Popular video game teaches players about wildlife

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is one of the species that “Red Dead Redemption 2” players encounter.
Credit: Rockstar Games

To learn about wildlife, some people don’t even have to leave their homes—they can just play the popular video game “Red Dead Redemption 2.” Researchers found that the game, which is set in the American West in 1899, can effectively teach players how to identify wildlife—about 200 different species, which look and behave realistically.

After participants played the video game, the researchers asked them to identify real wildlife in a multiple choice quiz. On average, Red Dead Redemption players identified 10 of 15 American animals, which was more than a control group that hadn’t played the game. Species they identified included white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), jackrabbits (Lepus californicus), alligator snapping turtles (Macrochelys temminckii), lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens), blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata) and roseate spoonbills (Platalea ajaja).

“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,” said Ned Crowley, of Truro and Penwith College, the study’s lead author. “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.”

Read the study in People and Nature.