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Sunday, October 26, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Hog Heaven: Pigs Learn Video Games

AP

VANCOUVER, B.C. - A Penn State University researcher who has introduced two pigs - Hamlet and Omelette - to video games says his porcine pupils are delighted.

And Stanley Curtis says the happier the pigs are, the better they grow.

"They beg to play video games. They beg to be the first ones out of their pens, then they trot up the ramp to play," he said.

Curtis also hopes to use computers to help develop pig-English so he can ask the animals what keeps them happiest.

Curtis introduced his hogs to the games in January after carefully testing their eyesight to make sure they could see the game screen.

Designing the pig PC wasn't too difficult, but the small joy-stick had to go. In its place Curtis put a tractor gear-shift stick.

Within weeks the pigs had learned to pucker up and use their supple snouts and teeth to make the joy-stick move the cursor around the screen. If they sent it to the right place they got a sweet reward, leaving them squealing in delight.

When Curtis changed the rules for getting the reward, the pigs quickly caught on and kept playing.

Curtis, who believes people have a responsibility to keep farm animals happy, said he can see a day in the not-too-distant future where video games are part of every pig barn.

Curtis has already taught pigs to turn the heat in the barn up or down, and he hopes he can soon ask them questions like: Which design of pen do you like? How many pigs do you prefer to be in your group?

Once we figure things out with pigs then we want to go to some of the quieter species and see if we can unlock their secrets."

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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