Google’s Dogfight

National Geographic

I (Storm) love Google’s products. I’ve carried an Android phone for years, I use their services almost constantly, and I’m also a shareholder (albeit a minuscule one).

I’m also a huge believer in free speech, no matter how repugnant, and that the open exchange of ideas among informed, thoughtful people creates a stronger society. So I thought long and hard before signing a petition asking Google to pull a dogfighting app from the Android Market. After doing so, I doubled down on my stance by tweeting about it.

I should have expected a lot of feedback, but was caught by surprise by the amount of discussion it fostered. Almost all of it was respectful and well-thought out, whether they were in agreement or disagreement with the petition and/or my positions. In the course of the discussion I found that my mind was changed on some points, and I even disagreed with some arguments made by people who agreed with my position. But I stand by my belief that Google should remove the app from the Android Market.

One thing that no one disagreed with was that real dogfighting is cruel and barbaric (and illegal in all 50 states). This includes the app developers, who state that they are “dog lovers” and that “a portion of the proceeds go to animal rescue organizations”. In fact, more of the app’s descriptive text is devoted to justifying its continued appearance in the Market than on the game itself. This includes a claim that the game is “a satire about the ridiculousness of dogfighting”, and that the game ultimately does a valuable service to both canine and humankind. But all of the layers of doggy dip don’t disguise the disgusting truth: the game makers collect money by selling an app that glorifies and glamorizes animal cruelty.

I believe that whereas most sane people agree that indiscriminately killing people or treating them cruelly is morally wrong, animals are often not afforded the same level of consideration. Because of this, and because they can not speak out for themselves, I believe that the likelihood of people committing acts of violence or cruelty against animals is much higher, and that long exposure to a dogfighting app is more likely to result in harm to animals (especially by children, whose moral state is more likely to be maleable). No, I don’t have scientific evidence to back up all of the arguments in that position. But I’m not seeking a law against the game (which I believe should require firm evidence); I want to deny it the respectability and perceived approval that comes with its availability in the Android Market. Yes, by my reasoning it’s possible that one day I could find myself “out-voted” on the other end of a similar moral dilemma. Not a problem: I’ll fight for my point of view when it comes time. And who knows? Maybe in the future I’ll be morally bankrupt, and will deserve a good spankin’.

I’m also satisfied that this is not a free speech issue. Aside from the fact that the government isn’t involved, removing an app from the Android Market is not tantamount to “censorship” or a “ban” from the platform: the developers will still be free to make money with their Android app that glamorizes violence against dogs. One of the reasons I chose Android over competing platforms is that there are no restrictions on what you can or can’t put on your phone. Taking the app from the Market might mean it will require additional effort to download it, but that’s manageable by your average dogfighting enthusiast / 11-year-old who’s looking for an app with gameplay as gripping as Farmville’s (if many of its reviews are to be believed).

As the app vendor helpfully pointed out to me on Twitter, I am primarily making a moral argument. Upon seeing my tweets regarding their app, the anonymous developers responded that they were “Glad to hear you’ve annointed yourself the arbiter of ‘common decency’ on behalf of the universe! Our savior is here!” Their response may have been facetious, but I thanked them for recognizing my moral supremacy all the same. Because although I don’t believe in following rules dogmatically, I do believe that morals matter. Am I the Arbiter of Common Decency On Behalf of the Universe? Unlikely. I am, after all, in a band whose songs include a song about a guy relieving himself, and (FULL DISCLOSURE) another about a granny who cooks her pooch for Christmas dinner. But I do believe that if many more people hear about the petition, and an overwhelming majority agree with its position, there will be a strong moral case for Google to take the app out of the Market. So please look into it, think it through for yourself, and if you find you believe as I do, please consider signing the petition. If you don’t agree with me, that’s cool, too. Moral cases should not be easily approved, so feel free to tell me why you disagree; just keep it respectful (and be careful: I have dog on my side!) And if it turns out I’m in the tiny minority of opinion, then so be it: I’m the asshole.

