Designing engagements with animals to find, imagine, or emphasize non-speciesist practices
Finally the moment was there. After eight months of design and development on Sunday afternoons the Felino prototype was ready for serious playtesting. Of course we did some small qualitative tests along the way to test specific elements of the game and to make sure that all cats would not run away instantly.
Game developers will know the great feeling of seeing someone enjoy the game you worked on, but for me this feeling multiplied by 10 as soon as the first cats started to become interested in what was happening on the tablet screen. In total we tested Felino with 19 cats in a period of two weeks. Most of these cats (15) were shelter cats that we could test thanks to the amazing and professional help of the animal shelter in Breda, The Netherlands (Dierenasiel Breda e.o.). During these tests we followed strict ethical guidelines designed for Human-Computer Interaction testing with animals to make sure that all cats joined our game voluntarily and were not harmed in any way.
These 19 cats were aged between 7 weeks and 12,5 years, 10 of them were female, and they formed a mix of appearances and characters. All user testing sessions were completely recorded using both audio and video, but the length of each recording greatly diverted depending on the interest of the cat. On average the sessions lasted 5 minutes and 51 seconds. However, the shortest session was 57 seconds and the longest session lasted for 15 minutes and 54 seconds.
As part of my first year thesis for the MSc in Interaction Design I am currently following in Malmö (Sweden) we conducted the play sessions and analysis according to a theoretical framework and guidelines that were first proposed in a paper in 2013 written by me and Stefano Gualeni. In practice, this included the structural analysis of video recordings, a time consuming activity that resulted in a total of 1666 annotations divided in eight different categories. This data was then combined with qualitative observations and analysed in order to find results that could lead to design iterations with the goal to improve the game.
Luckily most cats were interested in the game and we gained many new insights that are supported by this data. We noticed, for example, that the cats were very interested in the sides of the tablet as soon as the fish swam outside of the screen. Next to this, the human physical interaction with the game had a high positive impact on the interest of the cat in the game.
Next to the interaction with the game that we expected, some cats showed other amusing behaviour, such as rolling on the tablet, sitting on the tablet, and one of the kittens even fell asleep.
After the prototype testing with the 19 cats and the analysis of all data, it became clear how the physical interaction of the human and the cat’s interest in the sides of the tablet could become a larger part of the playful interaction. After delivering my thesis I therefore decided to expand the prototype into the physical space to explore this element further. I built a new prototype that we tested with a new participant:
This testing phase had a distinct focus on the cat-player. In the coming period we will implement the new ideas we gained from these tests and develop a new version of Felino. We will then continue to test the game with both human and cat players. So in case you have a cat, and you would like to participate in this next stage of our development and research, let us know!
For me, this has been the most fun research experience so far and I believe that it resulted in a valuable and useful piece of work. The thesis was received well and got the following feedback:
“The work is a fine example of advanced-level scholarship in interaction design. The work approaches and contributes to a in a timely and relevant field within interaction design, particularly in the way that that it connects theoretical discussions with methodological explorations. The strengths of this work in combination with some of the unanswered questions it raises shows great promise for future work within this area.”
This project would not have been possible without the help of the animal shelter and the other cat owners that let their cats join the testing. Stay tuned for more Felino updates and have a great summer!