Pigs Can Play (and Maybe Even Enjoy) Video Games

It is a great injustice that the word “pig” maintains a negative connotation in the American lexicon. Pigkind has established itself as a force of capability in countless arenas, from truffle-hunting to sheepherding to space-travel. And the latest venture bested by these friends of Churchill: gaming. A research article published on Frontiers in Psychology describes an experiment testing four pigs’ aptitude for a simple joystick-based video game. The results weren’t exactly speedrunning-caliber play, but the pigs really did seem to get the hang of the game.

The article, titled “Acquisition of a Joystick-Operated Video Task by Pigs (Sus scrofa),” was written by Candace C. Croney (of Purdue University’s Center for Animal Welfare Science) and Sarah T. Boysen (of the Comprative Cognition Project based in Ohio); BBC News first reported on the study, which we found via IGN. The experiment detailed therein involved the participation of four pigs; two Yorkshire pigs (Omelet and, grimly, Hamlet) and two micro pigs (Ebony and Ivory), whose breed the study dubs Panepinto. Researchers placed each pig before a joystick and computer monitor set-up; the movement of the joystick corresponded with a cursor onscreen, whose objective was to make contact with targets of divergent size and shape. (More specifically: one-, two-, and three-walled targets.)

A pig in a new study playing a video game with a joystick.

Croney CC and Boysen ST

A simple enough task on paper. But there was no guarantee that a pig could either understand the concept, relate action with result, or even manage to manipulate the joystick adeptly with only the use of its snout. But lo and behold, all four oinkers proved not only capable at, but engaged with the game.

Early stages of the experiment involved training the pigs on joystick use; following this, they advanced to a simpler joystick-cursor operation. And ultimately, the proper game. Here, the results were varied; the Yorkshire pigs proved adept at bringing their cursor to contact with the one- and two-walled targets. Meanwhile, micro pig Ivory knocked it out of the park on all three targets, though Ebony turned in lower results on the one- and two-wall targets. Nevertheless, all pigs’ rate of success exceeded the suggestion of simple chance, concluding that the pigs were intently playing—and winning—at the game.

This rang true even past the point of tangible reward; when the experiment began, the pigs were given treats for successful performance. Even after the treat system discontinued (apparently by virtue of malfunction), the pigs continued to play and perform with similar vigor. The great implication here: the pigs not only understood and played the game, but perhaps even enjoyed it.

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