Science & Research

Students play ‘Chicken’ in Faunce

PETA brings ‘I, Chicken’ simulator to Brown, students live briefly as virtual poultry

By
Contributing Writer
Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Students got to experience life from the eyes of a chicken they may have eaten during a virtual reality simulation hosted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Monday and Tuesday in the basement of Faunce House.

The exhibit, “I, Chicken,” stopped on campus during a countrywide college tour. Its creators hoped to use the visceral experience of a virtual reality simulation to increase human empathy for the bird. PETA’s innovation department developed this program, which will pass through over 150 colleges over the course of the next year. Sam Simon, the co-creator of “The Simpsons” and a noted philanthropist, helped fund the campaign, which ultimately cost around $300,000 and is currently run by PETA’s youth division, peta2.

“This is really at the intersection of emerging technology and morality,” said Ken Montville, PETA’s senior college campaign strategist. “We think there’s something very cutting-edge about the project. We’ve based it on recent research about virtual reality psychology, which suggests that even from just a two-minute glimpse into a new perspective, a bit over 20 percent of all participants continued to have strong feelings of empathy with the subject long after the simulation.”

Users have the opportunity to test out the virtual reality simulation, which allows them to wander, look around and move as a chicken — after waiting in a short line and watching other guests flap their wings, squat and squawk. The simulation uses only computer-generated images and carefully avoids any graphic images of slaughter or animal abuse. Rather, it focuses on what ultimately amounts to three short vignettes in the life of a free-range chicken as it’s captured, caged and brought to the gate of the slaughterhouse.

The journey begins in a green pastoral setting, with the guest — as the simulated chicken — looking at his reflection in an abandoned hubcap. Compelled to follow the chicken’s “best friend” through a thicket of tall grass and over a puddle, the chicken wanders with his fellow bird. He lives the sort of lifestyle that coincides with what Marta Holmberg, the director of peta2, described as ideal for the birds in a recent press release, writing that the animals wish to spend their days “in peace with their family and friends.”

But this bucolic scene doesn’t last for long, as two farmers arrive and begin to capture chickens for slaughter. After a brief foray on the back of a truck bed in a small crowded cage, the participant ascends on a conveyor belt to the slaughterhouse while watching freshly butchered birds descend nearby. The simulation ends as the chicken/participant reaches the summit of the belt, signaling the end of his life.

PETA’s exhibit provided an opening for the organization to share its message. After the simulation, volunteers shared some sobering facts about animal treatment, including the fact that over a million chickens are slaughtered every hour in the United States.

Several students expressed their continued reluctance to give up meat, even after enjoying the simulation. Upon emerging from the virtual reality, Bella Okiddy ’15 said she “liked the wow factor of seeing life through a chicken’s eyes,” but added that she remained wary “of (the activity’s) ability to continue to raise awareness.”