Many tablet games are among the most simplistic games in existence. Babies have been observed playing them successfully. Controls as basic as “touch” have opened up gaming to larger, less intelligent audiences — including some animals.
Sarah Mandel is an aviculturist who takes care of a gang of Magellanic penguins from South America at the Aquarium of the Pacific. She also owns a scratched-up iPad she lets her cat use. (It shouldn’t surprise you iTunes sells a game for cats. There are probably twenty games for cats and two for giraffes. Lick the screen to purchase power-ups!) But now it technically sells a game for penguins, as one named Newsom saw the game in action — a mouse running all over the screen — and began pecking at it.
Newsom has been obsessed with it ever since, and other penguins have joined him in playing the game. As many as four have been observed crowding around the tablet as would the members of a frathouse after a long day at college. The game’s influence is beneficial for Sarah, who needs to check the health of the penguins regularly and would otherwise have a hard time catching them. When they’re absorbed in the game, she can examine their flippers and make sure they look okay.
One would argue that the penguin isn’t necessarily “playing” the game so much as it’s batting at a small food-sized moving object, an activity most creatures have a tendency to spend their time doing anyway. What we’re seeing is no different than a cat chasing a laser pointer. But still, the penguin IS interacting with a virtual object, a feat thought impossible in the days of the Atari or the NES.