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Pigs can be taught to play games, but they keep hogging the controller

Ebony the pig is gaming.
(Image credit: Candice Croney)

Researchers in the UK have taught four pigs to play games, but don't expect any esports teams to be hiring farm animals anytime soon.

A BBC report explained that scientists were able to train the four pigs—Hamlet, Omelette, Ebony and Ivory—to manipulate a simple joystick, steering a ball on-screen into targets to dispense treats. That they were able to make the connection between their input and the screen, the researchers reckon, is "no small feat".

But the pigs are in it for more than just the food. When the dispenser broke mid-experiment, all four continued to play thanks to encouragement from the researchers. 

The team also quickly discovered which of the pigs had a strong future in esports, with Ivory mopping the floor with Omelette when it came to consistently hitting one-sided targets. But even poor Omelette is a success by the researcher's standards, the team confident that none of the pigs achieved their scores by blind chance.

"To some extent, all acquired the association between the joystick and cursor movement," said lead author Dr Candace Croney. "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."

The BBC's report ends by noting that the pigs still fall short of game-playing chimps and monkeys, who have the advantage of opposable thumbs. But I wouldn't write these pigs out just yet. Now that they've mastered simply joystick games, it's time to introduce these barnyard gamers to the joys of PC gaming. 

I'm sure the research team is getting them set up with Steam accounts as we speak.

Natalie Clayton

20 years ago, Nat played Jet Set Radio Future for the first time—and she's not stopped thinking about games since. Joining PC Gamer in 2020, she comes from three years of freelance reporting at Rock Paper Shotgun, Waypoint, VG247 and more. Embedded in the European indie scene and having herself developed critically acclaimed small games like Can Androids Pray, Nat is always looking for a new curiosity to scream about—whether it's the next best indie darling, or simply someone modding a Scotmid into Black Mesa. She's also played for a competitive Splatoon team, and unofficially appears in Apex Legends under the pseudonym Horizon.