Smits始终致力于营救并治疗猩猩们，同时还会将其带回逐渐缩小的森林中，他相信我们能够基于一些更复杂的方式与这些生物进行交流。使用技术去传 达对话，他和Hong Kong Polytechnic University的Hanna Wirman正在开发一款平板电脑游戏（《Touch》），并希望以此推动着人类用户去珍稀这些珍贵的同伴们。
这种在线游戏并不像听起来那样遥远。去年，美国猫粮制造商Friskies在SXSW（游戏邦注：每年在美国德克萨斯州奥斯汀举行的一系列电影，交互式多媒 体和音乐的艺术节）上发行了iPad游戏《You vs Cat》。游戏理念是玩家在屏幕上轻弹虚拟的猫粮，你的小猫便会来回移动，就好似在你的家中追逐着球，老鼠等等目标一样。这一游戏理念非常直接，并且只留 下一块有限的区域让主人能够在此控制猫的行动。一直与动物和iPet Companion进行实验的球形机器人Sphero（使用智能手机应用进行控制）让用户能够远程控制玩具。再一次的，这一游戏也未让人感受到共生性，这 违反了游戏的本意—-相反地，人类作为控制者将会把游戏当成一种受控制的玩具。但是如果游戏真的能让双方进行互动（也许不是基于同样的水平），但是创 造这种平衡会获得怎样的结果？如果游戏能够用于更好地了解地球上的动物，包括它们的思维，需求和欲望，以及与人类间的关系又会是怎样的情况？艺术家 Natalie Jeremijenko创造了“Beetle Wrestler”，即将人类和地球上的生物放在同样的水平线上，即形成了物种与物种间的公平竞争环境。但是如果动物在游戏中能够打败人类会怎样？
一个荷兰项目（即为了缓解猪的厌倦心态而开发的人类与动物间的游戏，包括让用户在触屏上引导球让猪去抓球）的联合创始人Clemens Driessen说道：“当我们向农民介绍了《Playing With Pigs》时，有个人说道‘因为人类比较聪明，所以无论如何我们都会获胜。’他停顿了一会又补充道‘不过也许猪也有可能获胜，因为它们一天到晚都在实践着。’”
Manchester University的社会学家（致力于研究动物与人类之间的关系）Richie Nimmo说道：“欧盟对于世界上的动物福利设定了较高的标准，但这也是一种无奈之举。我认为人类仍然会因为屠宰场上所上演的一幕幕场景而感到震惊。”
《Playing With Pigs》的设计师Kars Alfrink说道：“单纯地玩游戏将会让‘猪’这一理念变得不再那么抽象。我想现在唯一能够让人类与它们进行互动的方式便是在市场上买一块猪肉。”
《Touch》的目的是丰富猩猩们的生活并通过种间游戏去强调它们所面临的境况，《Playing With Pigs》则希望创造出社会上对于农业实践的评论，而这两款游戏都在提及游戏设计时正视了相同的问题：我们该如何去迎合不能使用语言的用户呢？
如果Apps for Apes的创始人是值得相信的，那么触屏便很重要。项目群组在美国动物园中将其在iPad上的应用呈现给猩猩，并表示猩猩自然地走向了它，并对那些突出明亮色彩和音效的游戏更加感兴趣。但是在与University of Nottingham Malaysia的神经系统科学家Neil Mennie交谈时，他表示这些主张都太过夸张了。与Wirman一样，他发现猩猩不会被iPad自然地吸引过去。
《Playing With Pigs》的创造者既坚持丰富这些动物的生活，同时也尽可能维系着它们与人类之间的关系。
暂且将好意置于一边的话，我们与动物王国之间的关系还保留着自私性。从历史上来看，我们所关心的一直都是它们能为我们做些什么（游戏邦注：从农业和产业上来看），而今天，我们所思考的还是它们被驯化后能够为我们做些什么：也就是伴侣关系。我们对于动物的了解仍停留在实验室和技术上，并只能用于调整我们与其之间的关系，或者用于农业机制中—-技术的积极面仍停留在对人类的保护。而《Touch》和《Play With Pigs》从某种层面上来说是为了娱乐人类，但我们也希望这些游戏能够改变一些内容，即随着我们对于动物观点的变化，社会规范在某种程度上也应该发生改变。
《Playing With Pigs》已经遭遇过来自公众，甚至是创造者的批评。Alfring说道：“这是一种中介式互动，不能取代亲自到农场看这些小猪。不过也许这会推动着人们跨出这一步。”另一方面，游戏可能会延续这种分割：“它可能导致人类在现实中与动物更加疏远；或许这也会是一种重新连接的方式。”他也承认游戏可能会具有误导性：“因为你隐藏了所有噪音而只留下愉悦的声音。”
在开发者寻求反馈时，有个评论者写了这些话：“《Playing With Pigs》听起来就像是《骇客帝国》。好似我们能够通过计算机模拟而让它们相信在户外也能够拥有美好的生活，而事实上它们最终会被汇聚到肉类工厂里宰杀掉。”还有一个评论者承认：“忽视这些动物是如何生存以及如何被宰杀是我能够安心吃肉的方式——我发现，知道的越少，我就能够越开心地生活着。如果与它们玩游戏只是为了最后杀死它们，并将其吃掉，我便会变得更加难受。然后我会想，如果它们注定要面对死亡，那就需要在生前尽可能地享受到更多乐趣。”而最直白的回答则是：“我认为玩这种游戏会让你记得这些猪并不是愚蠢的。但是不得不承认，我很喜欢吃培根。”这些都是农民们的关注焦点——我们是否真的想要人性化地看待一顿饭？有趣的是，一个呈现出“游戏农民”理念的农民花钱去玩这一游戏并不是为了屠宰猪们，他说道：“我很喜欢这一游戏。而我的目的是为了养猪而不是宰杀它们。”
