Games are a great way to de-stress from the trials and hassles of real life. They provide a low risk and often fun activity, set in a safe environment, complete with the potential for snacks. Having the ability to unwind with a safe but somewhat mentally challenging task can do wonders for winding down, even without the snacks, and it turns out rats agree.
According to Ars Technica, scientists have been putting adorable little rats into purpose built tiny cars and teaching them to drive. And it seems like the rats have been loving it, on a scientifically observable level.
At the University of Richmond, a team has been studying the effects of a rat's environment on their overall wellbeing and ability to learn new things. Tasks previously given to rats to study this have been fairly simple, so the team decided to step things up by teaching the little vermin to drive.
A bespoke vehicle was designed and built for the rats out of a robotic car kit, plastic food container, and three copper wires to control directions rather than a complicated wheel. The wires work for forward, left, and, right controls so essentially they taught rats to drive a car using the equivalent of W, A, and D keys to a PC gamer.
Initially, treats were placed around a small arena and the rats would earn it by driving the vehicle towards them. The treats would always be placed in different areas, causing the rats to thoroughly learn to control the vehicle in order to be rewarded. Eight weeks of three lots of five-minute sessions was all it took for rats to get the hang of this process, which is a bit of a slap in the face to this licenseless writer.
What's especially cool about this test is that the rats continued to drive the vehicles even without reward. Reportedly the sheer joy of driving was intrinsically rewarding enough for them to get back behind the wires and keep giving it a go.
Furthermore, studies on hormones found in the rats' droppings indicated a better quality of life overall for the fury little motorists. It seems this rewarding challenge added to their lives genuinely enriched them. However, it's likely that's only because they don't have to deal with car insurance companies and peak traffic.