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Scientific study sees pigs play arcade game with joysticks

Four pigs have picked up a potential new hobby, as scientists have taught the farm animals how to work joysticks and play a basic arcade game.

Header photo credit: Candace Croney, PSU

As some humans still struggle to play video games well, the competition in the gaming sphere has suddenly gotten a little more fierce. Scientists have successfully taught pigs to work arcade-style joysticks in such a way that they can now steer on-screen cursors into walls. Yes, pigs have begun learning basic arcade gaming.

Photo credit: Eston Martz, PSU
Photo credit: Eston Martz, PSU

The news comes from a published study in Frontiers in Psychology. Here's a summary of their report:

The ability of two Panepinto micro pigs and two Yorkshire pigs (Sus scrofa) to acquire a joystick-operated video-game task was investigated. Subjects were trained to manipulate a joystick that controlled movement of a cursor displayed on a computer monitor. The pigs were required to move the cursor to make contact with three-, two-, or one-walled targets randomly allocated for position on the monitor, and a reward was provided if the cursor collided with a target. The video-task acquisition required conceptual understanding of the task, as well as skilled motor performance. Terminal performance revealed that all pigs were significantly above chance on first attempts to contact one-walled targets (p < 0.05). These results indicate that despite dexterity and visual constraints, pigs have the capacity to acquire a joystick-operated video-game task. Limitations in the joystick methodology suggest that future studies of the cognitive capacities of pigs and other domestic species may benefit from the use of touchscreens or other advanced computer-interfaced technology.

The pigs are Hamlet, Omelette, Ebony, and Ivory. They were able to successfully navigate the arcade game by using their snouts to move their joysticks, meaning they were able to make the connection between the arcade game and the peripherals. While they began playing in an effort to earn food pellets, the pigs continued playing even after the dispenser broke. The pigs' skills at their game varied, with Panepinto micro pig Ivory able to hit her target at a 76 percent rate. The pigs' feats proved particularly impressive to the scientists, because pigs are typically far-sighted animals.

"This sort of study is important because, as with any sentient beings," lead author Dr. Candace Croney told the BBC. "How we interact with pigs and what we do to them impacts and matters to them."

The BBC report concluded with a note that similar trials were conducted with chimpanzees and monkeys. However, with their opposable thumbs, the primates had a significant advantage. For pigs to successfully play games without thumbs is proof of the animals' remarkable intelligence.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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