“Play is older than culture, for culture, however inadequately defined, always presupposes human society, and animals have not waited for man to teach them their playing.”
Huizinga, J. Homo ludens. 1955
Play is one of the most natural and inherent behaviors among animals. Human play has evolved significantly over the years, and so have done the artifacts which allow us to play: from children playing tag games without any tools other than their bodies, to modern video games using haptic and wearable devices to augment the playful experience. However, this ludic revolution has not been the same for the humans’ closest companions, our pets. Recently, a new discipline called Animal Computer Interaction (ACI), has focused its attention on improving animals’ welfare using technology. ACI considers animals as the target users of digital systems, aiming at developing computer interfaces and digital systems specifically designed for them.
At the Polytechnic University of Valencia, we propose an ACI approach to develop more engaging and suitable digital games for animals: Intelligent Playful Environments for Animals. We aim to explore how animals interact with technology for playful purposes, which are the digital mechanisms they feel most attracted to and how can we learn unobtrusively from the animals’ playful behavior and preferences.
Answering these questions would allow us to develop engaging and suitable playful experiences which adapt to the context and the animals’ interactions. Such playful environments could help to alleviate stress or anxiety in animals alone at home, shelters or zoos, as the animal could play by himself or with other animals without requiring human supervision. These games could also foster physical exercise through play, or provide an amusing training activity. Humans could also participate in the game with their animals and the playful ecosystem, both remotely or in-place, transforming the environment into a shared space for communication and bonding.