Video Games Are A Poor Representation of Paleontology, Says Report

A new research has discovered that video games represent paleontology in a negative way.

Gaming is arguably the most controversial medium of entertainment on our planet. As the target demographic is a younger audience, every aspect of the industry is under heavy scrutiny. From violence in video games to the effect long hours can have on children, everything is a debate. 

However, most of the time all of these allegations and criticisms turn out to be false. Gaming does not have many harmful effects and science proves that. So, it’s a pretty good medium of entertainment for people of all ages. 

But, that does not mean video games are right about everything or are 100% accurate. They do have some illogical tropes that have been around for a while and do misrepresent a lot of stuff that happens in real life. A team of researchers has studied and reported results telling us about one of these major inaccuracies.

Major Takeaways: 

  • Video games don’t accurately represent dinosaurs.
  • Paleontologists themselves are also grossly inaccurate.
  • Minorities and women need better overall representation in video games.

A team of researchers at the University of Birmingham lead a study that played several games to find out how paleontology is represented in video games. Games included in the study were Parkasauras, Red Dead Redemption 2, Animal Crossing, and several more. The team reached a damning conclusion, gaming, in general, misrepresents paleontology and dinosaurs in a harmful way. 

Misrepresentation Of Dinosaurs

Researchers divide video games into two categories, off-the-shelf (COTS) commercial games, and educational games. According to the study, 83% of these COTS titles based on ancient life contain dinosaurs and these creatures undergo wrongful “monsterification”. One of the researchers, Thomas Clements, who is the co-author of this study, says:

COTS games are not primarily designed with educational purposes in mind, inaccuracies mislead audiences about key concepts and reinforce harmful stereotypes.”

According to the study, some of these games include dinosaurs as adversaries that players have to fight. And, the dinosaurs are not accurate and fall prey to basic tropes which makes them much more lethal and frightening than they are.

Dino Stalker, King Kong, and Legend of Zelda do this with little accuracy as not all dinosaurs are this aggressive. The study features several other categories of games that feature dinosaurs including those which use them as tools and collectibles.

Yoshi in Super Mario World is an example of the latter while Pokémon feature ancient animals as tools and collectible fossils. The study says these games have the potential to inform players but in reality impart inaccurate concepts.

Video game dinosaur Yoshi
Yoshi and Mario from Super Mario

Red Dead Redemption 2 is one other game that doesn’t depict fossils accurately in its side quest. Ancient animal simulators or management games are the last category. Research tells us that they introduce players to diverse flora and fauna and thus end up being informative but are very uncommon.

Parkasauras, Jurrasic Park Builder, and DinoPark Tycoon are some of these management games. The study says that these games have a detailed compendium of ancient organisms. Alongside that, they contain info about fossilization and the evolutionary process, making them a great medium for education.

video game dinosaurs
Dinosaurs in Jurassic World: Evolution 2

But, tropes like excessive monsterfication, no variety of fauna, and illogical use of terms like evolution overshadow that. Most games only feature the more iconic dinosaurs like the Brachiosaurus, and Tyrannosaurus while there is much more variety. Games like Pokémon and Jurrasic World: Evolution doesn’t depict cloning accurately as you can’t resurrect dead animals.

Inaccurate Depiction of Paleontologists

Not only dinosaurs but the discipline of paleontology itself suffers from inaccurate representation. palaeo-video games, as researchers call them, represent this science in a harmful way. For example, fossil extraction is considered seamless and easy in most video games like No Man’s Sky and The Sims 4

However, it is anything but easy in real life and is a very dangerous activity. Not only do you have to dig deep, but it’s also illegal in many places and can result in injuries. Some games like  Starbound offer a nuanced approach but it is rare.

Video games also depict paleontologists as “male, pale and stale” white men who work alone. The research says that this is far from true as paleontology isn’t dominated by old white men and is a very collaborative field. Representation of women and ethical minorities in paleontology is also not a strong suit of video games. 

One example is Dr.Kajal Dua in Jurrasic World: Evolution who gives the player dubious tasks and has no backstory. Red Dead Redemption 2 features Deborah MacGuniness, a white woman who gets rejected by every university and asks for help collecting fossils. After the player helps her the game reveals her as a base scientist. 

Video game dinosaurs red dead 2
Deborah McGuiness in Red Dead Redemption 2

So, these games represent women as people who deserve the rejection they got and not as women struggling to find their feet in science. In the past, white men dominated the field but that is changing in the present. Making prominent characters from minority groups in these games will motivate people to pursue paleontology.

Finally, the research talks about the harmful misogynistic and racist tropes in video games. Although they are disappearing and women have more prominent roles, hyper-sexualization is common in many games. Palaeo-video game Trespasser featured a scene where players have to look at the female character Anne’s breast tattoo. 

Games like the new Tomb Raider have countered this trend but still, work needs to be done. Both minorities and women still have a harmful depiction in video games. Hence, developers should take care while communicating these tropes to the masses as they have harmful effects according to the research.

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Geoscience communication

Ahmed Mansoor is a News Writer who has a deep passion for single-player adventure games. He loves to keep tabs on the gaming and technology industries and loves to break stories that interest his audience. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and several years of experience writing for games. Experience: 3+ Years || Education: Bachelor's in Journalism || Written 600+ News Stories.

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