video games

A couple playing video games (Credit: Afif Kusuma on Unsplash)

EXETER, United Kingdom — “Red Dead Redemption 2” hasn’t become a video gaming phenomenon because of its educational content, but a new study finds gamers are learning a lot more than you might think. Researchers at the University of Exeter say RDR2 players can actually identify more real life animals than non-gamers.

The game, set in America’s “west wild” during 1899, features about 200 real species people of that era could find in nature. When researchers tested just how much Red Dead players are learning from the action-adventure game, they discovered gamers could correctly identify three more varieties of wildlife than the average person.

Specifically, study authors showed 586 people from 55 countries a set of images featuring 15 American animals. From that group, 444 had played Red Dead Redemption 2.

The results of the multiple-choice quiz reveal RDR2 players correctly picked out 10 of the 15 animals, compared to just seven for non-players.

More gaming turns players into nature experts?

The study finds the best performers in the nature quiz completed Red Dead’s main storyline, meaning they played the game for at least 40 hours. Recent players also showed a better eye for nature than other participants.

Additionally, some players reported learning more about animal behavior and ecology through gaming. One participant even says playing RDR2, “no joke saved me from breaking a leg in real life.”

“The level of detail in Red Dead Redemption 2 is famously high, and that’s certainly the case in terms of animals,” explains Dr. Sarah Crowley from the Centre for Geography and Environmental Science in a university release. “Many of the animals not only look and behave realistically, but interact with each other. Possums play dead, bears bluff charge and eagles hunt snakes.”

“The game features a couple of species that are now much rarer, and one – the Carolina parakeet – that’s extinct,” adds co-author Dr. Matthew Silk.

“Hunting played a role in the Carolina parakeet’s extinction; if players shoot this species in the game, they are warned of their endangered status. If they continue shooting, the species becomes extinct, highlighting the environmental consequences of players’ actions.”

Gamers becoming real life ‘naturalists’?

The study used real photos of 15 species which included the white-tailed deer, jackrabbit, alligator snapping turtle, lake sturgeon, blue jay, and roseate spoonbill. The easiest ones gamers spotted included animals which are useful to characters, such as fish. Most participants struggled with rarer animals like the golden eagle.

Interestingly, players who chose to play as a “naturalist” — characters that serve as a protector of the Old West’s wildlife — had the best results in the quiz.

“We know that many gamers value realism, so game producers might be interested to see these findings, but we realise these games aren’t designed to be educational,” says Ned Crowley from Truro and Penwith College.

“We don’t expect big-budget games to include messages about conservation, but educators and conservationists can learn from the techniques used in games – such as making things immersive, and having each action mean something in terms of wider progress in the game,” the researcher continues.

“Being indoors on a computer is often seen as the opposite of engaging with nature, but our findings show that games can teach people about animals without even trying. Gaming is very popular, and should be taken seriously by ecologists and conservationists as a force for communication.”

The findings appear in the journal People and Nature.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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