them.
After the story exploded all over the internet I made a joke on Twitter by posting a picture of the box art for Cabela’s Big Game Hunt and saying that this guy should stick to playing that game. It was a light-hearted jab that I didn’t give any thought to. But after I posted it I thought about it for awhile and realized that maybe there was more truth to that joke than I initially intended. Maybe video games do have some part to play in preventing this type of thing.
As much as I find what this man did to be revolting and inexcusable, I understand where that primal urge to hunt is coming from. Humans have been hunting and killing for thousands of years and those instincts are ingrained in our DNA. And it’s not just the instinct to hunt that is genetically passed down through the generations. We fear the dark because for thousands of years we slept in caves and huts and night is when the predators would come out. We fear those who look different than us because it symbolizes that they’re from a different tribe than us, and therefore present a danger. And we have the instinct to hunt because for most of human history it was what we needed to do to survive.
As much as humans may have evolved over the centuries, those parts of our ancient selves remain. And while most of us know that many of those instincts are no longer very necessary in modern day life, they still remain inside of us. And just maybe games can help us express some of those desires in a way that doesn’t harm any actual living things or damage the world around us.
Video games are great for escapism and transporting us to other worlds. But they are also a way of participating in activities that you would never do in real life. When I speed down the road at 100 mph and smash through a police barricade in Need For Speed I know that’s something that would be terrible if I attempted it in real life, but I still get a rush when I do it in the game. And when I pull off a heist in Grand Theft Auto 5, leaving a trail of carnage and innocent victims in my wake I feel a thrill that is exhilarating. These are things that I know are wrong and I’d be horrified if I saw them on the evening news but for some reason I have no problem acting on those impulses in those imaginary worlds.
People have debated for years about what playing those types of games says about a person and I’m sure that there are some interesting things to be learned from studying that, but the fact of the matter is I participated in those taboo activities and got that thrill and not a single person (or animal) was actually hurt. Whether you’re tearing somebody in half in Mortal Kombat or picking off enemies with a sniper rifle in Call of Duty, video games are a way to live out these (sometimes immoral) fantasies from the comfort of your couch while keeping your conscience clean.
I think there’s a lot to be said for venting or releasing your built up frustrations through a video game. It can be a therapeutic way of dealing with those emotions in a harmless way. I think if more people acted on those urges by picking up a controller, the world just might be a more peaceful place. Who knows? Maybe Cecil the Lion would still be with us if that dentist had just bought a PlayStation. He certainly would have saved himself about $50,000 and a hell of a lot of trouble.