We live in a world where all sorts of things can play out a form of the eternally badass FPS Grandpa known as the Loss. Copiers, pregnancy tests, refrigerators, and balls of yarn have been successful in making id Software’s classic shooter work over the years (although I may have invented one), but about the one who plays Loss? Why do we always have to be us humans enjoying a good ol ‘heartbreak through hell on Earth or Mars? Surely even a rodent must dream of being Doom Guy?
So while former Feinstein Institutes neuroengineer Viktor Tóth didn’t have as casual a reason to try as I suggested, last year he made that dream for lucky rats come true in the name of Science. Tóth decided to teach rats to play in the years 1994 Doom II in order to better understand brain-computer interfaces, and now, in an article for Futurism, he thinks it may be beneficial to take the rats to Twitch for a live broadcast.
How Tóth taught rats to play Doom II you ask? Well, as he explains in his blog, he forged his own personal configuration out of the breaches for less than $ 2,000 which consisted of “a large polystyrene ball that could be rolled in any direction via ball bearings. A rat was suspended in a harness on top, where it could move the ball with its feet, which the sensors translated into movement in the game world and reflected it on a curved computer screen in front of the game rodents.. “
As the rat moved over the ball, it in turn also ran through the halls and lanes of Doom II. Tóth would encourage the rat with a small tube to give him sugar water as a treat whenever he was doing something right.
You can see the rats in action in this video below.
Disclosing exactly why he came up with this idea, Tóth said in his interview with Futurism, “It’s very relevant for brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) – a space that I’m trying to get into long term. There are a few players in space like Neuralink, BlackRock, and Paradromics who test their devices on apes and then deploy them for humans. But the point is, a lot of this cognitive ability is already present in rats – so why can’t we just use rats?
“Part of the reason is you can’t completely train a rat play something like “Pong”, to the right? Designing research is tough, but once you get there by training the rats in virtual environments, it’s huge. You can record all kinds of brain signals from rats, like simple information about the visual cortex, or you can go deeper into decision-making and planning.
“It looks very complicated and hasn’t really been done, but you can do it in the same setup I used. The only thing that changes is the software, or the game the rat is playing.
“Other than that, I did it because it’s just cool.”
Rats have yet to beat the game’s first edited map, but perhaps rightly so, the top performer was a rat named Romero, who even learned to shoot.
So why does Tóth think adding streaming to the mix will be beneficial?
“I think this is a very valid way to monetize a project like this. The only problem is how long the rat can run.
“I ran Romero for 15 minutes once which was great. It was crazy because he had been doing it for so long and didn’t get tired and didn’t want to go downstairs. So if you can actually get the rat to a point where he’s actually expressing curiosity in the game, then it could get really interesting.
“If you could get to that point and the rats were actually ‘playing’ for 10 or 20 minutes straight, then yes. Streaming Twitch would be a very valid way to present it to people.”
Tóth thinks a 3D Pac-Man type game would be better, given that rats are much more likely to run away from things than attack, so that would be a more natural fit. Keep going down this path and we can’t be too far from Romero the rodent rat jumping in. earthquake.