Author Topic: Dogs are people, too?  (Read 1514 times)

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Offline TrashMan

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I don't think you could replace the women with exotic animals, either. There wouldn't be nearly as much emotional impact, even an immersed player wouldn't care much for animals, no matter how endangered.

I have to disagree here.

I found out that animals provoke a bigger emotional reponse in me than most humans.

Old Yeller? I'll bawl like a little child.
A whole train full of sad movies? Not a flinch.
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Offline Dragon

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Old Yeller? I'll bawl like a little child.
A whole train full of sad movies? Not a flinch.
Note, Old Yeller is an animal elevated to a character's status. He's got an entire movie to himself, and it's written so well that the viewer cares for him. It is, however, though to pull off and requires a lot of buildup. You wouldn't care about some random, stray dog getting shot. Old Yeller, however, is so much more than some random stray that he's almost a human. Since the movie is so well done, you'll care for him like you would for a human, perhaps even more so. There's a reason why people speak so highly of it, after all. Those other "sad movies" might simply not compare, emotional response to the events in a work of fiction is proportional to how well this work is written.

 

Offline zookeeper

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It is, however, though to pull off and requires a lot of buildup. You wouldn't care about some random, stray dog getting shot.

That's a bizarre thing to say, since the most efficient way to make most people (or at least most westerners) hate a fictional character pretty much regardless of their other actions is to have them kill or abuse a dog or another animal. You can have characters be complete asses, have a past as an amoral assassin or a torturer or whatever and still have the audience sympathize with them if they're otherwise cool and fun and interesting, but if you have them as much as kick a random stray dog that gets in their way then that's never going to happen (again, in the eyes of most people, or at least westerners).

Aside from graphic killing of human children, animal cruelty is almost the only thing that's rarely featured in any movie that's not about it or which is not otherwise meant to be a miserable experience.

 

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*sees Galatea being destroyed, swears revenge*

The buildup of emotional bondage always makes the loss of the character (or inanimate object, see Portal Cube as a perfect example) "better".
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Offline Dragon

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Of course, you can make a game in which everyone who's not the player is a prop. Such games are usually shallow and uninteresting. "Go in, shoot all mooks." Sure, the earliest games were like that. But today, games show a whole world for the player to explore. They strive to make their universes seem alive, give the player options, immerse and make the experience so much more than shooting. We can't really talk about objectification in Doom or Wolfenstein 3D, since those have no real characters and are too simple for that to happen.
It is, however, though to pull off and requires a lot of buildup. You wouldn't care about some random, stray dog getting shot.

That's a bizarre thing to say, since the most efficient way to make most people (or at least most westerners) hate a fictional character pretty much regardless of their other actions is to have them kill or abuse a dog or another animal. You can have characters be complete asses, have a past as an amoral assassin or a torturer or whatever and still have the audience sympathize with them if they're otherwise cool and fun and interesting, but if you have them as much as kick a random stray dog that gets in their way then that's never going to happen (again, in the eyes of most people, or at least westerners).
This is different, though. It depends on where the focus is. If you're focusing on the abuser, like in your example, and it induces you to despise the abuser. In such a scene, you'll be primarily thinking "What a horrible person!", not "NO! NOT THE DOG!", unless you're a sort of person deeply touched by any death. In order to achieve an emotional reaction while focusing on the dog, you'd need to really work for it. You need to "convince" the viewer that the dog is a character just like the humans.

The Old Yeller example is very good here. In that case, rabies were involved. It's a perfectly sound decision to kill the rabid animal in such case. Was this some random stray, it'd be sad, but comparatively unremarkable. But with a dog like Old Yeller, you're sent into tears. That's the difference. Buildup can create emotional bonding. When dealing with something which is not a person (who also has traits and can do things which can make people like that person "at first sight"), it's the only way of making the audience attached to it. Enough of it, and you can pull it off not only with an animal, but with an inanimate object. Of course, this needs to be done well. The more unlikely the object of attachment, the more likely is it to fall flat because of a writer's mistake.

