Red Dead Redemption 2 was one of the most detailed games that year, when it was first released in 2018, with wide interaction systems, including realistic animal behavior. While some critics questioned whether that experience was worth the human cost of the “death march” crisis needed to develop it, it had an additional surprising result. According to a paper published in People & Nature magazine, players who had played Red Dead Redemption 2 or Red Dead Online were better at identifying real-life animals than those who hadn't. .
The study asked more than 500 self-selected players to name specific animals, first with a blank text field and then with a multiple choice. Researchers set aside "charismatic megafauna" such as wolves or bears, opting for creatures such as the little egret and the steel trout, these animals that appear in games.
Players who had finished the main story of Red Dead Redemption 2 or who had taken on a “naturalistic” role in Red Dead Online, were remarkably better at identifying the animals. Those who hadn’t played either, and those outside of North America did less well.
The thinking behind the study was that education games are often unpopular. They are often more difficult to interact with because they can feel trying to educate you. When players are already immersed in popular games, education can be a side advantage: use the trends in the player codex.
However, the study was not an unequivocal support for games as an educational good: the participants themselves noted that game animals are portrayed as more aggressive than their real-life counterparts. The study also noted that the game (set in the wild west of the fight against bandits) is not much for children.