Red Dead Redemption 2 Players Know More About Animals Than Non-Players, Study Finds

Red Dead Redemption 2 Players Know More About Animals Than Non-Players, Study Finds
Image: Red Dead Redemption 2

A new study has revealed that Red Dead Redemption 2 is actually teaching players about nature, so take that everyone who ever said video games aren’t educational!

According to a study by the University of Exeter and Truro in collaboration with Penwith College (no, not Penrith with a lisp), Red Dead Redemption 2 players were able to identify more American animals than those who did not play the game.

This is hardly surprising considering Red Dead’s 1800s Western setting, with more than 200 real species of animals.

The study found that, on average, Red Dead Redemption 2 players could identify 10 out of the 15 animals presented to them in the experiment. Meanwhile, non-RDR2 players shown the same photos were only able to identify seven of the animals.

Interestingly, the most successful study participants were those who played RDR 2 the most and had finished the main storyline (which takes approximately 50 hours). Additionally, players who had indulged in the game recently saw more success:

Playing in the Naturalist role [from Red Dead Online] was associated with being able to identify a broader range of species correctly, especially smaller and frequently encountered species that are not commonly considered as quarry. These findings are reinforced by evidence that players who had completed the storyline (a proxy for at least 40–60 hr in-game) scored more highly than those who had not, as more time playing will increase number of wildlife encounters. In contrast, RDR2 players were no more successful at identifying species rarely encountered in-game than non-players. Examples are the scarlet macaw Ara macao (featured only briefly, in a special location), and the golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos which is uncommonly encountered in-game and often only observed from distance.

But to make things even more fascinating, the study also seemed to assert that the game actually went so far as to teach players about animal behaviour.

“The game’s animals have been programmed to appear, sound and behave in realistic ways, interacting with their environment, other species and the player,” the report claims.

The authors added that Red Dead‘s massive success would have had an appreciable impact on players’ understanding of biodiversity and wildlife:

A handful of participants felt inspired: to learn more about wildlife, take up photography or just to appreciate real-world biodiversity around them. Our sample size did not enable us to profile the characteristics of respondents who reported this sort of transformative experience. Nevertheless, scaled up to 36 million players worldwide, many of whom have little access to the diverse ecosystems featured in RDR2, it is possible that this immersive game has had no small impact on thousands of players’ ecological understanding and appreciation. This would be a valuable direction for future research.

One player even went so far as to claim Red Dead saved them from an real life injury during an encounter with a wild ram, by teaching them what an animal does just before it charges.

“No joke saved me from breaking a leg in real life.”

According to Dr Sarah Crowley at the University of Exeter’s Centre for Geography and Environmental Science, who worked on the research, this comes down to the high level of detail that goes into the game.

“The level of detail in Red Dead Redemption 2 is famously high, and that’s certainly the case in terms of animals,” Crowley said. “Many of the animals not only look and behave realistically, but interact with each other. Possums play dead, bears bluff charge and eagles hunt snakes.”

So there you have it: science says you need to play Red Dead Redemption 2 to learn about animals.

You can read the study in full here.

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