Video Games for Cats

Recently, I discovered a game, created by a two-man development team at Hiccup, that made me realize that to be a gamer, one need not be human.

In December 2010, Game for Cats debuted on the Apple iPad. Initially a free download, the game purported to provide a world of entertainment for our feline friends. The official tagline bragged, “All the fun of your cat chasing a laser pointer without any of the work!” The game play in the initial free level provided a single dot that flashed across the screen and resembled a laser pointer. In-game downloads offered further levels that allowed the cat to chase a mouse or butterfly.

Creating such a game might seem simple, but developers TJ Fuller and Nate Murray encountered several obstacles along the way. The game needed to be easy enough for a cat to play, but also engaging enough to keep its attention. Initial trials of the laser pointer level, for example, proved too stilted and unrealistic. Most cats only chase an object they believe to be alive, so Fuller and Murray recorded finger movements across the iPad to simulate life-like motions.

The developers carefully considered additional graphics and sound. While pretty pictures and catchy tones might seem lost on Mr. Fluffy, they do play an important role in keeping a cat’s interest. While veterinarians still can’t say for certain whether or not cats can see color, they all agree that these animals are highly sensitive to light and dark. Fuller and Murray used high-contrast colors in each of the game levels. A dark mouse moves across an extremely light background to ensure the cat easily identifies its target. In terms of sound, the developers passed on actual music in favor of a “reward” system. When the cat catches the laser, for example, it chimes, while on the mouse level, the animal lets out a loud squeak. Cats easily become conditioned to recognize these sounds as positive reinforcements for their improving game skills.

Some humans may wonder about the practicality of leaving such an expensive piece of equipment in the care of their cats, no matter how beloved, but at least some worries can be put to rest. Many tests ensured that sharp kitty claws couldn’t pierce the durable iPad screen. Special modifications to the game program lowered the risks of the cat accidentally pausing or exiting the game. Fuller and Murray initially received complaints from pet owners that their cats made in-game purchases for the mouse level add-on without human consent. The pair quickly fixed this issue by adding a feature that scans for a human fingerprint before allowing a purchase.

Despite any aptly-named hiccups, Game for Cats currently provides hours of amusement for felines and humans alike. For more information (and many more adorable videos), head over to the game’s official website, Game for Cats. If you’re interested in learning more about play among non-humans, check out Gordon Burghardt’s article “The Comparative Reach of Play and Brain” in The American Journal of Play.