Computerized Outdoors Idea Serves Users Virtual Baloney

November 28, 2004

A Texas businessman wants to rig a robotic, high-power rifle to a Webcam in a game park so people can punch buttons and "hunt'' from the comfort of their handiest Internet connection.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wants everyone to stop eating fish because the slippery critters are, in their own way, as cute and cuddly as cats and dogs.

Has the world gone nuts?

The proponents of what has been labeled "remote-control hunting'' are, predictably, arguing that a sanitized, virtual slaughter would be a boon for the disabled.

The leaders of the Fish Empathy Project are, with equal predictability, trying to convince everyone to spare the fish because they are sensitive, thinking creatures that travel in schools.

One group of loonies thinks anyone should be able to kill anything the easiest way possible -- simply because we can.

The other group thinks nobody should kill anything because we're all brother fauna. The flora are apparently exempt from the discussion because they're rooted in place. Were they able to move around and wag their leaves, PETA would likely argue we shouldn't eat them either.

Whatever happened to the natural order of things?

Instead, we have people who think it would be "sporting" to hunt and kill animals by remote-control with their computer. That sort of thinking is just plain sick.

Where exactly is the "sport''? More importantly, where is the hunt?

Webster's New World Dictionary defines "hunt'' this way: "1.) to go out to kill or catch (game) for food or sport; 2. to search eagerly or carefully for; try to find 3. a.) to pursue; chase; drive b) to hound; harry, persecute 4. a) to go through (a woods, fields, etc.) in pursuit of game'' and on and on in that vein.

Nowhere is there any mention of sitting in a home or office, watching a computer-display screen and punching buttons. If that qualifies as hunting, no one really need ever hunt again because we've then reduced the killing of animals to the shooting of pictures.

After all, a hunter who chose to engage in this sort of computer "sport" wouldn't really be shooting an animal. He'd be shooting a picture of an animal on his computer screen, thereby telling a piece of machinery in the middle of a field somewhere to do the actual execution.

And if all you're really doing is shooting a picture, what differences does it make if the picture represents a real animal or a virtual one? For that matter, how would you even know for certain what you shot?

Think how easy it would be to scam this sort of "hunting.''

Put up a Web site. Run a film of animals walking around in a field. Let the people who sign onto the Web site and pay their fee shoot the animals. Run some film of an animal dying.

Then you ship the hunter 50 pounds of beef from the supermarket and tell her that's the animal she killed.

Someone really creative might even be able to convince PETA to endorse an Internet hunting site that kills virtual animals. Look, PETA wants to save real animals from being killed. If shooting a virtual deer spares a real deer while satisfying someone's instinctive urge to hunt, isn't that a good thing?

And if we can do this with hunting, why not fishing?

Someone could rig a Webcam to a robotic fishing rod along the Russian River. You could sit at home and watch on your computer as the red salmon swarm up that stream, then maneuver a joy stick to make the rod cast a fly in front of them.

Let it drift. Maybe even hear the computer going tappa-tappa-tappa to give you the feel of a lead weight bouncing along the river bottom. Feel the joystick jerk against your hand as a fish hits and then battle it across the table as the fight is on.

Oh, the thrill, the excitement, the virtual adrenaline rush, until at last you bring that flapping salmon into view of the robotic net that scoops it up.

A week later, salmon filets would arrive in the mail.

Does it matter if any of this is real? Isn't the experience exactly the same if all you are seeing on your computer is virtual? Does a prerecorded film of salmon coming up the Russian really look any different than a live camera feed of salmon coming up the stream?

Of course not.

The only problem might come in producing a soy product that really tastes like salmon. But science can certainly solve that.

Wouldn't that be perfect for just about everybody, except the poor, dead soybean plants? I hear they're quite sensitive, too.

This article written by editor Craig Medred of Anchorage Daily News.

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