A newly-released study from a team of environmental social scientists shows that you can learn a lot by pretending to live in the Wild West. Players of Rockstar's cowboy simulator Red Dead Redemption 2 are more capable at identifying wild animals in real life.
The study, titled The educational value of virtual ecologies in Red Dead Redemption 2, states that the level of graphical detail in the game is "famously high," and that also applies to the many animals in the game. Players in the game can interact and hunt around 200 wild animals, each of which acts realistically and are capable of interacting with each other. As Dr. Sarah Crowley explained in a series of tweets, she and her husband Ned Crowley found video games to be "a great source of home-based escapism last year." The two set up an experiment where they quizzed about 586 gamers and quizzed them to 15 different animals from Red Dead Redemption 2 based on real-life photos of the in-game animals.
In addition to quizzing participants on animals, the testers also asked players if they ever played Red Dead Redemption 2, and those who have were asked how much and how recently, as well as if they played the Naturalist role in Red Dead Online. The final results show that those who played Red Dead Redemption 2 scored an average of 10/15 correct answers, while those who didn't averaged 7/15. In addition, those who did play as Naturalists tended to score better than those who hadn't. Some players even shared what they learned about real-life animals and their behaviors from playing Red Dead Redemption 2, such as "the comparative difference in defensive aggression between grizzly bears Ursus arctos and black bears Ursus americanus, and about 'bluff charges'." The study does note that the game isn't a 1-to-1 simulation of wildlife, with some in-game animals being more aggressive to people than their real-life counterparts.