Nimmo表示，这些反应是对于我们持续评估人类如何理解人类的结果。“从历史上来看，我们总是将人类区别于其它动物，但是这一观点越来越站不住脚了。《Playing With Pigs》让我们能够更好地了解具有认知复杂性以及非人类社交动物是什么，以及它们如何做出有意义的互动。这也提出了一个质疑，即我们是否真的就是独特的？”
不管怎样，人们都同意《Touch》和《Playing With Pigs》的设计初衷，即致力于丰富动物的生活。但是我们仍然面对着这样一个问题，即我们该如何清楚它们是否真的在享受游戏。在《Touch》中，猩猩可以根据自己的想法随时进入并离开游戏——而猪们则需要受到某种刺激才能做到这点，例如使用玩具球作为引诱。
在一个预培养空间里平等地玩游戏是人类与动物能够共享的一种实践（2013年1月的一个研究揭示，黑猩猩也像人类一样希望在游戏中看到“公平的结果”）。不对称游戏也将把这些信息传达给猩猩们，而在此动物们使用的是智能物体和人类的相对物iPad，Mennie和Smits想要看到猩猩通过Skype与之进行越洋对话（游戏邦注：Wirman便已经使用这种方法与游戏对象进行了交谈）。而对于Driessen和Alfrink，创造《Playing With Pigs》的开放源码将为问题的其它解决方法铺平道路，即关于：如何让猪开心？这些现实的不同是取决于我们是否愿意改变现状并面对人与动物不平衡共存的事实。Smits也表示这是值得我们为之奋斗的目标。
A pig of a problem: designing human-animal interspecies games
by Liat Clark
Playing with pigs or orangutans via an iPad might sound like a novelty, but could this kind of digitally mediated interspecies communication change our view of the animal kingdom, and our treatment of it?
I’m not sure if the line is bad, whether Willie Smits is speaking to me in German or if he’s just cooing down the phone to me. Turns out, it’s a mixture of all three, but I’m not his intended audience — Saima, one of 20 orangutans surrounding Smits as he speaks from the canopied centre of Jakarta’s 140-hectare Ragunan Zoo, has him captive. The mobile range is impressive and the hooting of the primate, tender and chatty like a puppy pleading for attention, is clearly audible down the line.
“Really, they are like children who do not have a voice,” says Smits. “If people understand that we’re so closely related [we share 97 percent of our DNA] I hope they will become upset with the destruction of their forest and realise we are actually taking away their country; because they have culture, they have language and they understand.”
Smits, who has dedicated his life to rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing orangutans back to those diminishing forests, believes it is possible — and essential — that we begin communicating with these creatures in far more complex ways. Using technology to mediate that conversation, he and Hanna Wirman of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University are developing tablet games in their Touch project that will one day pit human users against their noble relatives.
