Probably my favourite game is the ball game. Officially called Social Tool Use, to make it sound less dumb than The Ball Game. So the idea is that people LOVE objects. We are obsessed with objects, think gameboys, computers, toys, etc. We think this is one of the reasons that HGSS, as the developmental psychologists like to say (Humans Got So Smart). But what we love even more than objects is people playing with that object with us, think every major sport. It gives us a warm fuzzy feeling to be playing a game with someone, rather than on our own.
So when you play the Social Tool Use game with kids, if you stop throwing the ball, they tug on your arm or they’ll say ‘come on, come on, let’s play!’ because they love playing with you.
Dogs play fetch, but you’re just a stick throwing machine. You could be a robot or a sprinkler throwing the stick and they wouldn’t care. Kids like to use objects to play with other kids.
What we want to know is, are bonobos obsessed with objects like we are? Do they want to play ball with you, or do they just want to take the ball and run? So far they just take the ball and run, especially Ilebo. In the video you'll notice Luozi runs into me, serving as a decoy so Ilebo can make a smooth getaway.
But Kikongo throws the ball back. Which is amazing. Because no one who’s played this game with any ape has had that kind of response. In the video it looks like he's just dropping it, but he's kind of dropping it on purpose. No bonobo drops a ball by accident. Then in the last sequence, when I stop throwing the ball, he throws it right into my lap.
But he’s just one bonobo. We’re trying to find others that do it too.