But I think if anyone’s image will be tarnished (the app maker’s isn’t in the running, as they started out as a bottom-feeder), it will be Google’s. While I understand they believe the proper position is to remain neutral regarding the content of Market apps (apart from a short list of policies), I don’t imagine they want to be thought of as “Google: the company that tacitly endorses dogfighting”. As a fan and shareholder, I certainly don’t want to see that happen.

To end on a positive note, aside from reading about and possibly signing the petition, please consider visiting ASPCA’s Dog Fighting page to learn more about what’s being done to root out the practise, and Best Friends Animal Society, an amazing facility (open for visits and adoptions!) that’s home to some of the Michael Vick dogs. And if you’re moved by what you learn and are able to, please consider making a donation to one of them, or to your local animal services organization.

Thank you,

Greg “Storm” DiCostanzo


  1. Posted August 31, 2011 at 4:54 am | Permalink

    I don’t think I can call for a ban unless I’ve seen the game in question. If it’s ridiculous and OTT, then I believe the satire works. If it’s not, then I could sign it.

    I don’t own an android phone though, so I have no idea.

  2. Posted August 31, 2011 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I hear where you’re coming from, Storm. And I find myself irritated every time ‘the Internet’ responds to something like this by shrieking about censorship and freedom of speech as if any form of regulation is a Bad Thing(TM). It’s really not.

    There’s a reason why hardcore pornography isn’t stocked next to the children’s comics. There’s a reason why movies and video games carry age certifications and content warnings. And there’s a reason why moderated forums are frequently more pleasant places to hang out and engage in debates than their unmoderated kin. None of this is censorship. None of it curtails freedom of speech. All of it helps to pitch things at the appropriate audience.

    The internet, and app stores, don’t have this kind of age-based regulation, so there’s nothing to guide people who want to know whether this dog-fighting game is suitable for their children / husband / own entertainment. Which does lead me to wonder whether this petition, and indeed Storm’s objection, would still exist if the game were certified as unsuitable for under-18s, or under-15s, or whatever.

    Regardless of whether you agree that this is the place to draw the line, I think that a line does need to be drawn somewhere, and it’s only by having rational debate without resorting to name-calling that we’ll manage to agree on where that is. One argument I particularly dislike is the old, ‘If it bothers you, don’t watch / download it.’ Which is fine when you’re talking about something relatively harmless like the X Factor, but there must come a point where just ‘not watching’ isn’t enough and greater protest is needed. Is ‘not watching’ a sufficient way to register disapproval of a live, televised disembowelling?

  3. bm0nies
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    I am torn on this topic frequently and I, like you, prefer Google/Android products because I’m not limited to what I can and can’t do.

    I think the idea of a dog fighting app is morally reprehensible. I hate it. I’m disgusted by any person that would use it.

    I hate the idea of Google telling me I can’t have it, if I wanted it. This alone had me against the petition. But the great thing about Google, I do not have to go through their marketplace for my apps. I can get them anywhere.

    As long as Google has a clearly defined policy as to why an app is denied from the marketplace, it should go. Google’s policy on violence and bullying: “Depictions of gratuitous violence are not allowed.”

    I don’t know about everyone, but I’m pretty sure dog fighting is the definition of gratuitous violence. After your initial tweet got me to review and reflect upon it, I am going to sign the petition after all.

    Thank you for respectfully bringing this to our attention with well thought out reasoning.

  4. Kevin Tibbs
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    I think the thing that bothers me the most about petitions to remove item X from venue Y is the underlying assumptions regarding everyone else in the world.

    There’s an inherent double standard at work here: People overwhelmingly agree murder is bad, so it’s fine to simulate it. People (within the reach of Storm’s Twitter feed) overwhelmingly agree that dog fighting is bad, but they cannot be trusted with something believed to be potentially corrupting.


    I myself have never encountered and examined an offensive idea (be it racism, sexism, homophobia, animal cruelty, or anything else) and then left being a worse person. Examining and understanding always left me improved. More understanding, more patient, and more loving, albeit usually sad and heart broken.

