Pigs Playing Video Games = Ethical Farming?

Gamer pig is riding high, baby.<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/56258631@N00/361477737/">Maciej Lewandowski</a>/Flickr

It’s easy to forget how much pigs are like us. Take, for instance, the simple fact that we’re both omnivorous. Or that we both provide for and deeply treasure our newborns. We both have a tendency to form violent, marauding gangs. And we both enjoy playing flashy video games just for the fun of it.

Wait, what?

Cue Michelle Clement, blogging at the Scientific American on interspecies gaming:

[R]esearchers at Wageningen University [in the Netherlands], in the course of their research on ethical livestock farming, noticed that pigs like to play with dancing lights…European regulations currently require that pig farmers provide mentally-stimulating activity for their pigs in order to reduce boredom, which leads to aggression and biting, and researchers at Wageningen University, in collaboration with the Utrecht School of the Arts, are currently developing a video game called “Pig Chase” for livestock pigs…[The] game would be an interspecies two-player game.

Okay, so it’s not like the swine are grabbing Nintendo controllers and goading their farmer overlords into round after riveting round of Pokémon Snap. But do take a moment to appreciate this concept in humane farming: As a farmer, you’d get to play video games with your hogs, and the gameplay might actually have the added benefit of making the animal’s life happier and healthier.

The system includes a giant screen that broadcasts a swirl of glittering colors and lights next to the pigpen. The human participant controls the wall-sized screen remotely with an iPad, and the pigs react by touching and following the light designs with their snouts. Clement notes that researchers hope that this will all “open up new questions in debates about animal farming and welfare in the digital age…”

Check out this brief demonstration of “Pig Chase” posted on the website of the Playing with Pigs project:

And here’s a segment from the program Science Flash that includes even more footage of pigs going to town on mentally stimulating blasts of light. (It’s in Dutch, so bonus points if you translate key parts of the segment in the comments below.)

If the researchers get their way, this project could serve as a template for studies in animal behavior, cognition, and farming techniques. But Playing with Pigs raises another key question: Would playing Angry Birds with these pigs be stimulating for them, as well, or just plain traumatizing?


The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.