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Playing StarCraft Makes You Smarter

SC2 players respond to a scientific study that asserts that RTS games are good for the brain.

Here’s food for thought: StarCraft might literally be food for thought.

A recent study conducted by researchers at Queen Mary and University College London concluded that playing StarCraft and complex real-time strategy games can help improve brain agility and multitasking.

“Our paper shows that cognitive flexibility, a cornerstone of human intelligence, is not a static trait but can be trained and improved using fun learning tools like gaming," study researcher Dr. Brian Glass, of the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary University of London, said in a release.

It’s an idea that doesn’t surprise professional gamers.

“Anything that makes you think critically, adapt to different situations on the fly and invent new strategies is going to have a really positive impact on your everyday life,” said pro-StarCraft player Ryan “State” Visbeck. “Strategy games—StarCraft II especially—are really good at rewarding problem solving skills and improving your decision making.”

Jens "Snute" Aasgaard
Jens "Snute" Aasgaard© Cameron Baird / Red Bull Content Pool

Team Liquid’s Jens “Snute” Aasgaard said playing StarCraft frequently helps him learn to think and make decisions quickly.

“Information is sometimes limited when making choices and having experience with games like StarCraft can help you prioritize your focus in the most efficient way, or a way that makes the most sense in a given situation,” he said.

The study’s published results are based on psychological tests conducted before and after 72 volunteers played the StarCraft or the The Sims for 40 hours over six to eight weeks. Interestingly enough, the participants were female, because they couldn’t recruit enough male volunteers who played video games for less than two hours a week. Researchers found that the StarCraft players had measurable gains on their psychological tests and demonstrated greater “cognitive flexibility” than those who played The Sims, described as “a core component with broad influence on the psychological abilities and well-being of an individual.”

Forty hours of training within an RTS game that stresses rapid and simultaneous maintenance, assessment, and coordination between multiple information and action sources was sufficient to affect change in the brain, according to the study.

Professional StarCraft player Dario "TLO" Wünsch said he wasn’t aware of the study, but has noticed the game’s positive results on his own mind.

“The thing I noticed myself most is that I'm capable of concentrating on a task much longer than before I was a progamer,” said TLO.

Snute also noticed that skills he’s developed in StarCraft have applied to other parts of his life.

“One does become more aware of one's choices in various situations in life and the consequences,” he said. “StarCraft 2 is full of choices and experiences so when you spend a lot of time making decisions in the game and it also carries over to quickly weighing and making decisions outside of the game as well.”

League of Legends wasn’t tested in the study, but Alex “Xpecial” Chu of TSM Snapdragon said he thought the MOBA also could improve brain power because of the kind of thinking that the game generates.

"Every move you do is calculated. It's like chess. It's not about what you're doing right now. That's important too, but it's about the next move and trying to account for the other team's next move,” said Xpecial.

“People don't always see that, they're thinking you're only controlling one character and you're attacking another character but there's so much involved you don't realize where you want to be two, three, or four steps ahead. It’s definitely more like a chess game than a video game sometimes.”

So, next time someone asks why you play so much StarCraft, you can tell them you’re doing brain exercises.

By Ryan Smith