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Dinosaur in video game
Video games can allow players to learn more about palaeo-science, but new research shows they can create a warped understanding of palaeontology.

Dinosaurs, fossil collecting, and evolution are common staples of video games - letting players interact with exciting aspects of palaeo-science, but many games contain negative and harmful themes that can skew the players’ understanding of palaeontology, a new study reveals.

An international group of researchers, led by a team from the University of Birmingham, played and studied a range of video games containing elements of palaeontology. From obvious games such as tie-in Jurassic Park games, to Red Dead Redemption 2, Super Mario World and Animal Crossing, they played a plethora of games to unearth what was palaeo-fact from palaeo-fiction.

Shooting a dinosaur
Discover how many video games contain negative and harmful themes that can skew the players’ understanding of palaeontology.

Study co-author Dr Thomas Clements, from the University of Birmingham, commented: “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.”

“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.”

 

Audiences can subconsciously learn from the media they consume, including depictions of our science that are deliberately exaggerated for entertainment."

Jake Atterby - University of Birmingham

Publishing their findings in EGUsphere Geoscience Communications, the scientists analysed the representation of palaeontology in hundreds of video games, classifying them into several categories. They then defined a number of factors which may help or hinder a video game’s effectiveness in promoting palaeontology to a wider audience. Their study makes suggestions for ways that science communicators can address these issues when talking to the public about palaeontology.

Co-author Jake Atterby, also from the University of Birmingham, commented: “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 entertainmentJake Atterby – University of Birmingham 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.”