 

Offline zookeeper

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This is different, though. It depends on where the focus is. If you're focusing on the abuser, like in your example, and it induces you to despise the abuser. In such a scene, you'll be primarily thinking "What a horrible person!", not "NO! NOT THE DOG!", unless you're a sort of person deeply touched by any death. In order to achieve an emotional reaction while focusing on the dog, you'd need to really work for it. You need to "convince" the viewer that the dog is a character just like the humans.

Well, sure, maybe there is some kind of a difference, but I think that works pretty much the opposite of how you think. People (with aforementioned cultural reservations) will feel sorry about the dog even if there is really minimal focus on it. If you give it even a tiny bit of focus and have it limp away looking sad after the bad guy kicked it, then I feel pretty confident saying that most people would have a pretty solid emotional reaction to that. Contrast that with the bad guy picking a human as their victim; you have to really make the victim seem particularly sympathetic for the audience to have much of an emotional reaction to it.

There is basically no way to have an audience cheer for a random dog getting kicked, whereas you can have them cheer for random people getting punched in the face very easily. The default emotional reaction is pretty different regardless of how much buildup the dog/person has.

 

Offline Dragon

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That has to do with the general assumption the dog is innocent. This, in turn, has a lot to do with how the dog looks. With such animals, you can make them look cute and cuddly. This can trigger emotional responses normally associated with human children. Small dogs too, but especially kittens are prone to this. Cats are very anthropomorphic, meaning they can (and will, as anyone who ever owned a cat will tell you) make you think about them like of a child, and thus provoke a similar emotional reaction. But it only applies to "cute" animals. A random stray mutt won't do. A small, dirty, meek stray dog will cause a much stronger response than a large-ish, dominating one. Indeed, certain animals can get by on "rule of cute", but it usually requires designing the animal in a certain way.

You can do that with humans, too, BTW. The general rule is the younger and "more innocent" someone is looking (blond hair, immaculate face, frail body), the worse the violence against such a person comes out. Gender does matter, but you could depict a boy like that and he'll get a lot of sympathy, too (that's all assuming no other development, of course).

With humans, it's widely accepted that a random adult is both not as vulnerable as an animal and not as innocent as well. It's a general rule. Attacking an easily recognizable religious person, for instance (for example, a priest or a nun) will, by default, get a stronger reaction because of this "innocence" association. A doctor or nurse likewise, or someone sick. We need a reason to assume a random bystander is "innocent" or sympathetic, but there's a number of easily recognizable groups that we automatically make this assumption about as well.

The problems with using any of the above is that it's easily to fall into a cliche. In particular, we all know saintly, innocent, blonde boys/girls from fairy tales. Likewise, while it's possible to have a cute dog work in such situation, it's possible to overdo it. A kitten is likely to plunge the scene straight into parody territory, Pratchett did pull it off in a really touching way, once, but it's hard. With a human, it is, I think, much easier to have it come off seriously, yet touchingly. A human child, particularly, enacts a very, very strong reaction (in fact, too strong for most game designers to use), but a young adult can work, too.

Also, there's a matter of how the violence is depicted. The above assumed "casual violence", as in, walking around and kicking dogs without even thinking about it. If you want to show someone reveling in violence, animals are straight out. This just comes off as silly in most cases, though certain genres can get away with someone exploiting animals (like horses) to death and having a hint of sadistic glee about it. When you show someone who hurts someone and enjoys it, then you pretty much have to have a human.

The default emotional reaction is pretty different regardless of how much buildup the dog/person has.
If there's buildup and the audience still has a "default reaction", then it's a sign it fell flat. That's writer's fault to ensure that we care about the characters. If there's buildup, if the character is rounded out enough, then the reaction to that character being hurt will (hopefully) be what the writer intended, not anything default.

 

Offline zookeeper

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That has to do with the general assumption the dog is innocent.

