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ALF-like video game in Britain upsets RSPCA and vivisectors
by Richard McComb and Renee Mickleburgh Jan. 21, 2005

Free the animals, smash up the lab and chain-whip policemen - this is the latest video game for children

ALF-like video game ...

A computer game in which players as young as seven are asked to destroy an animal testing laboratory is to go on sale despite being criticised as "irresponsible" by police and MPs.

Whiplash, which is made by Eidos, the British software company that created the Lara Croft computer games, depicts animals being abused in a laboratory, including one experiment in which a hamster is fired from a cannon and another in which monkeys are forced to run on treadmills to test their endurance.

The game features a laboratory rabbit and monkeys forced to run endlessly on treadmills
    Players are asked to free the animals by destroying security cameras, wrecking the laboratory and chain-whipping police officers. Eidos, which supplies stores including Toys R Us, HMV and Virgin Megastores, describes the game as featuring "a shackled animal duo on a mission to escape and sabotage an evil animal product-testing corporation".

It says that the purpose is to raise "positive awareness" about animal testing among children. Ian Gibson, a Labour MP and the chairman of the House of Commons select committee on science and technology, said, however, that he feared that children would gain a distorted view of animal experimentation.

"This is unhelpful to the whole debate. It is a nasty and vicious way of prejudicing young minds for the rest of their lives," said Dr Gibson. "Young people with fresh minds need to be brought into an understanding of the problem with both sides of the argument being put forward in a rational and reasonable way. Clearly such programmes are not bringing a balanced judgment to serious and difficult areas of understanding."

Penny Hawkins, the deputy head of the RSPCA's research animals department, was also critical. She claimed that the game made light of animal suffering, which was offensive.

"Animals suffer when they are used in research and it's extremely disappointing that someone would see fit to produce a so-called humorous computer game out of that suffering.

"The RSPCA puts a lot of effort into encouraging children to be compassionate towards animals and empathise with them. This is obviously sending out completely the opposite message, that animal suffering is funny - that it is something to make a joke out of.

"We believe that being violent is not the best way to help animals. What is not needed is a computer game trivialising their suffering."

The release of Whiplash, which will go on sale at ?39.99 in Britain next week, will add to concerns about the spread of militant animal rights campaigners, such as the Animal Liberation Front and the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty group. These concerns reached a peak recently when a campaign of harassment by animal rights activists caused Cambridge University to shelve plans for a ?32 million monkey research centre.

In Whiplash, the game's action centres on two shackled animals - Spanx, an electric shock-tested weasel, and Redmond, a rabbit left deformed by testing with make-up. The animals have to escape from the laboratory despite being chained together.

The game urges children to "demolish everything in the company from computers and test equipment to soda machines, plants and treadmills. Break it all and you'll drive the evil corporation into bankruptcy".

In a statement, Eidos said it hoped that the game would highlight the issue of animal experimentation among children. "Whiplash is based in a fictional animal-testing laboratory where the object is to rescue all of the animals and destroy the evil testing lab. Although the video game is fictional we hope that it raises positive awareness of animal testing among children."

Mark Matfield, the executive director of the Research Defence Society, which supports ethical and humane animal experimentation, insisted, however, that the scenes portrayed in the game, including animals chained together, were totally inaccurate. "The suggestion that this game might raise young people's awareness of the issues involved in animal experimentation is ludicrous," he said.

"It's worrying that this game appears to condone acts that are clearly illegal or violent as an appropriate way of contributing to an informed debate."

Jan Berry, the chairman of the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, added: "This game is both alarming and disturbing.

"The role of the police service is to be independent, uphold the law and prevent disorder. We already have a tough enough job and this game seems to be sending the wrong message to young people, which is totally irresponsible."

Eidos, which has its head office in Wimbledon, is one of the world's leading publishers of entertainment software. The company employs 500 people worldwide and posted a ?17.4 million pre-tax profit in the year to June. Whiplash was developed by Crystal Dynamics, a Californian company also responsible for Eidos's Tomb Raider computer game series.

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