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Photo: Candace Croney.
Pigs can play video games, scientists have found. Here, the pig Ebony operates a joystick.

In the same way that most of us are just beginning to understand the deep wisdom of indigenous tribes, we have barely scratched the surface of what animals can do. Fortunately, scientists never stop investigating.

BBC News reports, “Four pigs — Hamlet, Omelette, Ebony and Ivory — were trained to use an arcade-style joystick to steer an on-screen cursor into walls.

“Researchers said the fact that the pigs understood the connection between the stick and the game ‘is no small feat.’ And the pigs even continued playing when the food reward dispenser broke — apparently for the social contact.

“Usually, the pigs would be given a food pellet for ‘winning’ the game level. But during testing, it broke — and they kept clearing the game levels when encouraged by some of the researchers’ kind words. …

“The research team also thought that the fact the pigs could play video games at all — since they are far-sighted animals with no hands or thumbs – was -remarkable.’

“But it was not easy for them. Out of the two Yorkshire pigs, Hamlet, was better at the game than Omelette, but both struggled when it got harder — hitting the single target just under half the time. The Panepinto micro pigs had a bigger gamer skill gap — while Ivory was able to hit one-wall targets 76% of the time, Ebony could only do it 34% of the time.

“But the researchers were still satisfied that the attempts were deliberate and focused, rather than random — what they called ‘above chance.’ That means that ‘to some extent, all acquired the association between the joystick and cursor movement.’

“Kate Daniels, from Willow Farm in Worcestershire, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that while the scientists might have been impressed, ‘I don’t think this will come as a surprise to anyone that works with pigs. … They’re not playing Minecraft — but that they can manipulate a situation to get a reward is no surprise at all.’ ” More at the BBC, here.

The research paper was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

For more on the intelligence of pigs, check out naturalist Sy Montgomery’s book The Good Good Pig.

Montgomery’s website says in part, “The Good Good Pig celebrates Christopher Hogwood in all his glory, from his inauspicious infancy to hog heaven in rural New Hampshire, where his boundless zest for life and his large, loving heart made him absolute monarch over a (mostly) peaceable kingdom. At first his domain included only Sy’s cosseted hens and her beautiful border collie, Tess. Then the neighbors began fetching Christopher home from his unauthorized jaunts, the little girls next door started giving him warm, soapy baths, and the villagers brought him delicious leftovers. His intelligence and fame increased along with his gift, and he was eventually featured in USA Today and on several National Public Radio environmental programs. One election day, some voters even wrote in Christopher on their ballots.”

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