Of course. People assume animals to be "innocent" unless they're specifically depicted as somehow non-innocent, and that usually requires them to be zombies, or possessed, or something like that.

This, in turn, has a lot to do with how the dog looks. With such animals, you can make them look cute and cuddly. This can trigger emotional responses normally associated with human children. Small dogs too, but especially kittens are prone to this. Cats are very anthropomorphic, meaning they can (and will, as anyone who ever owned a cat will tell you) make you think about them like of a child, and thus provoke a similar emotional reaction. But it only applies to "cute" animals. A random stray mutt won't do. A small, dirty, meek stray dog will cause a much stronger response than a large-ish, dominating one. Indeed, certain animals can get by on "rule of cute", but it usually requires designing the animal in a certain way.

Yeah, I completely disagree; a random stray mutt is the archetype of the animal garnering the most sympathy. Sure, if they're fit, aggressive and particularly non-anthropomorphic then they get less of it than an old whimpering submissive dog (regardless of its size), but it has very little to do with whether they're "cute and cuddly".

If there's buildup and the audience still has a "default reaction", then it's a sign it fell flat. That's writer's fault to ensure that we care about the characters. If there's buildup, if the character is rounded out enough, then the reaction to that character being hurt will (hopefully) be what the writer intended, not anything default.

That's not what I meant by default. My simple point is that even without any buildup or context, people have an immediate negative emotional reaction to violence against "innocent" animals (that is, not aliens, attacking dinosaurs or particularly rabid dogs, etc) and that reaction tends to be weaker than violence against "innocent" human adults. And that while you can build up things to make people react in a lot of ways, you can't really build up an animal in a way that would make the audience root for violence against it simply for the sake of cathartic violence; at best, you can make the audience root for stopping it with lethal force if necessary to prevent it from eating people. With humans, you can easily portray a character in a way that makes the audience want to see them getting punched in the face repeatedly, having their head cut off, or ending up starving to death, and so on.

Your original point seemed to be the opposite of that: that people tend to have a much lesser emotional reaction towards depictions of casual violence against animals than humans.

 

Offline TrashMan

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Note, Old Yeller is an animal elevated to a character's status. He's got an entire movie to himself, and it's written so well that the viewer cares for him. It is, however, though to pull off and requires a lot of buildup. You wouldn't care about some random, stray dog getting shot.

I would. A lot.
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Offline TrashMan

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That has to do with the general assumption the dog is innocent. This, in turn, has a lot to do with how the dog looks. With such animals, you can make them look cute and cuddly. This can trigger emotional responses normally associated with human children. Small dogs too, but especially kittens are prone to this. Cats are very anthropomorphic, meaning they can (and will, as anyone who ever owned a cat will tell you) make you think about them like of a child, and thus provoke a similar emotional reaction. But it only applies to "cute" animals. A random stray mutt won't do. A small, dirty, meek stray dog will cause a much stronger response than a large-ish, dominating one. Indeed, certain animals can get by on "rule of cute", but it usually requires designing the animal in a certain way.

Incorrect.
Any dog will do.
Because we know dogs ARE innocent. There is no malice in them.

Of course, it's easier to connect to cute/sweet things. there's a reasons protagonists are almost always good lookign people. When is hte last time you saw a fat nerd as the hero?

What I'm saying is that the whole thing is a sham. Objectification? Everything in fiction is. Every cahracter in fiction serves a purpose - to provoke some kind of response. What does it matter what kind of response it is?
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Offline Dragon

