Videogames are, perhaps, the greatest invention science has given us. Some would argue that would be vaccines, or the internet, but to them I say: hogwash.
But videogames have always had one major hurdle in that they are only accessible and playable by humans. Until now. A pioneering team of American scientists said ‘but what about the noble pig? They, too, should be able to indulge in humankinds greatest achievement!’
Initially reported on by the BBC, this study takes a look at four pigs. Two 24 month old micro pigs (Ebony and Ivory), and two 3 month old Yorkshire pigs (Hamlet and Omelette). [Ed’s note: Hamlet must be the best name for a pig ever. -SB]
While its known pigs are highly intelligent animals, getting them to actually play and understand the games was a difficult task. All the pigs proved to be far-sighted, and the game needed to be controlled entirely by their snouts.
For 2 weeks, the pigs were trained to use a mock-joystick through food rewards until they grasped the basic concept. They were then taught to pair this with watching a screen.
After these basic concepts were mastered came the more interactive element of controlling a small white ball to touch the outer wall displayed on the screen, which was combined with an auditory cue and a food reward.
The target walls changed in number and size, growing increasingly complex and creating more of a challenge, as well as being combined with a time limit.
One would think a food reward would be plenty enough for such a task, but partway through training, the food reward system broke. However, the pigs continued interacting with it, being rewarded with praise instead.
The Yorkshire pigs finished up fairly evenly, both averaging just under a 50% success rate, while their micro counterparts proved the true MVP’s with Ivory hitting a whopping 76%.
The numbers proved success was operating at more than the level of pure chance. The pigs saw they had a goal on that interactive digital screen and aimed to achieve it.
It doesn’t exactly mean you’ll see a pig in your next raiding party in WoW, but it’s a fascinating step forward in seeing how animals interact with and understand digital media.
Also, the praise thing works for regular gamers. Give it a try some time.