Pigs Learned to Play Videogames with Their Snouts


Science | By Diego Henderson | February 22, 2021

Videogames are one of the biggest pastimes across the globe. Their influence sure has grown in the last thirty years. What started as a simple white dot bouncing back and forth on the screen, has now become an entire industry full of games spanning different genres like racing, fighting, role playing, and simulators.

At this point, gaming is for just about everyone. There’s someone in every single demographic that games. Gone are the days where gaming is just a boys thing. Sisters, grandmas, grandpas, moms, dads, and everyone else under the same all play video games. Chances are, no matter who you are, there is a game out there for you.

We can add a new player to that list of video game addicts, but you’ll never guess who it is. If you are guessing a human, you are already wrong. I’m talking about our pot bellied, pink friends: pigs. Read on to find out how scientists taught pigs how to play video games.

These Pigs are Gamers!

It is well known that pigs are exceptionally smart, but that has taken a whole new meaning now that they have learned how to play games. Frontiers in Psychology is a scientific journal that recently published a paper full of research going as far back as the 90s, beginning with a “legendary swine researcher” Stanley Curtis who has since passed. THe research was focused on pigs, of course, alongside Candace croney, the director of Purdue University’s Center for Animal Welfare Science, as well as Sarah Boysen who is known for working with chimps.

The paper focused on the research behind training two Yorkshire pigs and two Panepinto micro pigs on how to operate a “rudimentary joystick operated video game task.” It is the same task system that has been used with chimps and rhesus monkeys.

The Pigs Were Surprisingly Good

The pigs were tasked with using a joystick to operate a computer cursor, and of course, instead of their hands, they used their snouts. Since food is the quickest way to a pig’s heart, they were given a snack if they achieved their goal. The game even had different difficulty settings so that the pigs had less targets to hit the further they went along in the game. They actually did well too! One of the pigs had a 76% accuracy rate with single targets.

If someone has ever told you that you’re too old to play games, two of the pigs feel the same way. They had gotten too big to stand for long periods of time to play the game, so they eventually had to quit. The study spoke to how well the pigs did: “That the pigs achieved the level of success they did on a task that was significantly outside their normal frame of reference in itself remarkable, and indicative of their behavioral and cognitive flexibility.”

Not as Good as Chimps

You may be wondering how pigs stack up to other animals, such as chimps and rhesus monkeys. While the pigs definitely shined, they didn’t do as well as their primate counterparts, though scientists think this may be due to the fact that the pigs had to use their noses instead of their thumbed hands. The study touches on this issue, stating, “Future studies of the cognitive capacities of pigs and other domestic species may benefit from the use of touchscreens or other advanced computer-interfaced technology.”

This may seem like a silly study, but it has importance. Croney said, “This sort of study is important because, as with any sentient beings, how we interact with pigs and what we do to them impacts and matters to them. We therefore have an ethical obligation to understand how pigs acquire information, and what they are capable of learning and remembering, because it ultimately has implications for how they perceive their interactions with us and their environments.”

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