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I would. A lot.
Then you're more sensitive than the most. Death of a random dog isn't a tragedy for most. I'm not saying they won't care, I'm saying they'd get over with it somewhat more quickly than over a human dying.
Incorrect.
Any dog will do.
Because we know dogs ARE innocent. There is no malice in them.
No, any dog won't do. What about guard dogs, for example? I mean dangerous, constantly barking ones guarding the villain's mansion. The kind that is huge, foams on the mouth, wears a spiked collar and is completely savage? When we think of "dog", we first think about the cute examples, hence it might, at first sight, seem that all dogs are like that. They aren't. The cute ones are overwhelmingly more prevalent.
Yeah, I completely disagree; a random stray mutt is the archetype of the animal garnering the most sympathy. Sure, if they're fit, aggressive and particularly non-anthropomorphic then they get less of it than an old whimpering submissive dog (regardless of its size), but it has very little to do with whether they're "cute and cuddly".
Have you saw an actual, honestly stray mutt? I mean a "random mutt" in a "pick it off the street and carry on the set" sense. A random stray dog "archetype" is quite well established, but I assure you, they're hardly representative of how an actual city stray looks like. Dogs we see in fiction are cute, because if they weren't, they'd have no point being there. In games, they're either generic or just a sound effect.
Of course. People assume animals to be "innocent" unless they're specifically depicted as somehow non-innocent, and that usually requires them to be zombies, or possessed, or something like that.
Not universally true. At first sight, some animals are definitely not considered innocent. Sharks especially, and large predators in general, won't get a lot of sympathy by default. The more something is threatening to humans, the less humans are sympathetic to it.
That's not what I meant by default. My simple point is that even without any buildup or context, people have an immediate negative emotional reaction to violence against "innocent" animals (that is, not aliens, attacking dinosaurs or particularly rabid dogs, etc) and that reaction tends to be weaker than violence against "innocent" human adults.
Not really, I think. It's just that a generic human adult isn't considered nearly as innocent. Violence against people like nurses, clerics or aid workers (as long as they're generic, of course. Characters are another thing) will, if properly handled, have an even stronger impact.
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And that while you can build up things to make people react in a lot of ways, you can't really build up an animal in a way that would make the audience root for violence against it simply for the sake of cathartic violence; at best, you can make the audience root for stopping it with lethal force if necessary to prevent it from eating people. With humans, you can easily portray a character in a way that makes the audience want to see them getting punched in the face repeatedly, having their head cut off, or ending up starving to death, and so on.
Once again, I disagree. See Jaws, it certainly comes very close (your actual reaction may vary, of course). It is though to make an animal seem actively malicious, but this is in large part caused by the fact that usually, we're not close to the villains. For an animal, the default assumption is that it can't "really think". Now, a loyal dog sidekick has plenty of time to prove otherwise. A shark usually doesn't, villainous animals are more a force of nature than characters.

Yes, I think that generally, a human has more "sympathy potential" than an animal. The difference is that with so many possibilities of what a human can be, a minimum of characterization is required. With animals, this characterization comes with the very fact of their existence, from them being what they are. A human, on the other hand, can be so many things that mere human appearance matters little. In visual media, you have to at least give gender, which, notice, is more characterization than most "generic" animals get. This is why I keep mentioning other such pieces of "quick characterization" that can work. Those are things without which you can't really have a human in a visual medium. If it wasn't for writing (in which you can even forgo giving a gender, if you're writing in English, at least), you could even argue there is no such thing as "generic human".

 

Offline zookeeper

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Yeah, I completely disagree; a random stray mutt is the archetype of the animal garnering the most sympathy. Sure, if they're fit, aggressive and particularly non-anthropomorphic then they get less of it than an old whimpering submissive dog (regardless of its size), but it has very little to do with whether they're "cute and cuddly".
Have you saw an actual, honestly stray mutt? I mean a "random mutt" in a "pick it off the street and carry on the set" sense. A random stray dog "archetype" is quite well established, but I assure you, they're hardly representative of how an actual city stray looks like. Dogs we see in fiction are cute, because if they weren't, they'd have no point being there. In games, they're either generic or just a sound effect.

We basically don't have stray dogs over here, so no, I haven't encountered a wild stray dog on the loose. But I'm pretty familiar with what random mutts picked off the street tend to look like in parts of Europe where abandoning of dogs is a larger problem, and I don't see any difference in their looks compared to "normal dogs". If anything, they often just look more messy, injured, diseased and miserable and therefore more sympathetic than a well-groomed "cute" happy family dog.

