Should We Make Games For Fish?

I have often sat, gazing at my aquarium, wondering what life is like for those critters I keep captive. Are they bored and yearning to be set free? Are they content with their gluttonous lifestyle and constant pampering?

This is a question that is often raised with animals of a higher order, like pachyderm in the zoo, or chimpanzee. Those are easier to personify and to debate, but those are also, not often in our homes.

I keep my aquariums overgrown with actual live plant life. I have a flourishing ecosystem of natural plant filtration and invertebrates that I truly enjoy watching as they pick at the debris and bustle throughout the day. I test my water regularly to make sure it is optimal for the health of all involved. But my fish, well, as I said, I wonder about them.

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This interesting study really has nothing to do with gaming for enriching the lives of the fish, but you can see that they’ve effectively made a game, where the fish tries to eat a projected dot. Some may argue that this is cruel, teasing the fish without actually rewarding its hunting instinct. Not only that, but striking the glass can actually harm the fish (you’ve probably seen larger fish with nasty wounds on their lips from this).

Lets say we reversed the “game” though. Many fish, especially in the type of aquarium I have, are shoaling fish. They are put at ease by greater numbers of their own. It has been proven that they live longer when stress is reduced, and these fish are easily stressed by being alone or in small groups. What if we were able to project a larger shoal of fish around them for their own mental comfort?

I don’t have an answer. I realize there are more important and pressing concerns that we should be tackling. I still wonder though, as I watch my fish.

31 thoughts on “Should We Make Games For Fish?

  1. I’m not even sure what to say about this.

    I enjoy taking care of my aquarium. I have even built a number of homemade gizmos to monitor, control, and feed the environment. One of these days I’ll get around to documenting that to post for all to see.

    But I’m confused about this post… Is this just a bunch of nonsense wrapped around the video (which itself is interesting)?
    Is there a hack here that is not related to the video?
    If not, why not just discuss the video?

    1. Yes, use a visible laser sight on your 22 caliber pellet gun. See how long it takes before they correlate the light “dot” on their body with impending doom. Try different colors to see if it affects the recognition time, etc.

      Not just a game, it’s a science project – yeah!

      FYI: Chipmunks are vermin, don’t shed tears over them just get rid of them.

    2. Had a game we played with ground squirrel

      When eating lunch in the lease doghouse we would have the door open, and tossed out bits of a sandwich to the squirrels running around outside. There was an impatient one that took to darting inside to tap someone on the boot when it seemed to think we where taking too long to feed them. So we started to withhold the treats to see how long it would take for it to get our attention. Our pet stopped coming around, and it was assumed a rattle snake got it, perhaps we fattened it up too much :(

  2. if you cant take a step back and see the correlations between the OP’s train of thought and your own life, you have your head up your own ass.

    I want to have a pet parrot, as i find them entertaining, intelligent, visually stimulating, and good company. I have not gone about getting one, however because i dont believe i can provide an interesting enough life for one. I work 9-5 and spend many nights busy or away. to keep a bird with any kind of relative intelligence (or any pet for that matter), i would be cruelly confining that animal to a unnatural habitat without any mental stimulation for my own minor benefit.

    the lengths that the OP goes to for creating a natural and diverse habitat is justifiable based on the intelligence of the species involved. to then ponder virtual stimuli or entertainment, it makes us reflect on our own (video) game playing and virtual lives.

    1. Yeah bored parrots have a track record of developing all kinds of psychosis. I wish I could have all kinds of pets but I too find I just don’t have the time to offer them proper lives.

      1. i had a friend growing up whos family had an african grey. they kept it outside in a cage meant for smaller birds, never let it out, and had a yappy dog that harassed it all day. I cant think of a more torturous existence for such an intelligent creature.

        i had cockatiels during my adolescence that, while kinda dumb, became a serious part of my family and led decently active lives… until my mom couldn’t stand the seed husks that covered out entire house despite daily sweeping and all of the nibbled hardcover book spines. they were sent off to a large aviary with other disowned birds, which wasnt the worst fate for them in the end.

      2. Man I also feel bad for that African Grey. Strangely I too had a friend who’s family had one. When you walked into the room it would be “Hello” and when you walked out of the room it was “Goodbye” and a Padlock was the only way to keep that bird in a cage…. otherwise it would just let itself out :P They loved that bird, it was part of the family.

        And they aren’t exactly cheap birds, I can’t imagine shelling out $800+ just to neglect it. Heck If I was going to get a parrot I’d build a special shoulder perch and it would go where I went ^.^

  3. When I had fish, I too kept my tank clean with plenty of live plants. Never saw the point in fake plants…. I secretly feel bad for any fish trapped in a Spongebob aquarium with fake plants and neon gravel.

