People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is setting up shop in the massively popular online world of Minecraft.
This Saturday, PETA will open the digital doors to its own Minecraft server, which will be home to a recreation of the organization's headquarters, vast vegetable and flower gardens and an abandoned circus and slaughterhouse. Most importantly, PETA's Minecraft won't allow players to harm animals, be they chickens, pigs or mooshrooms.
"Priority number one is that no animals can be harmed in PETA's Minecraft," said Joel Bartlett, director of marketing innovation for the group.
The group partnered with Minecraft builders Hyperscale to create the world for them, Bartlett said. The servers will open up Saturday at 10 a.m. ET (log-on details will be available on PETA's blog that morning). While the blocky world of Minecraft may make it hard to send the sort of powerful messages PETA is best known for, Bartlett said they added plug-ins to its world to allow them to include links to videos and websites about things like circus animal abuse and slaughterhouses.
"You have gamers who want to say games are an art form but don't want them to tackle important social issues."
PETA decided to create a server on Minecraft because so many of its supporters like the game, Bartlett said.
"PETA has heard from many of our supporters who love Minecraft as much as they care about the good treatment of animals," he said. "They said they would like to have an animal friendly server inside their favorite world."
This isn't the first time PETA has either used video game or attacked them to send its message.
The group called out developer Ubisoft for its inclusion of whale hunting in Assassin's Creed: Black Flag and created parodies like Pokemon Black & Blue, in which players battle to free Pokemon, and Mario Kills Tanooki, which has players taking on the role of a bloody, skinned raccoon dog on the hunt for his stolen fur coat.
And sometimes those campaigns result not just in changed opinions, but a direct response from developers. Two years ago, PETA kicked off a campaign to protest the player treatment of StarCraft's Zerglings.
Blizzard later contacted the group and offered them a tour of the developer's offices, Bartlett said.
"They thought it was clever," Bartlett said. "I think they appreciated the nuanced view of their world."
Bartlett said PETA uses video games to help spread its message because it is such an effective tool for them.
"Our games are some of the most popular items on our website," he said. "Millions of people have played PETA's parody games and then watched the hard-hitting videos we include. It's definitely been an amazing way to engage with an audience about a difficult to talk about issue.
"PETA has always done different stunts in order to create buzz about our issues. It's not always comfortable to think that the burger you are eating was a cow that was slaughtered for you."
And, he added, video games should be tackling important social issues.
"We hear a lot on both sides of the issue about using video games," he said. "As people who love games, we do believe that games have a lot of value and should tackle important social issues, such as animal rights. You have gamers who want to say games are an art form but don't want them to tackle important social issues and we don't think that's right.
"Because of the huge role games have in society it makes sense that they should be an avenue to explore things like the treatment of animals."