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What Could Playing with Pigs Do To Us?

Driessen, C.,  Alfrink, K., Copier, M., Lagerweij, H., and van Peer, I., 2014 ‘What could
Playing with Pigs do to Us?’, Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture, 30 , 79-102


This paper contextualises the project Playing with Pigs as a piece of research in inter-species design and considers the process, development and testing of the prototype. The work documents the many responses to the project and presents a ‘researching in the wild’ approach where the prototype was tested with pigs, farmers and online communities. Although the paper never explicitly states it directly, it situates the project as a piece of critical design, or inter-species philosophy through practice.

Most interestingly in the writing, it draws on may of the public’s responses to the work to guide the success of the project. The prototype was developed and then tested with communities to see if it provoked the right sorts of questions in the audience. Online communities where tracked and the responses gathered to help track the provocation that the design probe had achieved. This will be important to consider in the planning of practice outputs from the thesis and how best to gather community responses.

Key Quotes

“The effort to merely design “video games for pigs” would already have been potentially interesting on multiple levels: As a way to publicly emphasize that boredom for pigs amounts to a serious welfare issue, and to highlight that current ways of meeting this regulation do not sufficiently entertain these clever animals.” (p79)

“picturing farmed pigs as video game players could contribute to a sense that they
do not (necessarily) exist outside of our technological culture, while at the same time informing a wider public on how the actual situation of farmed pigs does not resemble the lives that pigs are thought to enjoy in the popular imagination, in which they alternate lazy mud baths with wandering around the barn yard.” (p79-81)

“When we discussed the possibilities of games for pigs with pig farmers, this led them to
describe a variety of experiences with the animals in which they highlighted their individuality, curiosity and resourcefulness.” (p81)

“mediated interaction between farmed pigs and humans. One way to argue for the inclusion of human players is to claim a uniquely human ability for providing a more interesting and dynamic play experience to the easily bored pigs than a mere digital opponent could offer.” (p81)

“Digitally mediated interaction with pigs would deploy what is currently becoming the prime mode of human communication to reveal that animals are still here, somewhere, among us. Thus, the game would allow for a glimpse of modern meat production, the way it actually happens (with a game added).” (p82)

“Will “playing with pigs” be a way to confront a meat eating and animal loving population with the inconsistency or even “schizophrenia” of their consumer choices? Or does it instead allow for the crafting of a postmodern, high-tech, digitally mediated version of Berger’s peasant lifestyle?” (p83)

“Besides being a public intervention framed by relational and contextual understandings of animal ethics, this project also experiments with alternative genres of investigating philosophical ideas and ethical concerns. Do philosophy and ethics necessarily “happen” only in a discursive practice that aims to articulate arguments in rational debates? Or could this type of design project be a way to foreground the experiential and imaginative nature of what it means to be a moral person? And could it be a way to investigate a different kind of thinking about human and animal minds and relations?” (p84)

“since designing can be a fruitful mode of “external” thinking, through materializing ideas and tinkering with these on the go, the process of design as a mode of
communication lends itself well to this cross-species form of testing ideas. The continuous tweaking of designs in response both to play tests with pigs and to public commentary we felt to hold the promise of a mediated form of ongoing deliberation with
animals on how we may relate.” (p84-85)

“The challenge is to find ways to understand animals that acknowledge them as being different from humans, without at the outset inscribing in what ways exactly; and without assuming an absolute and insurmountable species barrier to exist between us and them, making communication impossible.” (p85)

“The basic assumption here is that humans and animals do not live separate lives that
merely influence each other “around the edges” (Lestel, Brunois, and Gaunet 2006, 156).
These authors have pointed instead to an understanding of humans and animals as cooperating and changing each other, socially, cognitively and physiologically, in the course of shared actions in which we complement each other’s skills.” (p87)

“By the end of the nineteenth-century and start of the twentieth-century, photography and film can be seen to change the status of the animal and the character of both human and animal subjectivity, which became centred around seeing (Burt 2002, 35)” (p92)

“the subjective character of experience,” which needs to be imagined in a “perspectival mode.” The language of perspective carries with it weighty assumptions about what it means to understand other minds. Within the model of a world divided up into the objective and the subjective, and armed with the method of sympathetic projection, understanding another mind could only mean seeing with another’s eyes (or smelling with another’s nose or hearing with another’s sonar, depending on the species)—‘put yourself in his place’ (Daston and Mitman 2005, 52)

Whatever the historical forces that forged it, the perspectival mode was most decidedly a creature of history. It is not simply another form of subjectivity; it is the apotheosis of subjectivity as the essence of mind (Daston and Mitman 2005, 52).

“Games seem especially generative of the kind of bodily and mental immersion in an environment, but they can do so in a way that promotes an experience of full domination.” (p96)

“Whereas reading novels (and watching films) provides a form of individuating minds that allows for empathic projection into imaginary others, multiplayer interaction is a staged encounter with an actual other, which may produce sympathy by moving together, promoting a form of emergent moral subjectivity that does not involve leaving the self behind for an ideal of altruistic empathy. In this way (for humans), play is then not so much a loss of self – which would imply the self was something previously had, possessed, only left behind when starting to play. But play (also) allows for particular selves to emerge, to be experimented with, and to cultivate an experience of oneself as a specific, peculiar self.” (p97)

Further Reading

Burt, Jonathan. 2002. Animals in Film. Reaktion Books

Daston, L., and G. Mitman. 2005. Thinking with Animals: New Perspectives on Anthropomorphism. Columbia Univ Pr

Despret, V. 2004. “The Body We Care for: Figures of Anthropo-ZooGenesis.” Body & Society 10 (2-3): 111–34.

Ingold, Tim. 2012. “Toward an Ecology of Materials.” Annual Review of Anthropology 41 (1): 427–42. doi:10.1146/annurev-anthro-081309-145920.




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