There is a game that human beings can play with pigs. (Thanks to Scu for sending me the link.)
So let’s get a few basic things out of the way:
1. I think that humans and animals playing games together is amazing.
2. I think that games might be the first place where we see some real interspecies communication.
3. I think that a person who plays games with an animal might think twice about murdering and consuming it.
4. I could never play a game with a creature and then consume it.
Now that we have those basic things out of the way, I want to say a little about how dangerous I think this game could be. On one hand, you have my points 3 and 4 above–this could legitimately be a liberating relationship between humans and animals. It could do wonders for the ways that your average person thinks about animal agency in the world; it could provoke people to take stronger stances against factory farming.
However, I don’t think that is the case. If you read the article and watch the video, you can see that the game is really played by manipulating the pig with the iPad. You push on the iPad, you try to line up with a pig snout, and then you guide the pig around in shapes that score points. This is really a reduction of the pig to the level of a Kinect–it tracks human movement, creates a “pattern true” statement in the game itself, and the human gets points. That means that the way you get better at the game is learning how to best manipulate a pig–the player learns how to better use her tool to achieve the gameplay goal.
This is really sad for me. I want to see good things, but the very design of the game purposefully creates the pig not as a player but as a method to score points, a real-world NPC helper.
Also, we have to remember that this game is meant to amuse animals before they are going to be slaughtered for their flesh. This is literally a distraction from the reality of their conditions. If you’ve read Reality is Broken, you will remember that this is the exact reason that Jane McGonigal gives for the current desire to play MMOs and games in general: people hate the world they live in, and they want a better one.
But what does that distraction do for an animal destined to die within a year of birth?