By James Pearson and Raphael Rashid
Picture the scene: a frightened, lonely rabbit is unwittingly pushed into a large, black, rectangular opening, crammed ear-to-ear with other confused-looking animals; crushed together like terminally ill battery hens or calves, separated from their mothers. Scared and alone, the doe-eyed bunny finds momentary peace when reunited with its family yet, moments later, is mercilessly banished into an existential void, merely for attempting to seek solidarity with its nearby peers.
The last thing the petrified bunny sees is not
his family, his loved ones or, indeed, a cartoon carrot. His last sight, etched onto his very conscience like a metaphysical kimchi stain, is the indiscriminate thumb of a sweaty commuter. Worse still, our bunny protagonist might survive this messy gauntlet only to be suddenly destroyed by an indiscriminate and perpendicular cartoon suicide bomb. With a face. Like rabbits caught in the headlights, or thumbprints, they have no choice but to accept their fate, with little time to reflect on life, death and morality.
Welcome to the cruel and bitterly violent world of “Anipang.” That’s according to CARE (Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth), a Korean animal rights organization who this week implied Anipang, South Korea’s most popular smartphone game, simulated the abuse of animals.
But despite CARE’s claims, Anipang is in fact a fairly harmless and annoyingly addictive knock-off of “Bejeweled:” a sort of reverse-Tetris where the object of the game is to group together similar shapes (in this case cute little animal faces) into combos that disappear before a time limit is reached. The actual mechanics of the game are almost less violent than a family game of Scrabble. Almost.
Spreading via popular Korean messaging service KakaoTalk like some sort of entertaining strain of the bird flu virus, Anipang invites come thick and fast; almost as frequent as the invites for KakaoStory, Kakao’s very own smartphone-only Facebook clone. To date, Anipang has clocked over 10 million downloads from Google’s app store, making it the most popular free smartphone app in Korea and earning it the unofficial title of the “People’s Game” ― North Korea, however, has had no official role in the game’s development.
But for CARE, Anipang’s popularity fails to excuse what it argues is an encouraging simulation of animal cruelty. Picket signs made by CARE, with the words “Why does it have to be Anipang?” and “When you tap the screen, I disappear,” was carefully planted in a flowerpot in front of the Sejong Center in Seoul. Pictures of the picket surfaced on the Korean Internet, vexing confused netizens, many of whom found the picket so absurd they thought it to be a hoax.
“WTF, there are already games where you kill people, they say nothing about those games and then start criticizing Anipang after it gets popular? If you just go to a PC-bang you can see people getting killed by knives or guns, you would start a firestorm if you call that abuse.”
Another user, frustrated both at the protest and at the government, commented: “‘When you tap the screen, I disappear’ what’s that supposed to mean? You should’ve spent your time looking into the morals, and politics of our president instead. If you choose your president well, then perhaps those animals you like so much will be able to live in a better environment.” Indeed, hopefully we will soon see a game where the faces of Miss Park and Misters Ahn and Moon are systematically removed in a similar fashion.
Another took the logic further: “Tetris, the game where you penetrate four rows with a single long ‘piece’ simulates sexual relations, go ahead and ban that.”
CARE responded, saying: “The intention of the signs was that, if possible, game companies should develop games that help people to love animals. But now people are spreading rumors that our organization called Anipang an animal abuse game.”
A frustrated intern at CARE, said to be responsible for the pickets, argued, “I have never called Anipang an animal abuse game and I have never described it that way to people during our protests. But now I am deeply hurt by the online criticism, which is based largely on false information.” The intern explained, “I only made the signs out of a desire to see a game where players peacefully take care of animals become ‘The People’s Game.”’
So what would the perfect pro-animal smartphone game look like? Perhaps it’s “Whac-a-hole,” the artificial insemination simulator for vets, or “Mario Karp,” a fish-themed multiplayer racing game. What about “Need for Steed: Hot Pursuit,” a side-scrolling FPS that follows the furious, high-octane process of adopting a horse?
When their efforts have been focused elsewhere, CARE has worked well to highlight the abuse of dogs in Korea. From the “Devil Equus” scandal that saw a driver drag a dog to its death on a Seoul motorway, to the military man beating a puppy in a sandbag, it’s perhaps a shame that a well-intentioned but perhaps misguided intern’s acts have been publicly supported by the organization.
Meanwhile, having just received unsolicited invites to download the Saenuri Party’s indispensable new Android app, we wait with great excitement for “Ahnipang,” whereby the software tycoon draws on his business experience to create an entertaining platform to eliminate his political competition. He could use it to KakaoStalk his followers.
James Pearson and Raphael Rashid are editors of koreaBANG (www.koreabang.com), a daily-updated blog that translates trending topics on the Korean internet into English. They can also be followed on twitter @koreaBANG or on facebook.com/koreaBANG.