Kars Alfrink: Designing Play for Pigs & Humans

5 Apr 2012 - 1:46pm
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Both pigs and humans have a reputation for being intelligent. Despite this, it seems neither pigs nor humans are able to exercise their cognitive abilities to the fullest in their modern environments.

Farmed pigs in the European Union are required to have access to ‘enrichment materials’. These encourage pigs to perform their (natural) behavior, reduce boredom and tail biting, and, hence, reduce the need for tail docking. This legal requirement has led farmers to provide materials such as a plastic ball or a metal chain with some plastic piping. However, these ‘toys’ for the most part neither resolve societal concerns nor do they appeal to the cognitive abilities of the pigs.

To allow for a more interesting development of (human and animal) behavior, and to learn more about some of the processes involved, a team of play designers and animal researchers joined together at the Design for Playful Impact research group of the Utrecht School of the Arts, to design a game challenging the cognitive abilities of both pigs and humans. In the game, play between species happens in real-time, using custom hardware in pigs’ farm pens and bespoke software for commercial mobile devices on the human side.

In this session, Kars Alfrink, one of the team’s designers, will demo the game and show how it evolved over time, using numerous examples taken from the project’s ongoing process including field research at farms, participatory design sessions and playtests with pigs and humans and the production of a concept video.

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