Pigs Can Now Play Video Games!

by Kareena Dodeja
Pigs Can Now Play Video Games!

February 17, 2021

As humans, we love gaming, whether it is on our phones or consoles. But, what if we told you that animals could also play video-games? And those animals are none other than Pigs!

A new study shows that pigs can now play video games, perhaps even better than us? In a study by Purdue University in Indiana, researchers have proved that pigs can use a digital screen and operate a joystick with their snout. It is true – pigs can move a cursor around to earn gaming rewards! Isn’t this amusing?

The Pig Experiment- Pigs, Can Play!

Pigs were trained to use joystick to steer the cursor.

Purdue University’s animal behaviour specialist Candace Croney, and chimpanzee cognition expert Sarah Boysen co-authored the study on pigs published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. This study is aimed to understand the cognitive processes of farm animals.

The four pigs- Hamlet, Omelette, Ebony, and Ivory, were trained to use a joystick to steer a computer screen cursor. Researchers believe that pigs understanding the connection between the stick and the game is ‘no small feat’.

Between Moving a Joystick and Playing, Going Gets Tough

Making pigs play is complicated because they first need to understand the link between moving a joystick and what is happening on the computer screen.

After rigorous training, the four pigs got the hang of the joystick and understood where the goal was so they manoeuvred the cursor towards the four targets. They couldn’t master the concept, but considering that pigs don’t possess thumbs or sharp eyesight, this is quite an achievement.

These pigs were trained for different levels .

Setting the Difficulty Levels

The researchers slowly increased the difficulty level of the tasks, sending the pigs to reach new levels. While the pigs weren’t ready to compete with the kids playing Mario Kart or compete with monkeys, the original task was designed as per pig’s cognitive abilities.

The reason was that moving around the joystick with the snout is a lot harder than using thumbs. The other possible explanation was that pigs might not be good as primates.

This study helps us understand pigs better. They showed remarkable intelligence in several complex cognitive tasks. They learnt to respond differently to sounds, and they mastered spatial learning tasks. This is where the limit sets in what pigs can do.

Mirror Use Is Not Something Pigs Can Master​

Mirror use is somethings pigs cannot do.

Pigs can use simple geometric shapes to decide what kind of response to give. Recognising complicated shapes from photographs proves to be difficult for them. Pigs can’t even recognise other pigs in pictures. This comes as a surprise as sheep and cattle can recognise their sheep and cattle mates in photos.

The lead author, Dr Candace Croney, mentioned to the BBC that this study is essential for sentient beings to understand how we interact with pigs and how they impact and matter to them.

The research team found that the pigs‘ ability to play video games without hands or thumbs was remarkable. It was not very easy as one of the two Yorkshire pigs, Hamlet, was better than Omelette. They both were struggling to hit a single target under half the time.

The Panepinto micro pigs had a huge skill gap as Ivory could hit the one-wall targets 76% of the time, and Ebony could do it for 34% of the time.

Satisfying Results from the Research

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If those pigs passed any levels. they were given pellets to eat.

The researchers were satisfied with the attempts as they could manipulate the situation to get an outcome. Pigs are yet no match for humans in playing video games, but this experiment gives us insights to understand them better.

The pigs were given a reward of a food pellet for every game they won. During the testing, they kept clearing the game levels when encouraged by the researcher’s words. The researchers from Canada witnessed that social contact has a strong influence on pigs’ performance.

In a statement from Frontiers, they mentioned that each pig performed the tasks well, indicating that the animal understood the joystick’s movement was connected to the computer screen’s cursor. Researchers spoke about how the pigs failed to meet the primates’ criteria to demonstrate the concept’s full mastery.

The Study Of Farm Animals Cognition

This study’s primary purpose is to understand farm animals’ cognition and abilities, an increasingly researched farm animal’s nuance. Farms have become complicated places to live in.

Farms are increasing the use of automated feeds through which the pigs can feed themselves. This is why it is essential to know farm animals’ capabilities to ensure that they can cope with all the challenges thrown their way.

Concept of 'Intrinsic Value' - Measuring Animal Quotient

There is a concept of ‘intrinsic value’, which measures animals’ value for just being a living creature. The idea helps to understand animal recognition better and to know how animals perceive the world.

We know a little about chicken’s cognitive abilities- they are smarter than we can imagine. The study has helped scientists understand pigs’ intelligence and their ability to learn. They will be taking it further to see if pigs can use computers and symbols for communication with us.

Understanding the concept is a great start. Who knows, maybe pigs can play Mario Kart next!


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