If you’ve ever played the Sims, the addictive game of doing nothing (you create mini-people and live their lives), you may be familiar with a frustrating glitch in the original game. It goes something like this. Your Sim is flithy and crying about being so filthy. Since it’s not smart enough to go take a bath on its own, you instruct it to do so. The Sim goes to the bath only to find that you’ve installed it in the wrong spot.
Once you notice that the bath is in the wrong place, the obvious thing to do is move it, but you can’t do this. That’s because your Sim is busy not using it.
Your Sim goes to take a bath. It sees that the bath is inaccessible and displays a thought bubble with a totally incomprehensible set of squares (which I eventually realized means “blocked”). It spins in a circle and tries, unsuccessfully, to use the blocked bath again. This continues forever until your Sim pauses to cry a little more, then it starts all over again.
In the game this is beyond annoying, I’ve actually had characters die under similar circumstances (got stuck trying to go down the stairs and ended up starving to death). When my cat does it though, it’s almost funny.
Matt and I have converted our dining room into an office/studio/computer room. When I’m sitting at my desk, Tricky likes to curl up on my lap, which is pretty typical cat behavior. Occasionally things don’t go as smoothly as she’d like.
There are two main paths Tricky uses to get to my lap. One is from below: she can crawl onto a low shelf near my legs. The other is from the back. She climbs onto the very top of Matt’s chair, which is somewhat lower than my chair, and jumps from there to the back of my chair, then over my shoulder to my lap. This was cute the first few times she did it, but quickly grew tiresome, especially when claws were employed to keep her from falling off one chair or the other. Or one back or the other, when she missed the chair.
When Matt’s not here, we turn his chair around so she can’t reach my chair from the back. The other pathway wasn’t intentionally blocked, but a box on the shelf made it impossible for Tricky to climb up that way.
So my cat goes CRAZY.
First she tries the low path, jumping up behind the box, sort of twitching in place, looking for a way around it. Then she jumps down and climbs up on Matt’s chair, eying the distance and realizing she can’t make the jump. Then she jumps off the chair and goes up on the shelf behind the box again, to see if anything has changed. This can go on for twenty minutes or so before she gives up and leaves, but she’s usually back, following the same routine, within minutes.
This would be extremely funny if it weren’t so pathetic. For one thing, the whole time she’s doing this she’s mewing tragically. I’ve even picked her up and put her in my lap, but she usually jumps right back down. She doesn’t want that, she wants her path cleared. The other reason it’s pathetic is that apparently my cat’s intelligence is roughly equal to a glitchy computer character.
Or maybe not. Dr. Temple Grandin is an animal behavior specialist famous for revolutionizing slaughterhouses and a number of breakthroughs into animal psyche (she’s also autistic). Grandin says that repetitive behavior in animals is a sign that something is wrong.
Animals exhibit repetition, like a bigger cat at the zoo pacing in its cage, when a basic need is unmet. The big cats, for example are exhibiting searching behavior, because they have nothing to hunt. In other words they’re bored, but pathologically so.
My cat is a notoriously clingy cat. She needs to be pet all the time and will roll over in front of my feet for attention whenever I walk pretty much anywhere. She’s gotten better, but she really does NEED much more attention than most cats. She was also a stray for the first year of her life.
So maybe my cat is pacing back and forth behind my chair like a zoo cat because she needs more affection. She’s got abandonment issues, or wasn’t loved as a kitten, or she associates touch with a food source, or she has kitty PTSD, or, or…
Or maybe my cat’s just dumb.