I really don't see what difference in looks you're referring to.


Of course. People assume animals to be "innocent" unless they're specifically depicted as somehow non-innocent, and that usually requires them to be zombies, or possessed, or something like that.
Not universally true. At first sight, some animals are definitely not considered innocent. Sharks especially, and large predators in general, won't get a lot of sympathy by default. The more something is threatening to humans, the less humans are sympathetic to it.

Fair enough, sharks, snakes and such don't get a lot of sympathy.


That's not what I meant by default. My simple point is that even without any buildup or context, people have an immediate negative emotional reaction to violence against "innocent" animals (that is, not aliens, attacking dinosaurs or particularly rabid dogs, etc) and that reaction tends to be weaker than violence against "innocent" human adults.
Not really, I think. It's just that a generic human adult isn't considered nearly as innocent. Violence against people like nurses, clerics or aid workers (as long as they're generic, of course. Characters are another thing) will, if properly handled, have an even stronger impact.

Well, I can agree to disagree on that. I'm still rather convinced that people tend to be, on average, much more put off by depictions of violence against animals than humans.


Quote
And that while you can build up things to make people react in a lot of ways, you can't really build up an animal in a way that would make the audience root for violence against it simply for the sake of cathartic violence; at best, you can make the audience root for stopping it with lethal force if necessary to prevent it from eating people. With humans, you can easily portray a character in a way that makes the audience want to see them getting punched in the face repeatedly, having their head cut off, or ending up starving to death, and so on.
Once again, I disagree. See Jaws, it certainly comes very close (your actual reaction may vary, of course). It is though to make an animal seem actively malicious, but this is in large part caused by the fact that usually, we're not close to the villains. For an animal, the default assumption is that it can't "really think". Now, a loyal dog sidekick has plenty of time to prove otherwise. A shark usually doesn't, villainous animals are more a force of nature than characters.

Well, as you say, villainous animals are more of a force of nature; people want them to die, but they usually don't want violent revenge exacted on them. I've certainly never thought that anyone would want to see the shark in Jaws get hurt because it'd be satisfying to see it get hurt after what it's done. They might not mind if the shark gets hurt in the process of fighting it, but that's not the same mindset at all.

 

Offline TrashMan

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No, any dog won't do. What about guard dogs, for example? I mean dangerous, constantly barking ones guarding the villain's mansion. The kind that is huge, foams on the mouth, wears a spiked collar and is completely savage? When we think of "dog", we first think about the cute examples, hence it might, at first sight, seem that all dogs are like that. They aren't. The cute ones are overwhelmingly more prevalent.

I know pretty much every dog in my town, including some guard dogs.
Their size or ferocity doesn't change their child-like mind.




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Offline AtomicClucker

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Depends on size, my neighbor's guard dog is literally... a brown and white spotted chihuahua with an absolutely adorable spiked collar.

Little bastard can't shut up though when he gets riled.
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Offline Dragon

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I know pretty much every dog in my town, including some guard dogs.
Their size or ferocity doesn't change their child-like mind.
I get it, you're a dog-lover. Fair enough, but that doesn't change the fact that most people do not perceive very large, angry guard dogs like you do. Dogs guarding warehouses and such are hardly adorable, but threatening and dangerous (on purpose - that keeps intruders from even getting near). Hardly anyone cares how a guard dog acts around it's owner (indeed, villainous guard dogs are most often depicted as savage even when their owner comes to feed them).

This usually doesn't apply to dogs guarding houses, but to dogs bred and sold specifically for security purposes. As such, they're most often found (both IRL and in fiction) around factories, warehouses and other such objects. The "savage guard dog" stereotype comes primarily from those.

