In an email about the decision, Zynga said they immediately removed the negative imagery because they "in no way support the abuse of animals. We love dogs here at Zynga and on a daily basis have many dogs that come to work, including several pit bulls that have been fostered through rescue agencies like Bad Rap. We also have a dog walking and training service that many employees utilize to make sure their four-legged friends are well exercised and socialized when they come to work."
Prior to the Mafia Wars update, Zynga's dog-loving values were already reflected in their other games. In YoVille, adoptions of virtual dogs and cats have resulted in a very real donation of over $125,000 (and counting) to the San Francisco Chapter of the SPCA. With over 7 million people playing Mafia Wars every day, the message sent by choosing not to portray pit bulls as weapons is a powerful one.
There's a lot of violence in video games, and there are a lot of mixed opinions on its impact, so why were the Mafia Wars pit bulls any different? Because pit bulls are not weapons, and society's view of these dogs has a direct impact on the lives of thousands of animals.
When you live with a pit bull, you may be subject to different rules than other dog owners, you may pay higher insurance rates. You may even have your dog taken away from you; in some cities, officers have been known to go door-to-door to seize and euthanize dogs for no reason other than the way they look.
Unreliable dog bite statistics are often cited to justify these policies, when the reality is that pit bulls consistently pass standardized temperament tests with flying colors, several points above the average score for all breeds. Pit bulls across the country also work as therapy dogs, including many who had been abused or previously owned by dog fighters. Yet, people have the impression that these dogs are dangerous. These impressions come from media and pop culture portrayals of the pit bull as a criminal's best friend; anytime the media can put "pit bull" in a headline, they do.
Zynga made the right call not to feed into the anti-pit bull media frenzy. As a result, millions of people aren't being exposed to damaging pit bull stereotypes on Mafia Wars, and we're one step closer to dispelling the myths that put these amazing dogs in jeopardy.
Thanks to everyone who sent an email on behalf of pit bulls, and thanks to Zynga for standing by this misunderstood breed and continuing all the great work they do to help dogs in San Francisco!
Photo credit: paulidinStephanie Feldstein is a Change.org Editor who has been part of the animal welfare and rescue community for over a decade, and most recently worked for an environmental organization.