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'Red Dead Redemption 2' video game teaches players about wildlife

If players of the video game Red Dead Redemption 2 shoot a Carolina parakeet, they're warned about its endangered species status. Photo by Field Museum of Natural History/Flickr
If players of the video game "Red Dead Redemption 2" shoot a Carolina parakeet, they're warned about its endangered species status. Photo by Field Museum of Natural History/Flickr

July 9 (UPI) -- Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn't sound like an educational tool, but players of the video game can learn to identify American wildlife, according to a new study.

Players of Red Dead Redemption 2, or RDR2, which is set in the American West in 1899, witness up 200 animal species.

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For the new study, published Friday in the journal People and Nature, researchers asked regular players of RDR2 to identify animals from the game using real photographs of the different species.

Players correctly identified an average of 10 out of 15 American animals in a multiple-choice quiz, three more than test takers who had never played the video game.

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Test takers who had completed the game's entire storyline, having accrued 40 to 50 hours of gameplay, or who had played the game more recently, scored highest on the animal identification quiz.

In addition to learning to identify animals, some RDR2 players said they acquired knowledge about animal behavior and ecology, like how to recognize when a ram is about to charge.

"The level of detail in Red Dead Redemption 2 is famously high, and that's certainly the case in terms of animals," study co-author Sarah Crowley said in a press release.

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"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," said Crowley, a researcher at the Center for Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Exeter in Britain.

The game features several species that are much rarer now than they were a century ago, as well as one species, the Carolina parakeet, that is now extinct.

In the game, if a player shoots a parakeet, they're warned about the bird's endangered status.

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"If they continue shooting, the species becomes extinct, highlighting the environmental consequences of players' actions," co-author and Exeter ecologist Matthew Silk said in the release.

During the animal identification quiz, RDR2 players tended to separate themselves from non-playing study participants when identifying species that are useful in the game, like fish that players can catch and eat.

Other animals that are seen less frequently during gameplay, like golden eagles, were less likely to be identified by RDR2 players.

The game features a "naturalist" setting that allows a player's character to become a protector the American West's wildlife.

Players who had played the naturalist setting were even more adept at identifying animals, according to the researchers.

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"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 study lead author Ned Crowley.

"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," said Crowley, a science lecturer at Truro and Penwith College in Britain.

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