Are you sure that the other voice on the end of the Xbox Live connection is human?
It turns out animals are just as entranced by video games as people are (as some of the following YouTube videos will illustrate). Some scientists are even making animals play games for research purposes.
Princeton University researchers experimented on predatory bluegill sunfish by creating a "game" where red dots, simulating prey, moved against a screen. In a paper published in the journal Science on Aug.16, the researchers said the bluegills were less likely to attack dots that swarmed in group formation.
"By creating immersive video game for the fish we were able to have complete control over the parameters," senior author Iain Couzin told the BBC. "Trying to do this experiment with natural grouping prey items, it would have been impossible to understand or control what was going on."
The results show that just being in a group is more likely to help prey survive, as the predator is much more likely to go for the loner. As seen in the video below, the bluegill was least likely to attack dots that moved in a coordinated group.
Video games turn out to be a useful tool in animal research, especially in primates. Scientists have had monkeys play shooting games against computers and each other in order to study the effects of winning and losing on certain parts of the brain. Researchers looking for treatments for paralyzed humans have rewired paralyzed monkeys' neurons, thereby allowing them to play video games.
Animals can play games for fun, too. There's a bumper crop of games for the iPad that are targeted at cats, featuring laser pointers, mice, bugs, and fish for kitties to chase.
And it's not just housecats that enjoy virtual reality. As seen in this video, a range of big cats -- including servals, lions, and even a white tiger -- are gamers too:
There are also video games where animals and humans can play together. Dutch researchers from Wageningen University and the Utrecht school of the Arts are developing a game where a person can move a ball of light around on his or her iPad. The ball is simultaneously projected onto a screen in a pig's pen. The person's porcine partner chases it, and if the pig's snout touches the ball and moves it into a target, the wall lights up with colorful flashes.
Researchers were driven to develop "Pig Chase" through their work on farming ethics. EU regulations require that pig farmers ensure their animals have permanent access to materials for playing and mental stimulation.
"Despite the cooperative nature of the game, we are all aware of the unavoidable elephant in the room, or rather 'on the farm'," European Commission research agency CORDIS said in a statement this past February. "In a game where one player is soon likely to be served up onto the other player's plate, the latter player certainly seems to be more equal than the former."
Roxanne has liked science ever since she started watching "Bill Nye the Science Guy" on Saturday mornings over a bowl of sucrotic O's. She especially likes writing about...