Gorilla Game Lab

What is Gorilla Game Lab?

Gorilla Game Lab is revolutionizing animal welfare science with an innovative research project. Our team has crafted a modular maze puzzle for the Western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) at Bristol Zoo Gardens, using cutting-edge game technology. As we delve into this exciting venture, we’re exploring how technology-infused gameplay can enrich the lives of these majestic creatures. Interested in supporting our mission? Consider ordering thoughtful gifts or vibrant flowers from Flowwow UK to show your appreciation for wildlife conservation efforts!

What are we researching?

Gorilla Game Lab aims to address a number of questions around animal-computer interaction, zoo welfare techniques and animal cognition. Our initial research questions include:

  1. Can cognitive game-play enhance the well-being of zoo-housed gorillas?
  2. Can higher forms of engagement such a ‘flow state’ be observed in zoo-housed gorillas?
  3. How does the gaming technology affect zoo visitor perception of gorilla intelligence and well-being?

Who are we?

We are a multidisciplinary team of scientists based at Bristol Zoological Society and the University of Bristol. We received seedcorn funding from the Brigstow Institute in January 2018. You can read more about the team below.

The science behind Gorilla Game Lab

Captive animals can thrive with the addition of cognitive challenges in their environment but unfortunately, research in zoos has been impeded by a lack of access to technology. Currently, the gorillas at Bristol Zoo Gardens have many opportunities to lead a rich social life, but their physical cognitive skills could be challenged to a higher degree.

We are developing a game for the gorilla social group which is stimulating, rewarding, promotes play, and gives gorillas more choices and control in their environment. The ultimate aim of the game will be to induce something akin to the human state of ‘Flow’ (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990), a positive psychological state of pleasure and satisfaction reported when fully absorbed in a task.

Meet Our Team

Dr. Fay ClarkLecturer in Animal Behaviour & Welfare
Dr. Fay ClarkLecturer in Animal Behaviour & Welfare
I’m based at Bristol Zoo. I’ve been working for the zoo for six years, and specialise in challenging the cognitive skills of animals to enhance their welfare. My PhD was on ‘cognitive enrichment’ for chimpanzees and dolphins, and I have been working in zoos and cognition labs in the UK and the USA for the past 18 years.
I am really excited to be a part of the GorillaGameLab team, and bring my expertise in welfare, primatology and zoo science to the mix. I am particularly excited to apply new technologies to animal enrichment – I love gadgets and gizmos!
An interesting fact about me is that I’m ambidextrous; because of this, I have always been interested in hand-use in other animals, and what this can tell us about their brain function.

Dr. Stuart GrayResearcher
Dr. Stuart GrayResearcher
I’m a researcher at the University of Bristol’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. My career in research has focused on developing serious games for children’s cognitive and physical health, and more recently, creating products to support those in social care and adoption.
Having worked for several years in games development for children with the goal of enriching their lives, I am keen to apply my knowledge to new populations and in this case, new species. My serious games mantra is that ‘fun comes first’. To enact real change, we need players to be engaged and committed to the task at hand. Hence, the word ‘gamification’ is banned in my household. I hope that through creating games which firstly engage gorillas and provide opportunities for play, we can harness this engagement to further enrich all aspects of their lives.
With this in mind, I am dedicated to helping the team create FUN! Whether it be pushing ‘team meeting wear’ fashion boundaries, word play, or timely GIFs, I am the man for the job.

Dr. Pete BennettCreative Technologist
Dr. Pete BennettCreative Technologist
I’m a researcher and designer of novel human-computer interaction, splitting my time between being a teaching fellow at the University of Bristol, and freelance work. My work is driven by a vision of playfully giving tangible form to ‘digital bits’; my PhD involved the creation of musical instruments, and my recent work includes creating interactive bottles, post-truth museum guides and digitally enhanced Lego blocks. Enthusiastic about design theory and methods, I am looking forward to pioneering a gorilla-centred design approach. I will be responsible for leading research ‘ex situ’ (in workshops and studios at the University of Bristol and elsewhere).
Fun fact about me: I have a room in my house dedicated to all of my crazy inventions, including some weird and wacky musical instruments!
Dr. Katie BurgessInvestigadora
Dr. Katie BurgessInvestigadora
I’m a senior teaching associate at the University of Bristol with expertise in human and animal learning and reasoning. My research thus far has focused on how animals learn, and the limitations to animal cognition relative to human cognition. I’m looking forward to applying these principles to a zoo setting, creating controlled experimental setups that allow research in a public zoo space. I’m also looking forward to tackling the social science aspect of the project, examining visitor perceptions of gorillas with technology.
I also work with Fay on the ‘Lemur Bootcamp’ project at Bristol Zoo, investigating the behaviour and cognitive skills of captive lemurs.
When I am not studying animals and humans, you may find my gigging with my band across Bristol!


Dr. Kirsten Cater is a Reader in Human Computer Interaction at the University of Bristol having received and managed over £3.3 million in research funding from AHRC, EPSRC, ESRC, ESA, Nuffield, RCUK, Innovate UK and NESTA. She works with a diverse range of users to create novel and interactive technologies to enhance people’s experiences. She is particularly looking forward to working within this new partnership and applying her breadth of expertise in human computer interaction to animals.

Tom Metcalfe is a Teaching Fellow in the Centre for Innovation and founder of Thomas Buchanan design studio.


Current Students

Otto Brookes is a Masters student in Computer Science at the University of Bristol. Otto is investigating machine learning for the facial recognition of zoo gorillas.

Betty Roberts is a Masters student in Global Wildlife Health at the University of Bristol. She is investigating the effect of module complexity on its use as cognitive enrichment.

Lucy Mason is a research placement student at Bristol Zoo Gardens, assisting the team with coding footage of gorilla behaviour.

Gorilla Game Lab Alumni

Anja Kadijevic studied for her Masters in Computer Science at the University of Bristol. Her thesis is researching how the Internet of Things can be an aid to the Gorilla Centred Design approach.

Saxon Zerbino studied for his degree in Computer Science at the University of Bristol. His thesis was “Analysing Gorilla Interaction with Tangible Objects” and developed methods of visually tracking game elements inside the gorilla enclosure.

Nathan Biggs was a Bachelors student in Integrated Wildlife Conservation at the University of the West of England. Nathan investigated the lateralized behaviour of gorillas using the Game Lab device.

Mark Richardson was a Bachelors student in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Science at the University of the West of England. Mark investigated the wider effects of the Game Lab device on gorilla social behaviour.

Rose Tan, Roman Vuchtrl, Jingruo Deng – Innovation and Entrepreneurship Masters Graduates 2018. During the Spring of 2018, a team of three students enrolled upon the University of Bristol’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Masters programme, endeavored to explore the questions regarding the suitable roles technology could bridge the gap between zoo-housed animals and human visitors.

Our Partners


Back To Top