Humans aren’t the only species who love video games. Orangutans living in captivity have also been found to enjoy touch-screen gaming. The primates—who share 97 percent of their DNA with humans but are about three times stronger—have been playing around on tablets with the help of zookeepers for years. However, most have never been given tablets for unsupervised play, lest they break the devices or hurt themselves. Now, experts at the University of Melbourne are looking into new kinds of interactive video gaming designed for orangutans, and are even hoping to develop a range of games for the animals to play with zoo guests.
Researchers at the University of Melbourne’s Microsoft Research Centre for Social Natural User Interfaces have teamed up with Zoos Victoria to develop games for orangutans using Microsoft’s Kinect 3D sensor (which is used in the Xbox One gaming system). Instead of giving orangutans touch-screen tablets to play with, the researchers project images onto the floor of the orangutan’s enclosure. In a shape-recognition game called Zap, for instance, orangutans are given treats when they touch a red dot on the wall. But researchers are working on a more sophisticated computer version of the game in which the red dot explodes with light when an orangutan and zoo visitor touch the shapes at the same time.
The project is in its early stages, but researchers already have a lot of interesting ideas. In addition to Zap, researchers are working on a game they’re calling “Orangstagram” that would let the orangutans take pictures of themselves, display them, and even search through a photo library to choose pictures they want to look at. The overarching goal of the interactive gaming project is to provide intellectual stimulation to orangutans in captivity and give these social animals more opportunities to engage with each other and with human zoo patrons. But the researchers also hope the games might help zookeepers and animal psychologists check up on the emotional health of these animals (for instance, by analyzing which photos the orangutans choose to look at). “If we design an interface they understand they could use it to communicate things about their welfare,” explains researcher Marcus Carter.