    It is my opinion that the app should stay. It is only by collectively facing, learning and rejecting these aspects of society that we remove them. Moral problems don’t often go away due to lack of attention.

    And To Claire, who says, “The internet, and app stores, don’t have this kind of age-based regulation, so there’s nothing to guide people who want to know whether this dog-fighting game is suitable for their children / husband / own entertainment,” I direct her to the following screenshot from my android phone.

  5. Posted August 31, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    @Kevin Tibbs: Thank you, I was not aware of that, despite owning an Android phone. You learn something new every day.

    How are the maturity levels decided, though? Is it a tag decided by the manufacturer, or by Google? And to what extent is it policeable? Presumably there’s nothing stopping a tech-savvy ten-year-old accessing high maturity games on his phone?

    I note, also, that the dog-fighting game is indeed listed as a ‘high maturity’ game. I think this does alter things somewhat. I mean, I can’t understand why anyone would want to watch the Saw franchise, but since the certification means only grown-ups are able to, then if they really want to watch it why shouldn’t they?

    As I said before, I’m a fan of regulation, not censorship. I’m not convinced a dog-fighting game is necessarily any worse than, say, Grand Theft Auto, but I do believe such games should only be played by those old enough to take responsibility for their gaming. And I do believe a line has to be drawn somewhere, though I don’t know precisely where that line may be. Google’s policies are somewhat vague, in that they exclude ‘gratuitous violence’ but fail to specify why dogfighting or Street Fighter don’t count as such.

    Hey, at least by opening this whole can of worms we’re no longer guilty of cruelty to worms by keeping them canned.

  6. Chad
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    My hesitation regarding the petition is not about being unsure if this app in question should be allowed to exist or not, but about inadvertently helping the developer by increasing the app’s notoriety. I would be very curious to see what kind of numbers this app was posting before the pan-internet/pan-media outrage became widespread. Did calling attention to it make enough people curious to try it?

    Really, what this all comes down to is a matter of taste. Don’t get me wrong– I am in no way defending a dogfighting sim, and I do personally find it incredibly distasteful. That said though, it’s certainly not the developer’s fault that an unnerving number of people found this app to be within their tolerance level and availed themselves of it at all. It IS the developer’s fault, though, for catering to this baseness and profiting from it. And I do NOT buy the argument that it was intended to be satire. It was intended to shock and horrify some, and to delight a (lamentably) large population of mouth-breathers, all in the interest of making a pile of cash. I don’t condemn the fact that the app was made at all, and I dont’ begrudge the developers for profiting from it, but I DO find it deplorable that so many people out there are into it that they can succeed.

    Should it be removed from Google’s app store? Yeah, I’d like to live in a world where a dogfighting sim is not on it, but I do have reservations about giving the app and its developers any more free publicity than is necessary. The lowest common denominator will always be out there, but if they were unaware that such an app existed, they wouldn’t be downloading it. So, my question is this: will calling attention to this app and potentially boosting its word-of-mouth value a worthwhile tradeoff for increasing awareness of real-world dogfighting? I haven’t quite decided.

    RE: the “slippery slope” argument and impressionable young minds, I’m sticking with my gut reaction about violence on TV and it’s affect on kids: parents need to be REALLY dilligent about controlling what their kids are exposed to. It’s a tough gig, but it’s a parent’s job. Yes, this app could be very detrimental to an 11 year old kid, but what the heck is an 11 year old doing with a smartphone?

    On a final, slightly facetious note: how is this app that much different from Pokemon? A little more blood, and it’s essentially the same thing, isn’t it?

  7. Tonya R
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for posting this Longer Thought on the subject. The topic has been rattling around in my brain since your first tweet on the subject.

    I can see both sides of the argument. Yes, anything that advocates violence (apps, movies, etc.) are reprehensible in the eyes of many, but it’s also true that folks have a right to create whatever they wish.

