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We live in a world where all sorts of things can play some form of the eternally badass FPS grandaddy known as Doom. Photocopiers, pregnancy tests, fridges, and balls of yarn have managed to run id Software’s classic shooter over the years (though I may have made one of those up), but what about the one who is playing Doom? Why does it always have to be us humans enjoying a good old rip and tear 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 flippant a reason to try as I suggested, last year he fulfilled that dream for some lucky rats in the name of science. Tóth decided to teach rats to play 1994’s 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 onto Twitch for some livestreaming.

How did Tóth teach rats to play Doom II you ask? Well, as he explains in his blog, he forged his own personal setup out of odds and ends for the sum of less than $2,000 that 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 sensors translated into movement in the game world and mirrored it onto a curved computer monitor in front of the gaming rodents.”

As the rat moved about on the ball, it would also then, in turn, run about in the halls and corridors of Doom II. Tóth encouraged the rat with a little tube to feed it sugary water as a treat whenever it did something correctly.

You can see the rats in action in this video below.

Divulging exactly why he got this idea, Tóth said in his interview with Futurism, ”It’s very relevant to brain computer interfaces (BCI) — a space I’m trying to get into in the long run. There are a couple of players in the space like Neuralink, BlackRock, and Paradromics that are testing their devices on monkeys and then rolling them out to humans. But the thing is that a lot of that cognitive capacity is already present in rats — so why can’t we just use rats?

“Part of the reason is that you can’t fully train a rat to play something like “Pong,” right? The research design is difficult, but once you bridge that by training the rats in virtual environments, that’s huge. You can record all kinds of brain signals from the rats, like simple visual cortex information, or you can go higher up to decision making and planning.

“It seems very complicated and hasn’t really been done — but you can do this 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.”

The rats haven’t beaten the edited first map of the game yet, but perhaps fittingly, the best performer was a rat named Romero, who even learned how to shoot.

So why does Tóth think adding streaming to the mix will be of benefit?

”I think it’s a very valid way to monetize a project like this. The only problem is how long the rat can run for.

“I had Romero running for 15 minutes one time, which was great. That was crazy because he was doing it for so long and didn’t get tired or want to get off. So if you can actually get the rat to a point where it actually expresses curiosity in the game, then it could get really interesting. 

“If you could get to that point and rats would actually “play” for 10 or 20 minutes straight, then yeah. Twitch streaming would be a very valid way to get this in front of people.”

Tóth thinks a 3D Pac-Man-type game would be best next, given rats are far likelier to run from things than attack, so it would be a more natural fit. Keep up this progress and we can’t be too far off Romero the rat rodent-hopping in Quake.

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