Scientists have a bone to pick with palaeontology’s portrayal in video games

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

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.

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.”

Notes for editors

  • For more information, please contact Tony Moran, International Communications Manager, University of Birmingham on +44 (0)782 783 2312 or. For out-of-hours enquiries, please call +44 (0) 7789 921 165.
  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.
  • ‘The perception of palaeontology in commercial off-the-shelf video games and an assessment of their potential as educational tools’ - Clements, T, Atterby, J, Cleary, T, Dearden, R, and Rossi, V is published in EGUsphere Geoscience Communications. The research paper can be read at
  • Participating institutions include University of Birmingham; Museo di Scienze Naturali dell’Alto Adige, Bolzano, Italy; and University College Cork, Ireland.

The scientists analysed the representation of palaeontology in video games, classifying them into a number of categories:

  • Ancient animals as adversaries - using ancient animals - typically dinosaurs and pterosaurs - as adversaries that must be killed. Examples include The Legend of Zelda, Tomb Raider and Peter Jackson's King Kong;
  • Ancient animals as tools – for example Yoshi, an omnivorous theropod dinosaur who first appeared in Super Mario World as a mount for the Mario brothers in their adventures to rescue Princess Peach;
  • Fossils as collectables - items found throughout the game setting to help the player progress through the game. For example, Red Dead Redemption 2 features a side quest to locate 30 fossil specimens in order to assist an aspiring palaeontologist;
  • Ancient animal management simulators or ‘park sims’ - games such as the Jurassic World Evolution aim to construct a financially viable park or zoo; and
  • Ancient animal simulators – players control an individual animal through an entire life cycle in a natural, open world, environment such as Saurian or Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey.

The team also defines a number of factors which may help or hinder a game’s effectiveness in promoting palaeontology to a wider audience. These include:

  • Ancient death machines - ancient animals as vicious, frightening and brutish enemies for players to combat. AKA ‘monsterification’, the animal’s proportions and features like claws and horns are exaggerated – for example in Ark: Survival Evolved;
  • Fossil = dinosaur = Tyrannosaurus: lack of palaeodiversity - Dinosaurs have become almost synonymous with ancient life in the entertainment industry. Ancient animal diversity is often limited to a handful of ‘iconic’ species recycled by the entertainment industry;
  • Palaeotrivia - In order to help players understand complex topics or introduce story elements, many games feature in-built encyclopaedias about characters, objects and locations in the game setting – particularly in park management games such as Jurassic World: Evolution series;
  • Depiction of palaeontological science - most palaeo-video games integrate science into gameplay that increases the knowledge of the player, but they can take creative liberties in order to make engaging gameplay mechanics;
  • Representation of ethics in palaeontological video games - Palaeontology has a long colonial history with deep-rooted exploitative practises which appear within games unchallenged, for example the illegal buying and selling of fossils in Jurassic World: Evolution;
  • Male, pale and stale - palaeontologists in video games are typically depicted as old, white men or the ‘Indiana Jones stereotype’ – for example Stardew Valley and Dinosaur Fossil Hunter; and
  • Perpetuation of harmful, misogynistic, and racist tropes - while female lead characters are becoming more commonplace, games still sexualise women more than their male counterparts, particularly in depictions of early humans.