“We could even create a virtual orangutan — by letting them play thousands of times we’ll know scoring percentages and can let a virtual version play anyone online,” says Smits. “People will see they have better spatial memory than us — they have to remember 10,000 trees in the jungle.”
Interspecies online gaming may not be as distant a concept as it sounds. Last year, US cat food manufacturer Friskies released its You vs Cat series of iPad games at SXSW. The idea is to flick virtual treats across the screen your feline combatant then bats back, much the same as they might scramble around the floor with a ball, a mouse, pretty much anything to use in their general annihilation of your home. It’s a pretty straightforward concept, and one that leaves a cat — used to having a much larger surface area to play with, confined to an area the owner controls. Sphero, a robotic ball controlled using smartphone apps, has been trialled with animals and iPet Companion allows users to remotely manipulate toys at US cat shelters to instigate play. Again, neither game feels particularly symbiotic, despite their intent — rather, the human is the controller, using the game as a bit of a tease, as one might a toy mouse on a string. But what if a game could be truly interactive for both parties — perhaps never perceived at the same level, but creating a balance whereby both genuinely have something novel to gain? What if games could be used to learn much more about the animals we share this planet with — their thought process, needs and desires, how they relate to human counterparts and, in doing so, cause us to reflect on and question the constructs we have over hundreds of years built around these relationships to justify our dominion? When artist Natalie Jeremijenko developed Beetle Wrestler, an installation that put humans on a level with one of the strongest creatures on the planet, the idea was to form a level playing field across species. But what if animals could beat us at our own game?
“When we introduced Playing With Pigs to farmers, one said ‘humans will always win because we’re much smarter’,” says Clemens Driessen, cofounder of a Netherlands project developing human-animal games to alleviate boredom in pigs, including an iPad app that lets users direct a ball of light around a touchscreen for pigs to catch. “He paused, and added, ‘well, maybe pigs can win; they do have all day to practice’.”
The first empirical study to prove animals get bored was published in PLOS ONE in 2012 and demonstrated that minks kept in small cages respond three times faster to (even negative) stimuli than minks in “enriched” environments, and since 2001 EU legislation has instructed pig farms to provide rooting to alleviate boredom, boredom which results in damaging tail-biting and bar-chewing. When it became clear this would never keep a confined pig entertained, Playing With Pigs asked if it were possible to design a game that not only entertains the pigs, but allows their captors — us — to interact with them in a novel way that bridges the mechanisation of modern day agriculture and the social and emotional divide that allows that mechanisation to persist without challenge.
“The EU has some of the highest standards of animal welfare in the world, but it’s a best of a bad bunch,” says Richie Nimmo, Manchester University sociologist researching animal-human bonds. “I think people will still be appalled by what goes on in slaughterhouses.”
“Just playing the game will certainly make the concept ‘pig’ less abstract,” Playing With Pigs designer Kars Alfrink said. “I imagine now the only interaction people have with them is buying a piece of meat in the supermarket.”
While Touch intends on enriching orangutans’ lives and highlighting their plight through interspecies gaming, and Playing With Pigs hopes to generate social commentary on farming practices, both immediately faced the same problem when it came to game design: how can we ever know what entertains a non-verbal audience?
We are not amused
“I tried to get rid of all the assumptions I might have about users,” said Wirman, “because even though in some ways their behaviour is close to children, they are so different.”
Wirman started out slow, putting peanut butter on reinforced touchscreens to attract interest, then assessing the orangutans’ size, hand movements and sensitivity of vision and hearing, to devise games. After bashing the screen around and chucking water on it, the primates quickly learned it was impermeable, but did not show immediate interest. It’s impossible to know how they perceive what’s on-screen — when presented with the image of a predator once, one orangutan approached with caution from the side the image was not facing. They do, however, seem to enjoy looking at other orangutans on-screen, particularly the opposite sex — something Smits hopes will lead to better mate-matching: “You can use data of how long they look at each one to find out which they should mate with.”
So far the games are simplistic — touching items to make them disappear, moving items and memory games. The latter would be the most likely genre for an orangutan to beat a human at, considering their excellent memories — but it’s the only one they don’t yet seem to have grasped.
