Dec 20, 2021 I Paul Seaburn

Scientist Trains Rats to Play Doom II

Do you ever wonder how scientists decide what to teach lab rats and then observe whether they can complete the task consistently, pass it on to their offspring or use it to take over the world? Maybe it’s time you should … and by ‘you’ we mean ‘us’. A Hungarian neuroengineer has done just that, and now he’s planning to unleash his Doom II-playing rodents on the world via Twitch. Whether you know what Twitch is or not, are YOU twitching yet?

“It’s just easy and fun to have the rats run and shoot.”

That doesn’t sound very scientific, but that apparently is how Hungarian scientist Viktor Tóth explains in an interview with Futurism why he decided to teach rats to play Doom II: Hell on Earth, the popular first-person shooter game by id Software released in 1994, eventually becoming what many consider to be one of the best video games of all time. Does that justify teaching lab rats how to use super shotguns?

“Simply put, the training procedure would go as follows: the rat walks into a monster → the software detects that the monster is in the proximity of the player (and for now, let’s assume that the player is facing it) → initially the rat has no idea what to do in this situation, so the training software activates the push-pull solenoid lifting the animal slightly upwards → the head of the actuator then touches the button → monster gets shot down → reward in the form of sugary water is released to reinforce the behavior.”

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Beats running a maze.

Tóth detailed the rat training process in an October Medium article, then answered questions about it recently with Futurism. He explains he embarked on the project because he thought it was “cool” and was inspired by progress in brain computer interfaces (BCI) – particularly when Elon Musk’s Neuralink put brain implants in pigs. Tóth wondered why chips were needed – why can’t animals learn behavior using virtual reality devices?

“The plan was always to train them on the first map of “Doom II.”

Tóth saw the first map as a perfect combination of simplicity and complexity with “clear corridors and simple turns” where you can “test a lot of stuff.” He had no experience with training rats, so he watched “a ton of these rat training videos on YouTube showing me how to pet them, approach them, play with them, and all that.”

There you go … the rat-pocalypse begins on YouTube! However, the medium Tóth sees for unleashing the Doom II-playing rats on the world is the streaming service Twitch, because “
it’s a very valid way to monetize a project like this. The only problem is how long the rat can run for.” He believes that getting the rats to play/run for 20 minutes straight is the money-making breakpoint.

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It's all about the money.

What do game-players think about rats invading their virtual reality? Screen Rant had this observation:

“While DOOM 2's popularity is hard to deny, it is quite shocking to see that even rodents enjoy id Software's blood-soaked first-person shooter. Viktor Toth's unique experiment proves that rats can maneuver in virtual spaces without being forced, with at least one rat even figuring out how to shoot Imps with a shotgun.”

Shocking to see rats shoot Imps with a shotgun. Should that be the shock point or should it be Toth's attitude?

“It’s just easy and fun to have the rats run and shoot.”

And that’s how it began.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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