    I guess the side I come down on is this: if we were talking about an app called “spouse fight” in which players could pit couples against each other in knock-down, drag-out violent domestic abuse, I wonder how many of the “pro-dogfighting-app” folks would gladly sign a petition against it. I wonder if the “spouse fight” developers could so easily defend themselves by saying that it’s all in jest and meant to raise awareness about domestic violence. Further, would Google even consider listing it in their app store?
    What if we were discussing an app called “child abuse” in which players could act out all sorts of viciousness against children – beatings, torture, rape, murder – all under the guise of “parodying” these actions and “raising awareness”? Would there even be a question of whether Google should make it readily available to consumers?

    One might argue that these are entirely different, completely ludicrous comparisons. However, I think the only real difference is that dogs can’t advocate for themselves, ever. They can’t escape their abusers and tell the police or a safe adult what’s being done to them. They can’t call a hotline and ask for help.

    I think there is a real cause for concern here, and I applaud your bringing it to our attention so that we can have a thoughtful discourse on the subject.

  8. Posted August 31, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    I probably should have publicized this post *after* running my daily errands, but here we go:

    @DrugCrazed I see your point about not judging without playing. If I could have examined the app without giving them money, I would have. But from their screen shots and description of the game itself, it is clear that they’re not selling it for its “satirical” value. As someone who writes satire for a living, I fail to see how a passel of activities such as pumping dogs full of steroids or poking sticks at them amounts to satire. But your point is taken.

    @Claire / @bm0nies / @Kevin Tibbs Agreed that it’s a question of where the lines should be drawn. In my judgement as laid out in my original screed, the app should not be given an “official” platform by Google at all. At the risk of sounding flip and crude, they don’t put dildos on the shelves of grocery stores, not even in a separate. You could make a good argument that the Android Market more like a bookstore than a grocery store, but even in that case the barriers Google has in place to segregate that which is deemed “morally offensive” is lower than a bookstore that has a supervised back room for adult items. That said, I totally respect the opinion of anyone who disagrees; it’s a judgement call as to how easy access should be.

    @Chad I weighed heavily the effects of bringing this issue out and potentially drawing more attention to the app, but decided that the good of bringing light to the larger issue (real-life dog fighting) was worth the risk. For that reason I engaged with the app maker as little as possible, and took great pains to never mention the app by name. Of course many people will look it up, and if the circle of attention widens it could mean more people will buy their game. But I believe the good will outweigh the bad.

    Regarding children and exposure to violence, ten years ago I would have agreed with you 100%: it’s the parent’s job to teach, guide and monitor their children. I don’t have kids myself, but have tons of friends who do, and even from that distance it’s easy to see that the pervasiveness of media is a challenge for even the most diligent parents. Again, I don’t believe we should keep children in cocoons, and that violent games can be used as “teachable moments”, but that it’s a question of where you place the barriers. And once again I reiterate that removing the app from the Android Market does not mean that people can not install it on their phones.

    While I did indirectly address why I believe the app is in a separate class from games like Mortal Kombat (sane people know that indiscriminately killing or harming people is wrong), I didn’t address Pokemon. So now I will, and it’s another judgement call.

    Pokemon is clearly a fantasy setting in which the fighting creatures are anthropomorphized, and are therefore not really animals. The app in question uses realistic images of dogs and, as presented by the developer, models their real life behavior. I believe that’s an important distinction, but respect the opinion of those who disagree, as I don’t believe that the science is conclusive.

    @Tonya R I think you’re spot on in pointing out that dogs (and other animals) can’t advocate for themselves, and that it’s relevant to this discussion. Thanks for bringing it up.


  9. Kevin Tibbs
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Storm, it’s true that usually dildos aren’t sold in grocery stores, but (and I don’t want to skew this conversation to be too meta) what would be the harm if they were?

    The concept underlying all of this is that there are some ideas that are so corrosive and debasing that mere exposure is sufficient to warp the minds of the vulnerable… And that, frankly, is bunk. Well intentioned bunk, certainly, but without much of a scientific basis on which to stand. So far, the Big Three corruptors of youth (sexually explicit material, violent material, and the three “gateway” drugs) have yet to scientifically reveal themselves to be the great destroyers of civilized society that we were assured that they were.

