Designing playful engagements with animals to find, imagine, or emphasize non-speciesist practices
Yesterday evening during the Dutch TV program De Wereld Leert Door (The World Keeps on Learning) game professor Marinka Copier from the HKU (Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht) explained more about the Playing with Pigs project I wrote earlier about on this blog.
The show is aired in Dutch but I wrote a summary in English below.
Game professor Marinka Copier is leading a research for new game opportunities on the HKU. This includes the challenge of finding a way to allow human an animal to play together. Since the Netherlands is a leading country in the field of game development, according to Marinka there is a logical connection with scientific research that provokes a change in behaviour through games. This is what the research on the HKU is focused on. This project is carried out in collaboration with multiple academic disciplines including applied philosophy (Clemens Driessen),biology, medicine, education, and entertainment.
The HKU is developing a videogame for pigs. This project was started because of the EU law that prescribes environment enrichment in the living environment of pigs. The farming industry is looking for ways to enable this with the right materials. Marinka shows different elements that are currently used in sheds, such as ‘Pig Chewing-gum’, a chain that resembles pebble stones the pigs like to chew on, or pinewood sticks, also for the pigs to chew on.
The development of videogames for pigs requires a different kind of approach. This has first been shown in the nineties by Stanley Curtis, who researched a computer game designed for apes on pigs (video footage of this is shown at 00:04:01 ). In this game the pig needed to use the joystick to move the cursor into a white area. The pig was doing this to earn a reward in the form of food (an extrinsic motivation). In this research the pigs were better at this task than dogs and also learned it faster than apes.
The idea for a videogame for pigs developed by the HKU came from a farmer. The goal of the game is to move the pig towards a specific area. This is done by showing light-bulbs on a glass wall that the pigs can follow with their nose. The player is in control of moving the light-bulbs and gains more points if he succeeds in bringing the pig to the target area. In this game the pig is motivated through intrinsic motivation to play. This means that the research (described as ‘research through design’) focused on finding out how the pigs responded to certain sensor triggers such as playing keyboard in the shed, showing moving images, providing contact with different objects, and finally offering play with laser lights. Then they discovered that pigs like to play with light in the same way that cats like to do this. According to Marinka, this was not yet discovered by animal scientists, which means that through design it is possible to get more insights into other fields of knowledge as well.
The game will be playable for people from their own home next year. The purpose of this game on the human side is to trigger questions. All pigs with which the player is allowed to play eventually go to the slaughterhouse and it is left open to the player on how to cope with this. Maybe it will provoke a change in behaviour? Or maybe the meat will taste better with pigs that have played this game? Or the score of the game can be displayed on the package of the meat? This might sound heartless, but it enlarges the impact of the game and the connection with different scientific areas. This project wants to trigger durable changes in behaviour with actual play.
The project can be followed online. Next to this the exposition ‘Ja Natuurlijk‘ will open on the 14th of March in ‘Gemeentemuseum Den Haag’ in which, next to Pig Chase, more projects related to humans and animals can be seen.
The program closes with Marinka giving a tweet about her research to the next generation: ‘Challenge: do you want a durable change in behaviour? Create a playful society.