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Actual rats, taking a cue from rat-tailed '90s kids, are now playing Doom

Lab rats have been trained by neuroscientist Viktor Tóth to play Doom

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Our latest allies in the war for demon-free Martian moon bases: Rats in striped blouses.
Our latest allies in the war for demon-free Martian moon bases: Rats in striped blouses.
Screenshot: Viktor Tóth

The old question of whether a given piece of hardware, no matter how unsuited it may appear to be, is able to “run Doom has become obsolete. We’ve seen the 1993 shooter played in some form on everything from printers and calculators to modded pregnancy tests. The new question we must ask in light of these feats is much more interesting: Which members of the animal kingdom, aside from ourselves and, it turns out, actual goddamn rats, can play Doom?

News of scientist Viktor Tóth’s experiments surfaced last fall, but now Vice has interviewed the man behind the fuzzy faces and creepily nude tails of these gib-happy rodents to get a fuller picture of his work.

Tóth, a neuroscientist from Hungary and former fellow at Feinstein Institutes For Medical Research in New York, trained his rat space marines as part of an experiment that he wanted to conduct in order to “[explore] how an animal adapted to a virtual environment.”

He picked rats in part “because they have an instinct for moving around in small spaces and can learn contact specific actions,” named his three subjects after Doom creators John Romero, John Carmack, and Tom Hall, and created special Doom II maps with maze-like level design and “randomly positioned” imp enemies for Rat Romero, Rat Carmack, and Rat Hall to defeat.


The rats play the game by running on a sensor-loaded ball while wearing a harness. They’re positioned in front of a large monitor, rewarded for finding the correct paths or shooting imps by being “given a sugar syrup mixed with water through an air valve” and discouraged from improper gameplay by having a puff of air blown against their whiskers “to make them think they had hit a wall when they ran into a [virtual] wall.”

A magnet system pushed or pulled them when it was time to shoot their in-game gun. (To see what this looks like in action, watch a video here.)

After a few weeks of training, the rats figured out how to play. Rat Romero, it should be mentioned, set itself apart as “the best performer” (and obvious favorite for future esports pro). Armed with knowledge from this experiment, Tóth plans to continue his research in the future with a slightly different set-up and a variety of games that expand the rats’ horizons beyond Doom. He also wants to stream the rats playing games on Twitch.


For more on Tóth and the game-loving creatures he’s convinced to drop out of the rat race and embrace the simpler pleasures of demon shooting, read the full article at Vice.

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