    We should not see the sword of Damocles everywhere.

  10. Posted August 31, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    @Kevin Tibbs Yeah, a little bit meta. But constructive all the same…


    In my estimation there wouldn’t be any harm to selling dildos at grocery stores, but there are a large number of people who would disagree with you and I. I brought it up as an example of an entity (grocery store) drawing a line about what merchandise they carry. Might some carry “back massagers” that could be used the same way? Yes. But by calling them “back massagers” they’re rendered socially acceptable for that venue. In this scenario I would argue that Pokemon are back massagers to dogfighting’s dildo (never imagined I’d write *that* sentence!)

    >mere exposure is sufficient to warp the minds of the vulnerable

    I did not make that argument. I argued that *long* exposure to ideas can have an influence, and I stand by it. It’s one of the key principles behind advertising, an industry that processes hundreds of billions of dollars every year because it works (political ads and propaganda also run on the same engine). Showing someone a toothpaste commercial does not mean they will instantly run out to buy that brand of toothpaste. But those who sell advertising can tell you, often to a staggeringly accurate degree, how many people per thousand are likely to act based on being influenced by that ad.

    >We should not see the sword of Damocles everywhere.

    I don’t believe I’ve been alarmist, and this is not the beginning of a crusade of mine to censor the internet, to regulate violent/sexual/drug content, or even to disallow this app from being placed on someone’s phone.

    My focus has been and remains narrow: I believe that a particular app should be removed from the Android Market to deny it respectability. Google itself disallows a range of content from the Market, some of which is perfectly legal and similarly lacking in scientific evidence. They have made a series of moral (and business) judgments about acceptable content. I believe that the app in question should be judged as one not suitable for the Market. Others may disagree with my judgement, which I respect, but I stand by my arguments as solid and intellectually honest.

    Yes, others could use my same arguments to rail wholesale against sex, drugs, and violence, and I would join you in calling them out as Chicken Little. As I said in the original essay, moral cases should not be easily approved. But I don’t believe they should be dismissed out of hand, either.



    *edited to replace <> brackets with [ ] brackets, as the originals were scanned by WordPress as code.

  11. Posted September 1, 2011 at 4:14 am | Permalink

    There’s another way in which Pokemon is different, aside from the clear fantasy setting. It’s in the attitudes it encourages.

    Throughout any given Pokemon game the player is encouraged to think of their Pokemon as their friends, and to treat them accordingly. There are ways to check how much your Pokemon likes you, there are certain Pokemon that only evolve when their Friendship stat is maxed out, and the main rival in the game is always someone who regards Pokemon as all about the power and is taught the error of their ways by the end of the game.

    Add to that the fact that Pokemon don’t fight to the death, only to ‘fainting’, and since certain tasks can be performed by fainted Pokemon it’s not clear they’ve even lost consciousness, they’re merely unable or unwilling to continue battling, and there’s quite a difference between this and a dogfighting game.

    Far more interesting is to compare dogfighting games with the likes of Grand Theft Auto, where there’s no fantasy element and the player is positively encouraged to mow down pedestrians and the like…

  12. Robin (the Mini-Minion)
    Posted September 1, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    I have to agree with Claire (and Storm) on the distinction between regulation and censorship. There is a big difference between arguing that this app shouldn’t be sold in the official Android app store and trying to prohibit its existence altogether.

    The thing that irritates me whenever the issue of free speech / free expression comes up is that the people defending their own actions with that argument rarely recognize that their opposition is also exercising the same rights. The dog-fighting app developers gave a great example of this behavior in their Twitter reply. They have the right to say whatever they want, yes, but other people have a right to be offended by it and express that, as well.

    I’d like to give a longer, more thoughtful answer, but I should really get back to work. If I have any burning insights, I’ll share them later.

  13. Posted October 28, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    I signed. Thanks for the heads-up. I’m also a Google shareholder. Is there ANY corporation that isn’t somehow involved in something evil??

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