Pigs might still not have mastered the art of flying but they can indeed play video games. A group of researchers from Purdue University in Indiana have demonstrated the ability of pigs to utilise a digital screen and joystick, in a new study.
Using their snouts, the pigs were able to move a cursor around and perform certain tasks for rewards. The task in question involved colliding the cursor with one of four walls. A successful collision resulted in a beep and a reward for the gamer-pig. With each success, the difficulty was amped up by reducing the number of walls available until they reached a plateau of their current gaming ability. They weren’t comparable with monkeys for which the task was originally designed, but the lack of opposable thumbs and having to use a snout might have significantly hampered their abilities.
Pigs are also farsighted, so the screen had to be placed at a sufficient distance from them. Four pigs, named Hamlet, Omelette, Ebony and Ivory, were tested in their gaming proficiency. The task of establishing a mental connection between the movement of the stick and the game is no small feat, something we humans cognitively take for granted. The pigs were actively seen to engage in such behaviour and their attempts to hit the targets were deliberate and focused, and not just pure luck.
The pigs also continued to play the game after the reward (food) dispenser stopped working. Researchers believe their willingness to continue was then for social contact as well. Pigs apparently seem to respond to positive social responses and were given kind words and encouragement by the researchers to continue.
Statistically, the Yorkshire pigs Hamlet and Omelette fared better than the Panepinto micro pigs Ivory and Ebony. Ivory was able to hit the one-wall targets 76% of the time while Ebony could only do it 34% of the time.
Kate Daniels, from Willow Farm in Worcestershire, told BBC Radio 4: “I don’t think this will come as a surprise to anyone that works with pigs. They’re not playing Minecraft – but that they can manipulate a situation to get a reward is no surprise at all.”
Next time you see a hacker in your game server, it could just be the next gamer-pig overlord.
(The research paper was published in the journal “Frontiers in Psychology“.)