More than a Game

Creegz @ 3rd December 2011 06:43 (Read 1,266 times).
In my first serious opinion style blog, I would like to touch on a subject I happen to find quite fascinating, Psychology. However not just flat psychology, but rather how interactive entertainment can influence it.

During my daily readings involving Starcraft, thank you to Google News Notifications, I came across a fascinating article that involves a study called "Skillcraft" from a local university, Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Vancouver, British Columbia. Spearheaded by Mark Blair, Ph.D. of the Cognitive Science and Psychology Department at SFU, taking controlled groups of Starcraft players at both high and low level then studies their abilities that relate to the game, and more importantly not just APM, which is broken down as precise motor functions in this case, but the work within the mind that occurs during any given match, tournament or practice.

Psychology in all its forms is a side interest of mine that I research when I have spare time. The human mind is a beautiful thing, and a marvel of machinery and power, power of which we do not fully understand, and probably never will, as there are so many functions the brain does subconsciously that we are not even aware of, and then so many things that are almost reactionary for the common human being. The human mind is by far the most powerful thing on the planet, and there's billions of them across the world. To hell with dual socket Intel Xeon servers with 64gb of ram (more powerful ones exist, trust me), they're mere pocket calculators in comparison. The memory capacity of the human being, goes beyond what we really realize, walking, talking, yawning, heartbeat, temperature, emotion, hunger, fatigue, every other impulse, a form of memory, knowing what it means and what you have to do with such things. This is all memory we are unaware of. This will be touched on further in this writing, as it actually pokes a bit at something in my opinions on this study.

Now, cognitive functions are a very important part of understanding how a human being operates. Most people were to have believed that people are incapable of multitasking. Being on that edge of it, I have noticed my abilities in that field improve since I started playing Starcraft. This is evidence of the fact that most people have not met full potential for divided attention and separating focus into multitasking. Have any of you tried multitasking in a job, doing multiple things at once, only to realize you've actually screwed up majorly, and have to go back over it and re-do your work. I have done this countless times, and still do. It is all relative to how your brain interprets and interacts with what it is presented. Retail is a fantastic example of this, most mistakes you see in retailers from their employees falls into two categories.

Lack of experience with 1 or many tasks
Overburdened with tasks.

Taking this into account, we see a bit of a breakdown when mistakes are made.

On the end of Starcraft, everyone in the beginning will follow suit with those concepts. Now, with time invested, you gain comfort, and thus clear thought into options, just as you would in a work environment. For those not following me to this point, but seem intrigued, what I'm saying here is that the constant decision making, alteration of plans, goals and core concept of the cause is trained, and usually will apply to other things, as in most circumstances you are focusing on considerably less, or at least less diverse options. In Starcraft, not only do you focus on "Macro" (economics and technological advancement) as well as "Micro" (fighting, army strength and advancement towards a win) but you also have to read the opponent, to better understand what Macro and Micro options are viable and most effective/efficient at that time and place.

Follow along, I am going somewhere. This is my minor argument that falls under functions and reactions that we are unaware that we're doing.

I see something here in this that can be considered both fallible in the study of this, and also a benefit to this study. I will use Zerg for example in this because I happen to play Zerg most, and I am seeing this in myself. As many of you if not all are aware, Zerg need to inject larvae in order to keep macro up and to keep their ability to overwhelm the opponent with a easily regained max army wave after wave, now a traditional Zerg player makes extreme habit of injecting, coming up with clever tricks like the backspace method in order to make it more efficient, after just learning this method myself I have seen an adjustment in macro that is drastic from my previous style of hatch jumping. This is, for many higher tier players, not even thought of, but a timer like monitoring their food count, and checking the mini map. You don't necessarily think about it. A common occurring action in every race is the necessity to up the supply cap, with a Supply Depot, Overlord or Pylon, this is also a subroutine within the players mind after a while, a routine that is generalized under "good macro habits". This can be argued in two ways, if you're studying the solid functions of decision making, and not ingrained mechanical actions, then a lot of the study has to exclude such things in higher tier players, but of course leave it in with players whom actively consider such things. On the opposing side of that, if you're not looking at just the raw function of such actions, but the fact that the brain is multitasking on things that aren't even active thoughts, but of course just subconscious routine, then this means that the brain is far more powerful than most people realize.

Taking that into account, my thoughts on this overall remain that video games in general can help show us a lot about the way we work, more than flat studies on just people in day to day situations, as we don't usually get overexposed to decisions of such diversity except in very rare high stress environments, typically revolving around faster paced sports like Hockey and Paintball, or being in charge of a group in a military operation, be it as General or a squad commander. These people prove, in what is viewed as day to day activity for them, that they are able to asses and decide a proper course of action. That, in essence, is what Starcraft is. Assessing the situation, finding a course of action, and committing to that action until it is no longer feasible, rinse, repeat.

Additionally, they're not only looking at the multitasking, precision motor functions, attention division and decision making skills but they are also looking at mental stamina and resilience. These games can go anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour given proper circumstances. This eventually becomes tiring on not only the hands, but the mind. This study is looking at not just how powerful we are, but this could be a way to learn to skills, aid in the ability to retain and gain knowledge at a faster pace, and even stave off mental aging and help regain memory and mental stamina.

One big issue with most of this is that most skills learned will stay applied to the same area of expertise they were learned in, so finding a way to apply this to alternative aspects of day to day life will prove more difficult. But this leads back to the ingrained sub routine motor functions I mentioned previously. Visual reaction time will be significantly faster for most people who do in fact play video games on a regular basis, as well as the ability to mentally rotate objects and solve physical problems.

A couple of people who have been studying this field for a while now, have been quoted saying that this sort of skill set is transferable to aspects such as crisis management, where you could see one issue in one area, one issue in another, and divide resources accordingly and in a good time frame to help control the issue.

What is everyone's thoughts?