Posse up, Red Dead Redemption 2 players. The results are in and science says that if you know your sturgeon from your steelhead trout you may have Rockstar's surprisingly detailed cowboy 'em up to thank for it. A published research study has found that RDR2 players, especially those who've played recently, are more likely to be able to visually identify 15 different species of animals that appear in the game. The statistical results are interesting on their own, but what's almost cooler are the anecdotes players shared during the study about things they believed they'd learned from all of RDR2's simulated wildlife.
One of the study's authors posted about the results over on Reddit. Titled "The educational value of virtual ecologies in Red Dead Redemption 2," the study used an online survey of 586 participants, asking them to identify 15 different species that appear in RDR2 based on photographs of real animals. Participants were first asked to name the animal by typing an answer unprompted in a text box and, if they chose to leave that blank, choose the species from a multiple choice list of similar species.
I'm no statistician, so I'll let the author give you the easier to digest version of the results:
"We found that people who have played RDR2 identified, on average, 10/15 animals correctly, three more than gamers who had never played it. We also found that scores tended to be higher for people who had played more recently, for more hours, or if they had played Red Dead Online's 'Naturalist' role."
Although this particular study was conducted with participants over 18, the authors note that there's something to be learned about education through gaming, even games whose primary objective isn't to educate.
"There is something to learn here for educators and conservationists who want to enhance the world's natural history education; 'gamification' and immersion in a learning experience, by making people's actions have meaning, can be more effective that simply getting people to learn a list of animals by rote."
It's not terribly surprising that players have a better memory for animal names after playing RDR2. Hunting and Naturalism (in Red Dead Online) can both be somewhat repetitive, which certainly helps cement those kinds of things in memory. Heck, I know my flowers better after playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons last year too. It is quite neat to see it formally studied and the actual statistical relevance.
Almost neater than the proper science, to me, are some of the anecdotes that players shared when asked an open-ended question about what they'd learned about real-life animals and behaviors from playing RDR2. "Notably, multiple participants reported learning the comparative difference in defensive aggression between grizzly bears Ursus arctos and black bears Ursus americanus, and about 'bluff charges'," the study says.
In response to a question on memorable experiences with wildlife in-game, the authors say: "A particularly remarkable behaviour, independently reported by six participants, was grey wolves Canis lupus appearing to mourn killed pack members."
RDR2 isn't always meant to be a true-to-life simulation, of course. The authors note that some animals in game have more aggressive behaviors in response to humans than they would in life. It's still quite interesting to hear the genuine behaviors such as hunting, foraging, and habitats players picked up about different animals by playing.
If you're keen to peek the numbers and the methods, or just more player stories, you can read the full study over here.
If you're up for more wild west creatures, Nate happens to have reviewed quite a lot of them. He gave the grizzlies a 10/10 so it's an objectively correct list, even if he completely disrespects black bears.