July 9, 2010

Facebook Users Move From Farmville to Farm Rescue to Help Chickens

In an effort to provide compelling visuals and interactive media to empower animal advocates, educate the public, and expose the injustices of animal exploitation, Mark Middleton, the mind behind AnimalVisuals.org, recently released Farm Rescue, a game on Facebook where people can rescue virtual hens from battery cages, while spreading the word about the plights of real egg-laying hens to their friends and family.

Farm Rescue pic.jpg
Filled with interesting facts about chickens, cute animated graphics and tips on what people can do to help end the needless suffering of real chickens trapped in battery cages, Farm Rescue is not only a fantastic tool for animal advocates, it is a whole lot of fun too! Mark was gracious enough to talk with MFA about his newest project and what we can expect next from AnimalVisuals.org, and here is what he had to say:

MFA: What inspired you to create the Farm Rescue game on Facebook?

Mark: Sometime last year I learned that some of the most popular social games on platforms like Facebook and iPhone were farming games. The goal of these games was to earn money to buy things by growing crops and maintaining herds of animals, and many of them are based on the "Old McDonald's farm" stereotype of farms where animals roam around in the yard and are happy. In some of the games, you can "harvest" the animals without even killing them, which somewhat reinforces the denial that most people have about what really happens to animals on farms. We can deny it, but the truth is that all animals on farms are eventually killed, and in most cases their lives are filled with profound suffering. I thought that an educational parody of these games might be able to reach a lot of people with the message that animals on farms suffer terrible pain and indignities, specifically egg-laying hens.

MFA: Why did you choose to focus on egg-laying hens?

Mark: More animals die per human-edible calorie gained from eggs than for any other food except for chicken meat, and the intensive confinement of chickens in battery cages probably causes more suffering than any other factory farming practice. I believe that putting an end to battery-cage confinement is an extremely urgent priority in the protection of animals, and that it is a goal that is within reach in our lifetime. I also think that convincing people to leave behind eggs might be easier than asking people to leave behind some other animal-derived ingredients, because eggs are easily replaced in almost any recipe with healthier and cheaper alternatives.

MFA: Are you planning to add other types of farmed animals to the game?

Mark: I had originally planned to have calves rescued from veal crates and pigs rescued from gestation crates, but the game took me longer than expected and I ran out of time. At some point I would love to come back and add more species. Creating the chickens for the game was very time-consuming, because I had to animate all of their behaviors, like perching, nesting, dustbathing, exercising, and exploring, and then program them to respond to user commands and interact with their environment. At this point, my hope is that upon learning about how intensive confinement prevents chickens from behaving normally, players will be inspired to learn about how other species are exploited on farms and harmed by confinement.  

MFA: I like the educational component of the game where players must correctly answer questions about chicken intelligence and behavior to earn money and buy improvements for their sanctuary. How many different questions are there?

Mark: Right now there are 99 active questions, but this number might change. I'm taking suggestions for everything in the game. If anyone thinks of a great question or action people can take, they can send it to me.

MFA: What is your favorite question in the game?

Mark: I think my favorite is the question about which animals a mother hen will fight to protect her eggs. The options are: eagles, rattlesnakes, and foxes, and the correct answer is "all of the above." Any human mother will probably tell you that she would do anything or fight anyone to protect her child. This is something humans have in common with chickens. Calling someone a "chicken" should really be a compliment. I think the fact that it isn't meant that way reveals how deeply misunderstood chickens are. Chickens are actually extremely courageous and intelligent beings.

MFA: Farm Rescue gives people the opportunity to "Take Action" to help save real chickens by sponsoring the care of a chicken at a farmed animal sanctuary and spreading the word to their friends and family about the plights of egg-laying hens. Viewers also have the opportunity to watch Mercy For Animals' undercover investigation of a Quality Egg farm in Maine. If you could get people to do one thing to help abused and neglected egg-laying hens, what would it be?

Mark: I believe the most effective thing that anyone can do to help egg-laying hens is to stop buying eggs and products that contain eggs. Once that's done, they can invite their friends, family, and coworkers to do the same. Leaving behind eggs is a great first step for anyone who is interested in making a dietary adjustment in order to help animals. I believe eggs are a pretty easy thing to leave behind, and they are very high on the list in terms of animal suffering and death. For every egg purchased, a chicken suffers 32 miserable hours in a battery cage. For anyone considering making this change, I think it's important to understand that it's not an all-or-nothing prospect. If the idea of passing on a slice of your nephew's egg-containing birthday cake seems too daunting, consider removing only whole eggs from your diet for now. If you stop buying dozens of eggs at the store, that makes a huge difference. If you're the one bringing a cake to share, you can bring a great vegan cake, and let everyone know. They might be surprised to find out how easy and delicious egg-free cakes and other goodies can be.

MFA: Farm Rescue is just the latest release from Animal Visuals. You have also created a graph that illustrates the rate of slaughter of different farmed animals in the United States and a virtual factory egg farm that gives people an inside look at what hens experience inside a battery cage. Can you tell us more about the concept behind Animal Visuals? What are you hoping to achieve with these programs?

Mark: My original concept for Animal Visuals was to take animal rights philosophy and make it widely accessible in an easily digestible, visual format on the Web. A few years ago, I started trying to read all of the animal rights philosophy books that I could, and I found that some of them took a lot of effort to get through. I thought the arguments were very strong, but that there were probably only a small number of people who would ever be motivated to go out and make the effort to read these books and understand the arguments. In fact, most people would probably rather not hear the arguments at all. However, everyone likes watching short videos and animations on the Web. My original idea was to gain an audience for the philosophical arguments by removing that barrier of effort, and turning them into short, compelling animations. Most of what I've done so far has just been my attempts at attracting viewers to bits of information and resources about animal rights, but I hope to have some presentations about animal rights philosophy completed soon.

MFA: What can we expect next from Animal Visuals?

Mark: I've been promising an animation on the basic ethical argument for veganism for a long time. That's probably the next thing I'll release. I also have some short illustrated guides to various animal rights topics planned. In the meantime, anyone who wants to check out Farm Rescue can learn more at FarmRescueGame.com.
 
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