As deer hunters take to the woods this week, others are tracking quarry from the comfort of their living rooms.
Realistic hunting and fishing simulation games like the wildly popular Deer Hunter II are selling hundreds of thousands of copies and now populate best-seller lists once ruled by finger-twitching shoot-'em-ups like Quake II.
In October, the No. 1 computer game in the United States was Deer Hunter II by GT Interactive, one of four hunting best-sellers. For a brief time, Deer Hunter II displaced heavyweight Windows 98 as the best-selling software title in the country.
Deer Hunter, the game that created the genre, still clings to the best-seller charts nearly a year after it was introduced, a feat almost unheard of in the entertainment software business.
The question on many people's minds is: why?
"It has surprised even us at times," says Paul Rinnde of WizardWorks, which created the Deer Hunter series for GT Interactive.
As I discovered, these simulations are not for everyone: Gamers weaned on adrenalin-churning frag fests like Quake II or Unreal will find hunting simulations about as exciting as staring at a screen saver. Sometimes it takes as long as 20 minutes for
digital quarry to lumber into view.
I took my first virtual hunt with Cabela's Big Game Hunter II, another $20 best-seller by Activision. Hunkered down in the pixilated pines of Colorado, I waited for my digital quarry to appear.
And waited and waited.
Even after scattering a healthy dose of coon urine and huffing into my elk horn until I turned blue, I still found nothing more interesting than deer scat. Yawn.
But clearly I'm in the minority, as any hunter will attest.
"In real life you can sit on the stand for hours - even a whole weekend - without seeing a deer," says hunter Ray Hollnagel, 37, of Oak Creek, Wis. Hollnagel, who plays Deer Hunter II and several other hunting games on his PC, should know: In his 20 years as a hunter he says he has bagged one deer. His record in the virtual woods, he says, is much better.
The hunting genre has spawned its own parody -- and controversy.
Deer Avenger by Cendant Software flips the roles: You're the prey and must scurry away from deers packing bazookas who tease, "Help! I'm naked and I have a pizza!" to lure you from the brush.
All this has proved too much for the Los Angeles-based animal rights group Last Chance for Animals. The group is waging a letter-writing campaign against discount chain Target for selling the hunting games, which it believes sends the wrong message to children. The group has created a Web site: www.targetteacheskids2kill.com.
But Danny Hammett of Head Games in Minneapolis, which created Cabela's Big Game Hunter II, says his company's hunting simulations try to teach as well as entertain. "Our products promote safety and the ethical use of weapons," he says. The games requires hunters to take gun safety lessons and and allows them to kill only the legal number of animals - and the woods are patrolled by a game warden who busts those who try to break the rules.
Some PC owners view the hunting games as a better alternative for children than PC games such as Quake in which people gun down humanoids.
"I don't allow that kind of stuff in our house," says Hollnagel, who hopes his two children will some day join him in the woods.
"I want to teach my children respect for firearms and nature. When you're teaching kids in some of these games to kill humanity, it sends the wrong message."
Pub Date: 12/07/98