Many video games feature dinosaurs and fossils, which is an excellent way for players to interact with different aspects of palaeo-science. However, researchers claim many games contain incorrect or even negative themes that give a warped understanding of palaeontology to the general audience. These results were published in EGUsphere Geoscience Communications.
An international team of scientists, led by researchers from the University of Birmingham, assessed a wide range of video games with elements of palaeontology, including Jurassic Park games, Red Dead Redemption 2, Super Mario World, and Animal Crossing, among others. The aim was to identify correct and incorrect facts about dinosaurs.
“Loads of people are inspired by and get their understanding of dinosaurs from movie blockbusters like Jurassic Park, but no one talks about how massive the gaming industry is in shaping not only the public’s understanding of ancient life and also of paleontological science,” said Study co-author Dr. Thomas Clements, from the University of Birmingham. “When we played through many of these games, we were pleasantly surprised about the accuracy of games like Animal Crossing that provide accurate and educational information in a fun and engaging way. However, we also found that many games contain misleading, negative, and sometimes quite damaging themes – many already widespread issues in the gaming industry. It is common for palaeo-games to contain ethically dubious science, the illegal collection of fossils, ‘monsterification’ of animals, poor representation of minority groups, and the hypersexualisation of women.”
The team analysed the representation of palaeontology in hundreds of computer games. They found that, while some video games contain elements of good science communication and strive for scientific accuracy, many contain a suite of negative and potentially damaging ideas, including a poor representation of dinosaurs as monsters or palaeontologists as exclusively old white men.
“This paper is about how the science of palaeontology is portrayed to the public at a time when many people get a lot of their knowledge from media and entertainment. Audiences can subconsciously learn from the media they consume, including depictions of our science that are deliberately exaggerated for entertainment. This can give players a false impression of ancient life and the work that we do. It is important for palaeontologists to understand the public’s perception of our science to help when we communicate our research,” concluded Co-author Jake Atterby, also from the University of Birmingham.
Video available: https://youtu.be/_XfTBa9N_XE
Clements T, Atterby J, Cleary T, Dearden R, and Rossi V (2022) The perception of palaeontology in commercial off-the-shelf video games and an assessment of their potential as educational tools. Geosci. Commun., 5, 289–306, https://doi.org/10.5194/gc-5-289-2022