As lockdown continues, we’re all having to find new and creative ways of keeping ourselves – and our pets – entertained. One of the latest trends to hit the market is playing video games with our cats. Or trying to, at least. At the forefront of the new phenomena is Willem Delventhal, a game developer whose “Mew and Me” collection of cat-centric video games are going down a storm in the pet world. As reported by LA Times, the videos encourage cats and their owners to join forces for some good old fashioned gaming fun, whether that involves stalking mice, batting birds, or even steering a spaceship.
Born from Boredom
People, or at least a good percentage of them in any case, like video games. But who would ever think a cat would be similarly inclined? And why would you go to the trouble of making a video game specifically for a market that spends 90% of their day asleep? For Delventhal, the impetus for moving into cat videos came after he welcomed his very first cat, Fez, into the fold. Concerned about how much little Fez might be missing him while he was out doing his day job, Delventhal set himself the task of creating something fun that Fez could do when Delventhal wasn’t there to entertain him – because, as he explains himself, a bored cat is a boring cat: “Cats have so much nuance they aren’t given credit for,” he says. “If all your cat does is sleep and eat, it’s because you don’t give them enough stimulation. if you were stuck in an apartment your whole life, and someone only came by to give you a pat on your head and put down some food, you’d be boring, too.”
His first effort was a cat toy that Fez could turn off and on at will (something Delventhal managed to achieve by soldering some wires in an electronic cat toy). After word of his creation got out, Delventhal was challenged by his fellow cat-lovers to create some more of the same. But rather than simply replicate what he’d already done, Delventhal decided to put his skills as a video gamer to good use. And lo, the first video game for cats was created.
Video Games for Cats?
Anyone who owns a cat (or who’s had the (mis)fortune of running into one on their travels) knows that cats are rarely (by which I mean never) inclined to do what anyone else wants them to. Buy them a $500 dollar cat tree, and they’re as likely to pee on it as they are to climb it. And that was exactly the challenge faced by Delventhal. Forced to consider how to make a video game enticing to the most contrary of creatures, Delventhal came up with a killer strategy: make it simple, make it realistic, and make it appealing on an emotional level rather than an intellectual one.
And that’s exactly what he did. But it didn’t work out quite so well as he’d hoped. After testing out the game on a bunch of willing feline subjects, Delventhal discovered that of the cats that deigned to interact with the game at all (which averaged around 20% of them), some struggled to get the hang of the technology. Most of the time, they missed the screen altogether, preferring to pounce on the floor or the table next to tablet or mobile than squat the devise itself.
Mew and Me Mark II
Rather than give up on his idea as a lost cause, Delventhal persevered. “What I concluded after running into 4 or fi5ve of these cats,” Delventhal says, “is that the way their vision works — around one foot from their face — is that they see poorly. You’ll notice that if you bring something close to your cat’s face, their whiskers will move forward to compensate for poor vision. The art style we had at the time was much too realistic. We had to make it simplified so they could see what was happening. We thought it was an advantage to have a hyper-realistic art style, but we simplified out of necessity because cats couldn’t see what we were doing.” So Delventhal continued to beaver away on the concept, making subtle change to turn the game into a a much simpler, intuitive, and accessible experience for all cats… whether short-sighted or not.
But here, Delventhal encountered another problem. While thirty percent of the cats involved in the study proved to be happy enough to play the game on their own, a whopping fifty percent would engage if their owner played along. Although Delventhal has initially created the game as something to keep lonely cats entertained while their human parents were otherwise engaged, he now recognized that the key to his creation’s success was to make it as appealing to creatures of the two-legged variety as to the four. His next task was thus to create a game that nurtured the bond between human and cat and encouraged the former to interact more with the latter– something he managed to achieve by introducing an option for the human player to take a “screenshot” of where and when a cat had batted the screen.
The end result is a multifaceted, multi-gaming experience that’s designed to appeal to people as much as it does to cats. As an added bonus, it also features a range of games intended to attract kitties of all different ages. Over time, Delventhal hopes to add even more options that will allow people to play with their cats remotely. But if you’re a dog owner hoping to get in on the action, you’re out of luck. If the world is divided between cat lovers and dog lovers, Delventhal falls firmly into the first category, and for the moment at least, has no plans to bring canines into the fun.
If you want start playing video games with your cat, you can download “Mew and Me” for free to your Android or iOS device.