Inter-Species Play

One of the main elements I established in my research so far is that many animals (including humans) play. I emphasized that this is always a free and voluntary activity since we can never force an animal to play. It is therefore a very suitable concept to embrace when we want to design technical artefacts that facilitate human-animal play.

Next to this, it is discovered that animals use certain signals to communicate their intention to play so that the invited animal does not confuse playful behaviour with actions such as fighting or mating, which show overlapping types of behaviour (such as biting, mounting, or producing certain sounds). A very clear example of this is the play bow we can observe in social play among dogs. However, according to Pierce and Bekoff (2009), the social lives of animals have evolved many examples of communicative signals that help getting along with each other and remain close and generally peaceful relationships. In animal play this includes signals such as self-handicapping, where the animal compromises its behaviour patterns or role-reversing by, for example, a dominant animal that makes dramatic roll over on its back.

According to the same article of Pierce and Bekoff (2009) there are four basic aspects in animal play: “Ask first, be honest, follow the rules, and admit you’re wrong. When the rules of play are violated, and when fairness breaks down, so does play.”

The question I am interested in at this point is how play between different animal species (including humans) can be facilitated. How could we communicate playful intentions according to the rules that make social play possible in inter-species interactions? What are the rules? And which animal species are most suitable in this case?

When looking at inter-species play, for example in the videos below, we can observe that, next to all the cuteness, in many occasions play interaction and communication of signals between different animals seem to be understood well enough to continue playing. Play facilitates a mutual understanding due to the shared interaction and response to signs, cues, and behaviour which allows specific species to understand others up to a level that enables them to perform playful activities together. This is exactly what we need for the successful design of playful technical artefacts for human-animal interaction.


(Image by _tar0_)

TOUCH project

image by zachstern

One of the first projects I came across during my graduation research is the TOUCH project: ‘Bringing new Technology to Orangutans for Understanding and Communicating cross-species for greater Harmony‘. This project, carried through by School of Design of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University by Dr. Hanna Wirman, researches the possibilities for facilitating in cross-species interaction and enrichment for orangutans through digital games.

The focus of this project is centered around both human and orangutan and the potential for interaction between these two species. The researchers are aiming for the development of digital games in which humans might be defeated by orangutans through for example visual or short term memory games.

The blog that evolved around the TOUCH project, LUDUS ANIMALIS provides insights and updates on the research as well as an interesting collection of sources on animals, play and a few other animal computer interaction projects.

(Image by zachstern)