Rats Play ‘DOOM’ Using VR-Like System

We’ve seen our fair share of bizarre VR experiments over the years, but this one might just take the cake.

Last month, neuroengineer Viktor Tóth published an article entitled Rats in Doom in which he details a “VR” setup that automatically trains rodents to traverse 3D environments without the need for excessive restraints or any surgical procedures.

“I built a VR setup for rodents from scratch and trained three rats in an automated fashion, without manual intervention, to traverse a corridor rendered in the DOOM II engine,” saysTóth in the article.

“Although I did implement the mechanisms to further train rats to shoot monsters in-game, I lacked the time to actually reinforce the behavior. The promise of the project is a relatively cheap (<$2000) VR setup that automatically trains rodents to traverse 3D environments without restraining them too much, while refraining from surgical procedures to provide the least stressful circumstances for them.”

First reported by PC Gamer, the one-of-a-kind VR training system has three rats—cheekily named Carmack (John Carmack), Romero (John Romero), and Tom (Tom Hall)—running through a custom DOOM II map using a unique combination of rodent-based controls. The “rodent VR rig,” as it’s described byTóth, was built in about four months using 3D printed parts, a soldering iron, and various other components.

Image Credit: Viktor Tóth

The system itself is relatively straightforward. The rats are placed on top of a polystyrene ball that moves freely in any direction thanks to ball bearings positioned below. As the rodents roll atop their spherical treadmill (a basic harness system is used to keep them in place), motion sensors translate their movements to the game in real-time.

A curved monitor placed directly in front of the test subjects displays a custom-made map composed of several hallways to navigate and an enemy Imp to kill. By licking the controls in front of them, Carmack, Romero, and Hall can use the in-game shotgun to blow away their virtual enemy, at which point they are rewarded with some delicious sugar water.

Image Credit: Viktor Tóth

“Playing games, whether a human does it or rats, involves the interplay of a wide variety of cognitive processes,” addsTóth. “A rat, being stationary relative to the setup, can express a wide variety of behavior, while also being recorded by a neural interface. Thus, movement and complex in-game actions can be correlated with neural activity in a virtual, yet more natural, lively set of experiments, than in simple maze setups for instance.”

The whole project has a very McGyver feel to it, with Tóth having utilized a wide variety of obscure components to build his system, from gutted computer mice to Quidditch goal posts. For more information on this obscure rodent VR rig, check out Tóth’s article here.

Feature Image Credit:Viktor Tóth

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Former Writer (Kyle Melnick)

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