[Chinese DiGRA 2015] Ida Jorgensen and Hanna Wirman on Inclusive game design for animals

Ida Kathrine Hammeleff Jørgensen , Hanna Wirman, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, School of Design

In recent years a new market has appeared in the game industry: digital games for animal players. The prospects of digital games for animal players are as many as the challenges the designer faces when designing games for these strange players.

Our ongoing research in orangutan play, with the aim of building serious games to enrich the lives of captive orangutans, suggests that the strangeness of the other species challenges the way we usually design games (Wirman, 2014) and calls for new methods that bridge the gap between a human designer and a non-human animal player.

While conventional game design for human players typically follows the prescriptions of user-centered design, this methodology poses a number of problems when dealing with non-human players: How to approach informants who cannot express themselves verbally? How to recognize and interpret play that may not look like ours or that may not look like play to us? How can we take into consideration the bodily and sensorimotor abilities of the non-human animal?

This paper aims to build a design research methodology (Koskinen, 2014) for the design of digital games for animal players, which takes into consideration the gap between human designers and animal players. Building on past research on orangutan play (Wirman, 2013: 2014) this paper reviews a number of concepts and methods and discuss how they can be applied in game design for animals. The methods discussed come from various academic fields such as HCI, ACI (Mancini, 2011), ethology (Burghardt 2005), ethnography, (Kohn, 2013) and zoo semiotics (Sebeok, 2001) as well as practices such as interaction design and empathic design (Koskinen, 2013). Common to these methods and concepts is that can guide our study of and game design to not only animals whose abilities are different from the norm, but also for humans with disabilities.

Author Info

Ida Kathrine Hammeleff Jørgensen is a Research Associate at the School of Design of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. She earned her Master’s degree from the IT University of Copenhagen in 2013. Ida’s research interests evolve around non-human animal play, game design, and design methodologies as well as how meaning is produced in games and the semiotics of play.

Dr. Hanna Wirman is a Research Assistant Professor at the School of Design of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University where she leads the M.Sc. Game Development study stream. Her research focuses on games and play approaching these primarily from the point of view of players and shared creative practices in design. Hanna’s current research addresses non-human animals as players and she builds games for orangutans’ enrichment and for cross-species communication. Hanna leads educational and socially responsible game design and development projects working closely with the local community and NGOs in Hong Kong.