Anyone who is a Starcraft fan (in other words, the people not reading this) can tell you the biggest event thus far this week: The release of the much anticipated "Heart of the Swarm" expansion pack for Starcraft 2.
For those not familiar with Starcraft, it's a real time strategy game where a player is free to pick one of three factions and battle it out through single player campaigns or online multi-player matches. One of those three factions is the Zerg Swarm; an omnicidal constantly-evolving hivemind species whose sole goal is genetic perfection. Think the Xenomorphs from the Alien movies but sentient and with less face rape (The Zerg will just flat out murder you). Needless to say, "The Heart of the Swarm" centers around the Zerg, and PETA has seized the opportunity to either make masterful trolls or total fools of themselves.
Temporarily renaming themselves Terrans for the Ethical Treatment of Zergs, PETA attended the "Heart of the Swarm" launch event in Irvine, California, and handed out pamphlets boasting the headline “Zerglings have feelings too.”
At first glance it seems like of a gag, something for a few laughs and some free noncontroversial press exposure for once. If there are two things PETA is known for aside from batshit insane publicity stunts it's a lack of humor and for taking themselves more seriously than is healthy. In a post to the PETA blog about the event, PETA online marketing strategist Joel Bartlett wrote "When playing Starcraft, I had noticed how the Zerg were treated more like animals than like other people. I couldn't help but wonder if there would be an analog to PETA in the world of Starcraft ... Remember, while Zerglings are not real, there are many equally 'strange' and exotic animals we share this planet with who deserve our empathy. Just because crocodiles and snakes look alien to us, that doesn't make it OK to skin them alive for a handbag, shoes, or a belt. And if we had to share our world with the Zerg in reality, I'd like to think that we'd make an effort to understand and respect them rather than sending out the battlecruisers — because the alternative to having empathy for other beings is about as grim as it gets."
Here is where the waters get murky. Even with the blog post and all of it's half-mad gibberish, it's a well made marketing move. It ties in with one of the biggest and most anticipated game releases of the year, gets their name in the press (This part has obviously worked), and raises awareness of their message without being as judgmental and insane and they usually have to, and all they had to do was act like futuristic versions of themselves. Again though, PETA is known for insanity for a good reason so quite possibly I'm giving them too much credit. Another option is that our friend Joel is trolling with that post, something to set the active PETA haters and serious business gamers to foaming at the mouth and chasing their tails in blind impotent rage. This is assuming that PETA is thinking far ahead in it’s humor, something I’m highly doubtful of. PETA isn't known for humor, but at the same time the blog post has all the ingredients to cause a massive amount of rage in all the right corners.
Finally though, what if they really are serious about this? What if good old Joel, in all his game-loving PETA madness, meant every word he typed in that blog post? Branding the Zerg as Underdogs, comparing them to crocodiles and snakes, thinking that (If the zerg were real) it’d be worthwhile to make an effort to understand and respect them? It makes me think that for all his boasting of being a gamer, Joel has never been on the receiving end of a zergling rush. And it might just be me but comparing crocodiles and snakes to something that out-breeds humans and wants to actively kill them seems a bit of a poor comparison since most species on this planet have learned to avoid us as much as possible and only a few out-populate us. Then of course, there's the biggest point: The Zerg aren't real. It seems too much to be believable, but again this PETA we’re talking about.
At the end of the day, it may be all three; PETA gets free press that doesn't require something that requires a volunteer to leave their shame at the door, lets them troll haters and gamers alike with a blog post that sounds serious, and lets them appear as mental and touched in the head as their reputation has them to give it that genuine PETA stamp. Your mileage may vary. If they are serious though, a part of me wishes that we do find Zerg or something like them in the universe so we might introduce some PETA representatives to it and watch how their efforts at respect and understanding of a murderous hivemind turn out. And with that, I myself am going back to playing "Heart of the Swarm" enough to make my friends and family wonder if I have dropped off the face of the Earth.