If the founders of Apps for Apes are to be believed, touchscreens are key. The group, which has been presenting orangutans in US zoos with iPads, says the primates have been taking to it naturally, particularly those games featuring bright colours and sound. However speaking to University of Nottingham Malaysia neuroscientist Neil Mennie, it seems these claims could be overblown. He has found, like Wirman, that orangutans do not have a natural attraction to iPads.
“I use gaming apps, and Tsunami plays once or twice but gets bored,” Mennie, who is using eye-tracking equipment to study orangutans at The National Zoo of Malaysia, tells us. “She knows what we want her to do. Sometimes she drags the blob over the screen, drops it in the bin and looks at me as if to say, ‘yeah, so what?’. I suspect it’s because of their hand shape — the iPad has been designed for human hands and they have longer ones. If they had more 3D objects or natural colours it would be better.” Mennie suggests setting up a game using webcams, whereby orangutans are rewarded for touching the screen at the same time as humans on the “other side”. But it’s the idea of sensory 3D smart objects that has Wirman excited.
“They like poking things with sticks and wires. I noticed one female orangutan playing with an ant for 20 minutes in her mouth, directing it on her lips — if we had tiny little smart objects, we could do something like that.” They started out instinctually using lips and tongues on the tablet, so moving away from a focus on hands could be key. They are also not used to sitting still, so anything they can take up trees that can survive the rough and tumble of orangutan play would be best.
Simon Evans, cofounder of street game collective SlingShot, says he can imagine bringing real animals into his games if the focus were on physicality, rather than static touchscreens. In Hounded, his team already use scent and dogs in an artificial chase of human players. “As a starting point, I think that would be powerful, a really deep way of connecting with an animal. A dog likes to chase you and I like to chase the dog — we’re two animals enjoying the same thing in the same way at the same point. I might construct all kinds of meanings and structures around that and that’s how we’re different — my ability to hold abstract thought — but at a basic level we’re the same.”
A focus on the physicality is of course quite tricky, particularly when you’re dealing with 40 piglets “quite intent on destroying anything physical”, says Driessen. So far, he and Alfrink are focusing on “early adopters”; daring piglets that show interest, eventually leading the group in a more deliberate pursuit.
At the end of the day, avoiding anything too artificial remains the main challenge. “We should try to get into the mind of an orangutan,” says Smits, “rather than manipulating them to use unnatural ways of showing what they are doing.”
Playing With Pigs’ creators tread that same fine line, between enriching the lives of these animals, and simply manipulating them — once again — to a human entity’s chosen end.
“We have to avoid creating a situation which emphasises how much smarter humans are than pigs,” said Driessen. Even the question of using incentivising treats is an issue, the danger being we end up having them do tricks for treats. “Would the food reward detract from it being play and intrinsically motivating as a game?” asks Driessen. That would be too easy — to create a symmetrical form of mutually beneficial play should remain the goal.
Us v. them: who is it for?
Good intentions aside, our relationship with the animal kingdom ultimately remains a selfish one. It is, historically, built around what they can do for us — in agriculture and industry — and today, what they can bring us in domestication: namely companionship. What we might learn from them is kept to the confines of a lab and technology is only used to mediate our relationship with them here, or in the mechanics of concentrated farming — the positive aspects of technology remain the preserve of humans. Touch and Playing With Pigs’ may on one level be aimed at entertaining humans, but the hope is they take away something more — questions that challenge the social norm at a time when our view of animals is already evolving.
“Previously, animals were regarded as asocial, outside the sphere of society and culture,” said Nimmo. “In the 19th-century modern pet-keeping emerged and people began to form relationships with animals that weren’t centred on their usefulness as commodities. People began to play with animals just for fun, and that led to dramatic changes in the way some were perceived.”
For Alfrink and Driessen, the hope is to use technology to bridge the gap between the two perceptions — pigs as supermarket pre-packaged fodder, and real world pigs which are, just a few miles from those supermarkets, biting their own tails out of frustration and boredom in confined conditions. But what do the pigs stand to gain, and can we ever hope to challenge long-held perceptions through gaming?
“Absolutely,” says Nimmo. “Change is possible in the agriculture system. It’s through play we’ve come to appreciate that animals are social, not just biological machines. But there’s tensions with using these technologies in the current agricultural complex. A shift in perception of animals using this kind of play could undermine the industry, and if that happened my suspicion is they’d be modified or withdrawn.”
