Designing playful engagements with animals to find, imagine, or emphasize non-speciesist practices
Among all the playful and technologically mediated animal interaction examples that I came across in the past two years, there is one category that seems to be most popular: tablet games for cats.
Reasons for this could include the suitability of using mainly visual stimuli in the playful interaction with this animal. Next to this, the touch screen seems to work quite appropriately with the paws of the cat, which makes the interaction possible. On top of that, our close relationship with cats (and the amount of people that own tablets) creates a new market opportunity for developers, since cat owners seem to be very willing to spend some money on entertainment for their furry friends.
There are quite some cat games on the market. However, they mainly work in the same way: a moving object on the screen that (in some cases) reacts to the input when the cat taps the screen, either with visual or auditory feedback. This compilation gives a good overview of what is out there at the moment:
Where “Friskies” claims that their games are based on game testing and a focus group in order to find out what appealed to the cats they were designing for, most of the existing cat games do not really seem to take the senses and perceptions of the animal into account. Next to this, videos show that the cat often operates the ‘human’ elements of the game such as going back to the menu, change settings, or close the app, while they were enthusiastically tapping the screen, and therefore they unwillingly end the play. Moreover, the scoring mechanics that are used in these games do not seem to interest the cat, since they generally have no perceptions of in-game objectives. Furthermore, the existing cat games that I came across do not have any clear form of progression that could be understandable for the cat, so they mainly offer the same kind of interaction over and over again. At last, the objects that are tapped by the cat often provide no feedback at all or they suddenly disappear. I wonder if this could cause frustration in the cat, since this kind of situation would not naturally appear in play with physical toys or other cats. A review of these games therefore shows that not all games were equally appreciated by the cat.
Digital games could offer a lot of interesting possibilities that can extend play beyond physical toys and can incorporate the human in the playful interaction even more. Next to this, all the existing research towards the cat’s perception of the environment, their senses, and experience of the world can give us much more insights that can be used for designing new types of digital interactions. Since the interest of the cat is there, I hope that many more games will be developed using informed design decisions and extensive user testing.