StarCraft II Might Be Better Than Chess (For Science!)

StarCraft II Might Be Better Than Chess (For Science!)

Researchers looking at cognitive science have long studied chess. But a story on Scientific American shows that chess’ days could soon be numbered, because a superior model is emerging: Blizzard’s StarCraft II.

Scientists are hailing the game for its ability to help them study “attention, multitasking, and learning”, the game’s quick speed and reliance on strategy blowing chess out of the water in terms of challenging us mentally.

What’s more, cognitive scientist Mark Blair is now running a project called SkillCraft, in which the skills players develop and use for the purposes of StarCraft (in particular the awesome multitasking that’s required) are being examined to see if they can help in other aspects of life.

And if they can? Then that knowledge can be used to help everyone in the world who doesn’t play StarCraft. Just in case they ever need to…construct additional pylons…in their yard…or something.

How a Computer Game is Reinventing the Science of Expertise [Scientific American, via PC Gamer]


  • Correct me if I’m wrong but hasn’t it been proven that multitasking is actually a horrible way of doing anything and that the more you do it the worse you become at it?

    • Kind of.

      Mainly what they’ve shown is that they don’t have a good metric to test multitasking, so everyone pretty much fails at it. This study is trying to use SC2 to try and get a ridiculous amount of data of people multitasking and more importantly improving at it.

      It’s a little tricky but the important thing here is that the SC2 replays that the Reddit and Team Liquid communities are submitting (the people behind the study asked people from there to submit replays) give a simply ridiculous amount of data. So much data.

      • Don’t have a “good metric to test multitasking”? I thought it’d be pretty simple, one group handles multiple kinds of media at the same time, another group doesn’t. See which one responds to questions about said media the best..who remembers the best, who reacted the best and so on.

        Plus, wouldn’t the data from SC2 be kind of pointless? The people involved would know the game inside out, it wouldn’t so much be true multi-tasking but looking at programmed reflexes. You’d need people totally new to the game who wouldn’t know anything about it or what each unit does.

        • They want people who are challenged mentally, not frustrated. IT’d be like wanting to test people who are physically challenegd by instead of testing swimmers, people who have never swum.

        • Just as an aside, this is exactly the same as chess once you’re playing at a high level, there’s a giant pool of moves with a tiny sub pool of moves actually worth making.

        • I can answer this as its the subject of my PhD. Most tasks involve processing multiple stimuli in the environment. On top of that, often the completion of higher level goals requires undertaking several tasks simultaneously. We know that some individuals, experts, are much better (more accurate and faster) at accounting for all the information in the environment, but we still don’t really know why. This has implications for the way we teach people to do safety critical jobs. My own research is conducted in hospitals, aircraft and power control, but the groundwork was done by people like Ericcson who studied chess grand masters.

          I’m a bit bummed by this news – I was planning on trying to work Starcraft 2 into my post-doc. Obviously I wasn’t the only one who realised this was the new chess.

  • Seems obvious that an RTS (Starcraft II) would be a better measure than a TBS (Chess) as a measure of attention, and multitasking.

    • This.

      Obviously chess isn’t going to push your multitasking abilities as hard. It’s fucking chess. Did Blizzard fund this research? I hate the apples and oranges analogy, but you know….

  • Is it just me or do Scientist always research the most iname, idiotic, useless subjects possible in the scope of human thought.

    Maybe they should research why they still have a job.

    • Cmon now, you act like cancer research and renewable energy are worthwhile topics of study. That’s just silly.

    • See my above comment – but this isn’t inane. My own research team has several government grants because this groundwork research informs training in domains like aviation where we can’t just trial new training programs. They need to be tested and validated in a context that won’t get people killed.

  • i think that any rts (even europa or hearts of iron) would produce similar results.

    scII has the advantage of being fast paced however.

  • Interesting, though this SkillCraft study seems like a waste of time given that we already know from the chess studies that acquired cognitive skills usually aren’t transferable from one domain to another. I find it really weird in fact that this got into scientific american, unless I’m missing something.

    • I think essentially the massive size of samples available in this study far outweighs any other done of its kinds, and thus makes it much more attractive. Also StarCraft 2 is a current, relevant and popular game, which also helps.

      • True – the problem isn’t the sample size though – its that only a small subset of the population are highly skilled Starcraft players. I wouldn’t expect the upper echelon to be larger than the upper echelon of chess players.

  • My god…. This article…. I’ve never heard anything more ridiculous. It’s like watching those 40’s commercials from the tobacco companies falsely claiming that smoking is good for you… lmao. I’m sorry, but Starcraft doesn’t even touch Chess. Chess = 90% strategy (insane mode), 10% tactics (easy mode). Starcraft = 90% tactics, 10% strategy. I put the insane mode and easy mode there to help you kids figure it out. I feel bad for this generation… so easily manipulated into believing fairy tales. Keep smoking kids, the tobacco companies say it’s good for you lol!!

  • “Scientists”, conveniently has no specifics or names. Mark Blair’s “work” isn’t peer reviewed….. In other words, it’s opinion and opinion only, from one biased scientist that probably grew up playing SC1. Just fyi, for you mindless zombies out there, there is no Scientific American article about this nor will there ever be one. It’s called hype and false advertising, something Blizzard does really well. Their fans are adept at spreading the nonsense too.

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