Cock-A-Doodle-Don’t


An assistant professor of design in America has come up with a radical idea to improve chickens’ lives in battery cages – give them virtual reality headsets. Austin Stewart has created a game called “Second Livestock”, where chickens can roam a virtual field and supposedly enjoy all the perks of free range living while still in cages. The technology has not been implemented, and would need extensive ethics approval, but Stewart believes it could open up a conversation on animal husbandry.

In the game, chickens would apparently be able to look about for food and water sources, which would be located in the same place as their real life bowls. How this would work, considering that many battery chickens don’t even have the space to spread their wings, is unknown. There would be no predators in the game so, the designer claims, “they’re free to just worry about chicken business.”

This comes at a time when many large supermarkets and chain restaurants have pledged to sell only free range eggs, likely prompting a shift in the farming of eggs, which will cost farmers. The main perk of this idea for producers is profit related, due to both the price of land needed for free range chickens, and the losses of chickens who get injured or killed when allowed to run about. Stewart also claims that these chickens have stressful lives because of predators and broken bones, despite the fact that there is almost entire agreement on the torment of battery farmed chickens.

It is highly unlikely that this game is ever used commercially. Stewart himself argues that it more designed to be a social experiment to see how chickens respond to virtual reality. It is an interesting prospect, and in a way, a project such as this one could reveal far more about us than about chickens. Is there something unique about humans that allows us to suspend our disbelief when faced with virtual reality, or will animals too accept the reality that is presented to them? If chickens or other animals are raised with the headsets and are then shown the real world, will they be able to tell which one is fake?

There are also ethical questions like whether we could call these chickens free range because they think that they are. Does it actually matter that they aren’t out having a great chicken time if they experience it through VR? Is the red pill truly preferable? And how would we know? It’s not like chickens can talk. Stewart has the solution – “Maybe the farmer could disguise himself as a chicken to check on his flock”. While the idea of a farmer pretending to be a chicken to infiltrate his flock is pretty funny (plot of next Jump Street film??), the misery of battery farmed chickens is less hysterical. So instead of going all Matrix on them, how about we just open up the barn door?

[Louise Wylie – @womanpendulum]

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s