January 9, 2012 | 1
I like video games (I will rip up some Assassin’s Creed whenever I get a long weekend, do NOT get me started). My cat likes video games too, even though she doesn’t understand that she’s playing them. On a whim not too long ago, I downloaded a “games for cats” app on my iPad that simulates a dancing laser pointer or a skittering mouse, and my cat gets so into the game that she’ll push my iPad all the way across the floor in her excitement. Here’s a video of someone else’s kitten playing the same game:
The phenomenon isn’t restricted to domesticated cats, either:
Cats aren’t the only animals that are mentally stimulated by flashing and dancing lights, though. As it turns out, researchers at Wageningen University, in the course of their research on ethical livestock farming, noticed that pigs like to play with dancing lights as well. European regulations currently require that pig farmers provide mentally-stimulating activity for their pigs in order to reduce boredom, which leads to aggression and biting, and researchers at Wageningen University, in collaboration with the Utrecht School of the Arts, are currently developing a video game called “Pig Chase” for livestock pigs that is not unlike my cat’s iPad app.
The key difference, however, is that this game would be an interspecies two-player game. [EDIT: I was contacted this afternoon by Nate at Hiccup, and he informed me that Game For Cats has also recently incorporated interspecies functionality. I didn't know that, so thanks for the update!]
The researchers discovered that farm pigs responded to a wall of dancing lights by chasing the spots of light with their snouts. This provoked them to pose the question of whether humans and pigs could interact collaboratively in a game format. The human would control a ball of light remotely via a touchpad (such as an iPad or tablet computer) and try to attract the attention of the pig long enough to move a ball of light into a target, which would light up the wall in a celebratory fireworks-like display.
The value of the game as entertainment and mental stimulation for pigs is as of yet untested, but the researchers hope that their project will open up new questions in debates about animal farming and welfare in the digital age, as well as opening up new venues for research on animal cognition and behavior. For more information on the Playing with Pigs project and Pig Chase, check out their website.
EDIT (Jan 15): On the subject of video games, I’m promoting a video game in the early stages of development called the Arkh Project. It is a fantasy RPG video game featuring queer people of color as the main characters. They are currently seeking donations and link-sharing to generate visibility for the project. Visit their website or see the bottom of my latest links post for more information, if you are interested. [I have no financial interest in this game. I'm promoting it simply because I think it is an excellent idea and something that needs to be made. Also the protagonist is cute beyond words.]