Assuming everyone knows the same things as you is a bad habit when writing. I'm a cat breeder (well, used to be, our family cattery doesn't really work anymore) and a physics student, but my stories generally don't assume either knowledge of feline genetics nor university physics on reader's part. Remember, we're talking usage of dogs in fiction. Therefore, the depiction will be oriented toward's the work's primary audience, not an odd dog/cat lover. You seem to assume everyone cares about dogs like you do. The truth is, most people won't give a fig unless you put some effort into it. Treating a dog like a person without proper buildup will either get laughs or come off as preachy. The former might be a good thing, but not always is.

 

Offline TrashMan

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Quote
You seem to assume everyone cares about dogs like you do

You seem to assume no one does.

As for most people - most people wont give a fig about ANYTHING that doesn't involve them specifically.
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Offline Dragon

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Yes, that's why not everyone can write a compelling fictional character. You can get an emotional response using stock characters we're "supposed" to care about, but ultimately, this is either worldbuilding (it's a sad, sad world where violence happens to such good people) and/or character building (what a horrible villain who'd harm someone like this). For most people the reaction will be higher with a properly selected human character (due to their sheer variety, a "generic human" has little value to a writer and can't even exist in visual media), animals are generally "less serious". This is what I've been saying. The only way around it is to make the animal an actual, "full" character, which generally implies character development. It needs to be handled well, too. Dog lovers are small enough of a demographic that unless you're specifically writing for them, treating a dog like a human without buildup will fall flat with most of the audience. Animals work best in children works and in comedy.

It brings me back to my original point. In most cases, a dog will not suffice to replace a human abuse victim in a serious setting. A vulnerable human, especially a woman, will get a much stronger emotional response. Just how bad female on male violence is isn't quite fully understood by everyone, but a male victim can work, too, if shown compellingly enough (just be prepared to make a point out of it). The only way to make an animal work here would be to make it an actual character (remember, I was under mistaken impression that the scene discussed happened in story, not as a random event).
Well, as you say, villainous animals are more of a force of nature; people want them to die, but they usually don't want violent revenge exacted on them. I've certainly never thought that anyone would want to see the shark in Jaws get hurt because it'd be satisfying to see it get hurt after what it's done. They might not mind if the shark gets hurt in the process of fighting it, but that's not the same mindset at all.
Again, this likely has to do with the time spent around the animals. Generally, a villainous animal has no humans around, meaning it has little chance to display human-like traits. Remember, any serious interaction between humans and animals is emotional, not intellectual. To be made a character, an animal needs a human to bond with; otherwise all of them are "nature". Emotional bonding is generally not a trait found in villains, because it's a very "human" one (and thus seen as redeeming). Nagini from Harry Potter is a notable exception, but she didn't quite get enough focus to become a real menace, not to mention she was hardly acting on her own. Generally, hatred is reserved for the "mastermind", and this falls to humans by default. Villainous animals are either forces of nature or tools used by humans, this has less to do with their "inherent goodness" and more with how villainy works.

 

Offline Flipside

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One of the weird things about Wolfenstein is that I had far less problem with shooting the Nazis than the German Shepherds.

Ah well... I still shot them, because it was that or be killed by them.

 

Offline Mr. Vega

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When I got to *that* scene in The Walking Dead Season 2 I immediately Xed out of the game and broke down and started sobbing for a full five minutes. I love those games but I can't play them anymore because I can't handle that scene. And this is a zombie apocalypse game in which almost every person dies.

Then again, I foster Golden Retrievers for a rescue, so I'm a bit of an outlier there. I've actually seen really horrible things happen to dogs so I can't just dismiss it as fiction like others can. I messaged my best friend who happened to be online at the time, and her response was "well now you know how I feel when I play or watch something with rape in it." Did give me greater appreciation for how certain things affect people.
« Last Edit: September 12, 2014, 09:34:19 am by Mr. Vega »
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Online Aesaar

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I'm the complete opposite of you people, it seems.  Animals provoke no emotional reaction in me whatsoever.  I find it amusing when a game or movie (or a non-fictional thing) presents the death or suffering of an animal as a tragic thing because I quite simply don't care.  There has never been an exception to this.
« Last Edit: September 12, 2014, 01:50:55 pm by Aesaar »