Meaningful play: Applying Zoosemiotics to game development

David Shrigley and animals.

This research examines animal behavior and communication, with a special focus
on the unique movements performed by animals, to finds ways of stimulating more
fluid creative processes in humans. The primary method will be to analyze the
commonalities shared by play behavior in human and nonhuman animals. By
considering such commonalities in detail, new theoretical tools will surface that can
help game developers to enhance motivation and creativity in the continuing development process of game creation.

The aim of this research is to discover what motivates play in animals, and to apply
this knowledge to the development of concrete games. This theme will be examined
with the use of theoretical tools provided by four areas of study: zoosemiotics, child
development, performance studies and game and play studies. These fields will be
interwoven to produce an effective inter-disciplinary approach that integrates aspects of animal development and social interaction. Since general play motivators are the focus of this research, no special attention is paid to any certain animal species or group. Rather, insights are distilled from the study of multiple species, including humans. After establishing the theoretical ground, the thesis is devoted to the practical, empirical application of the findings. Subjects are presented with concrete games or play opportunities intended to motivate them to play, and their responses are observed. Finally, creative and practical applications from the arts are examined, relating the theoretical zoosemiotics framework to concrete examples.

A new methodology for the creative process of game design can be realized from the zoosemiotic perspective of animal play-behavior and communication. Zoosemiotics as a discipline was initiated by the American linguist, anthropologist, and semiotician Thomas A. Sebeok in the 1960s. Fundamentally, it is the study of “semiosis within and across animal species” (Martinelli 2010: 3). Sebeok opened a door to the approach of analyzing semiosis among animals by coining the term “zoosemiotics” and creating a foundation for this field of study, but his work was only the culmination of a long history of scientific and philosophical inquiry. A look at great influential minds such as Aristotle and Charles Darwin to contemporary ethologists such as Marc Bekoff and Gregory M. Burghardt, with consideration given to their predecessors Konrad Lorenz and Karl Groos will be examined. These ethologists are useful here for their contributions to understanding the ambiguity of play, although they have offered more to the field than that action which is inherently found in all animals.