You learn a lot by playing games. Especially games that are set in the past like Assassin’s Creed, serve to give a glimpse of how life was many years before us. They allow us to revisit historical sites, re-imagined in a sandbox setting as if the player has traveled back in time. Different researchers around the world are even studying just how much people actually learn from games. This brings us to Red Dead Redemption 2.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is set in a fictionalized version of the Western, Midwestern, and Southern United States, 1899. It puts us in the shoes of Arthur Morgan, a gang member that’s fighting to try to find his place in an ever-expanding and changing world that has no place for outlaws anymore. One of the game’s main features is the sheer amount of wildlife packed into it. So much so that this urged researchers to find out just how much RDR2 players had learned about the wildlife portrayed in the game.
The research included surveys from 586 volunteers from 55 different countries. Out of these, 444 had played the game. The research showed that people who had played the game were better at identifying real-life animals that were shown to them in the photos. This shows just how far Rockstar (the game studio behind RDR2) went to accurately model and render 200 different wildlife species.
According to Sarah Crowley, an environmental social scientist from the University of Exeter in the UK “The level of detail in Red Dead Redemption 2 is famously high, and that’s certainly the case in terms of animals. 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”. This is in part due to Rockstar making the animals part of the gameplay. In RDR2 players are tasked with hunting down animals for food, hides, and fur.
Participants of the study were presented with photos of 15 real species that were also featured in the game. These included the white-tailed deer, jackrabbit, alligator snapping turtle, lake sturgeon, pronghorn, green iguana, American bullfrog, blue jay, and roseate spoonbill. RDR2 players got a median score of 10 out of 15 while participants who hadn’t played the game scored a median of 7.
According to Matthew Silk, from the University of Exeter “The game features a couple of species that are now much rarer, and one – the Carolina parakeet – that’s extinct”. He further added that “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”.
See that dad, we do learn something from playing games!