Humans are not the only mammals with a gaming habit. In this video from Harvard Medical School, a mouse scurries on the top of a large, styrofoam trackball, its movements replicated on a video screen. The mouse “runs” down the corridors of a virtual maze, not unlike the way a human might navigate a first-person shooter. The maze’s walls are divided into bright panels with dark dots, or dark panels with light dots. It feels like a cross between Star Wars: Trench Run and a game of dominoes.
But this is more than just a game. Researchers have trained the mouse to count the number of dots along the walls in the virtual maze, similar to how humans use landmarks and signs, and to then use that count to make the correct decision when it encounters a fork in the maze—they’re rewarded with sips of sugar water for each correct choice. As the video explains, the way the mice make these decisions within the virtual maze could provide clues to how brains form memories and make decisions.