    That said I too wondered if my fish got bored.

    I had Dwarf puffers, surprisingly intelligent and interactive. I contemplated several Fish-Computer interfaces but never got around to implementing them before I moved and had to give away my aquarium.

    If you want to test the interactivity of fish (games/computer/etc) I’d go with dwarf puffers. You might not see them at first (they are really small and blend well with natural gravel/sand) just look for the only tank in the store without snails.

  4. Heh. That’s certainly an unusual post for HAD. :)

    I have six heavily planted aquariums. I do believe it has positive effects both on the inhabitants’ physical environment, and their mental health.

    They definitely seem more at ease in a living, complex, and ever-changing environment. Perhaps even entertained. There is always something to explore, play with, or pick at; and plenty of quite nooks to chill out in too. In these conditions, shoaling fish seem to need the security of a group less, and spend more time separately; as well as displaying other uncharacteristic behavior, like top-feeding in species that are normally too cautious.

    The only fish that has seemed unhappy in my tanks are bettas. With few exceptions, they find a corner, won’t leave it even to eat, and slowly waste away. They seem to be attracted to the same conditions in which they existed in the pet store, a confined area in view of other bettas. Except here, the other bettas are their reflections on the flat glass. If you cover the glass in that corner, they move to another corner. I no longer try to keep them in my large, rectangular tanks.

    Perhaps in some cases, shoaling fish might enjoy a mirror background. I tried it once a long time ago, thinking it would make it look like a bigger tank with more fish. I don’t remember any particular effects on the fish, or even what fish I had. But I was disappointed to find the reflection looked dull and dark, and it made any dirt or algae on the glass far more noticeable.

    Beyond that, I have interacted with my fish a number of other ways, all of which I probably enjoyed more than they did; with the exception of giving them occasional live food. Now that’s something they really like!

    1. When i Was around 14, I had the same thought for my zebra danios. I bought an air pump and some air line tube, poked tiny holes in the air line and buried it in a S-Curve under the gravel. The fish loved it and would weave in and out of it quickly.

  5. Plastic plants do serve a perfectly valid purpose: I’ve had 25 years of successful fishkeeping with fish of all varieties from all over the world, and in all of that time I’ve never been able to keep an aquatic plant alive in any of my tanks. They just plain hate me. Not everyone has a green thumb, nor does everyone desire to have one.

    Yes, I use plastic plants, and I am not ashamed. They work well, they look nice, and they never die.

  6. I don’t know enough about fish cognition and emotion to say anything specific. But I think you’re asking the right questions. Hacking is about improving things. Not just for ourselves but for others too. And there’s no reason to exclude animals from that regard. Many companion animals today unfortunately suffer decreased well-being and health caused by inactivity. A dog och cat kept alone in a house for 10 hours each day could be thrilled by some smartly hacked together stimulating animal gaming devices. I’d love to read more about such hacks!
    Ethologist Mark Bekoff published a great “ethology for kids” book a few years back. Very useful as a basis when talking to kids about responsibility towards animals. It might come in handy when brainstorming ideas for animal play hacks too.

  7. Make a treatment and control group. Let one play a fishy version of hide and seek by showing them jaws on a flat screen taped to the tank. See how that affects their life expectancy, health, muscle definition, etc. Generate a health index over these variables and compare the averages of the groups. See if there is a significant difference between the groups after some time. If there is none, go think of a different fish game and start all over again. Keep us updated on your findings!

  8. In answer to the question on the post, they make some type of fish basketball game in Scientifcs the old Edmund Scientific mail order. The blurb goes on about training goldfish.
    Fish ain’t game, fish ain’t wild. That’s why the government has the division of fish AND wildlife or fish AND game.

    1. I had to look that game up. Here is is.

      And pictures of a trained goldfish playing the games, too bad the video no longer works.

      Goldfish are surprisingly intelligent. I had one that loved to be petted. It figured out it could get my attention, or even wake me up, by picking up rocks in its mouth and banging them against the glass. When I came to investigate the sound, it danced around happily, but wouldn’t repeat the trick in my sight; so it took me a while to figure out what was going on. A shame I had to give it away to someone with a pond, as it outgrew my largest tank.

  9. I have seen, in the past where people have put a TV with video of a larger group of a given shoaling fish to help train their small group to do so better, since small groups font usually so well on their own. Seems to me, you may actually be onto something there.

  10. Hi,

    “Should we make games for fish?”

    Well, while playing the laserpointer-game with my cats i accidentally found out, that the fish in my tank also were attracted to the red dot.

    When i aimed the dot to the white sand on the ground of my tank, my fish started to attack it.
    They maybe thought it was something to eat.

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