Already, Playing With Pigs has come up against harsh criticism from the public, and even its creators. “It’s a mediated interaction,” says Alfrink, “not a replacement for going to farms and having a look at these pigs. But perhaps it can serve as a lead up to people making that step.” On the other hand, says Driessen, the game could inadvertently perpetuate the division: “it could create a distanced form of interaction away from the reality of the pen; or it could be a way to reconnect.” He also admits the game can be misleading “because you phase out all the bad noises and only hear the joyful [grunting] ones”.
Some argue it’s unnatural — even Wirman admits it’s not strictly normal for orangutans to play (“it’s something they do in captivity; in nature they only play when very young”). Likewise, natural play for pigs would be frolicking in the mud, but Alfrink argues caged farming is not natural either, and Evans that the human-animal relationship has always been mediated through technology, whether via a ball or a lead. We have already changed the playbook of what is “natural” by taking these animals out of their habitat — does this then mean anything’s game, or do these projects distract from the more pressing question of their treatment?
“Playing With Pigs sounds like The Matrix,” wrote one anonymous commentator when developers asked for feedback, “as if we could make them believe through computer simulation they have a nice life outdoors, while actually they’re crammed together, stuffed with hormones and antibiotics in a meat factory.” Another admitted, “being ignorant to how these animals live and get slaughtered is what keeps me enjoying meat — I find the less I know, the happier I am. Playing a game with them, only to kill and eat them, I can’t help but humanise that idea, and how sick it sounds. Then again I guess if you’re destined to death you might as well have some fun.” And the most frank response: “I think it’s kind of sick as it makes you remember these pigs aren’t stupid. And yet, I love bacon.” These will be the concerns of farmers — do we really want to humanise a meal? Interestingly, one farmer presented with the idea of being a “gaming farmer” paid to play with pigs rather than slaughter them said: “Sure, I’d love that. My aim is to raise pigs, not to slaughter them necessarily.”
Such a reaction is, Nimmo would argue, a result of our continual reassessment of how we understand ourselves as human. “Historically we’ve defined human beings against other animals and increasingly that’s not tenable. Playing With Pigs gives us a way to understand how cognitively sophisticated and social non-human animals are and how they can engage in meaningful interaction. It raises questions about how unique we really are.”
Whether or not people agree with the reasoning behind Touch and Playing WIth Pigs, both aim to enrich animals’ lives. Yet the question remains as to how we can ever know they are enjoying it. In Touch the play enclosure is voluntary — orangutans enter and leave when they want — while pigs probably wouldn’t do it if they weren’t receiving some stimulation, argue the founders, just as toy balls are discarded in pens.
“The only way to measure ‘happiness’ is if they continue doing it and do it right, but it could be pure chance,” says Wirman. “Then there’s the challenge, are they only coming because it’s new and exciting? They return, they use the games and seem to be doing alright, but it’s very hard to say what they understand or if it’s bringing joy to their lives — how to understand that is a personal goal.”
It’s clear one thing does make them happy: bonding with real people. “I can tell you Tsunami is desperate to interact with her keeper,” says Mennie. “She loves him and always wants a cuddle off him.” Whether technology could be seen as a replacement for that kind of closeness, and for the lack of maternal care that has ultimately brought this about, remains dubious. It may, however, teach us to preserve their habitats, so no orangutan is separated from its mother prematurely due to human intervention.
The future of human-animal play
Enjoying each other on a base level, in a pre-cultural space, is best explored through play — a practice we already share with animals (a January 2013 study revealed chimpanzees share the human preference for “fair outcomes” in games). Asymmetrical games could deliver this for orangutans, whereby animals uses smart objects and human counterparts iPads, and Mennie and Smits want to see orangutans having trans-Atlantic conversations via Skype (Wirman already chats with her subjects this way). For Driessen and Alfrink, making Playing With Pigs open source will pave the way for other groups to explore ways to develop the conversation, and crowdsource a solution to the question: what makes a pig happy? How distant these realities are depends on our willingness to change the status quo and face uncomfortable realities about our unbalanced coexistence. The pay-off, argues Smits, will be well-worth the battle.
“I’m due to visit the first orangutan I saved, Uce,” he says. “She’s been living in the jungle for 21 years and just had her third baby. As always, she’ll come down, give me her baby and we’ll have a wonderful hour before I wander back into the forest and she back into the tree. It will always be that way. She never forgets.”(source:wired)