Unique RDR2 Study Shows How Video Games Can Make Us Care About Animals

The great success Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2) immerses you in a vast open world of the American West at the very end of the 19th century. Players can loot trains, shoot rival gang members, steal horses – and, it turns out, learn a lot about nature, too.

The researchers interviewed 586 volunteers from 55 different countries, 444 of whom had played RDR2, and found that those who had experience with the game were better able to identify real animals shown to them in photos.

This is likely due to the 200 or so real species of animals that are authentically rendered in RDR2 – they can all be interacted with and hunted, and they all act the same as they would in the wild.

“The level of detail in Red Dead Redemption 2 is notoriously high, and this is certainly the case in terms of animals “, says Sarah Crowley, environmental social scientist and anthropologist, from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.

“Many animals not only look and behave realistic, but interact with each other. Possums play dead, bears charge, and eagles hunt snakes.”

For the study, participants had to identify 15 actual species featured in the game from photographs, including white-tailed deer, hare, alligator snapping turtle, lake sturgeon, American antelope, green iguana, American bullfrog, blue jay and roseate spoonbill.

When presented with a multiple choice quiz on these animals, RDR2 players scored a median of 10 out of 15 questions, while those with no gaming experience had a median score of 7. The difference was greatest for animals which are actually useful in the game – like fish which can be caught and eaten.

Those who completed the main RDR2 storyline (which takes around 40-60 hours of gameplay), those who played the game most recently, and those who played a conservationist role in the online version of RDR2 scored the best. scores.

Players also said they actually learned about animal behavior and ecology through Red Dead Redemption 2. One participant said the game taught them to spot a ram that was about to charge in the wild.

“The game features a few species that are now much rarer, and one – the Carolina parakeet – which is extinct,” says environmentalist Matthew Silk, from the University of Exeter.

“Hunting played a role in the extinction of the Carolina Parakeet; if players shoot this species in the game, they are alerted to their endangered status. If they continue to shoot, the species becomes extinct. , highlighting the environmental consequences of player actions. “

Video games are often associated with long hours spent indoors away from nature, but researchers are keen to stress their educational value – even though the main focus is entertainment, which helps attract as many gamers as RDR2, people can still learn while they play.

The team behind the study argues that games are “under-explored and under-used” as teaching methods, and that environmentalists and environmentalists should start taking titles such as Red Dead Redemption 2 – a game is sold over 37 million copies to date – more seriously when it comes to making the natural world better known.

With many species currently in a perilous position in terms of future survival, and large parts of our planet slowly becoming more inhospitable, video games could be one of the methods used to encourage us to take better care of the world around us. .

“We know that many gamers appreciate realism, so game producers might be interested to see these results, but we realize these games are not designed to be educational,” says biologist Ned Crowley, Truro and Penwith College in the UK.

“We don’t expect big budget games to include conservation messages, but educators and environmentalists can learn techniques used in games – like making things immersive and making every action have a meaning. meaning in terms of wider progress in the game. “

The research was published in People and nature.

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