Getting old is never easy. Candy tastes less sweet. Hangovers get ever more brutal. Pop music becomes increasingly terrifying. And, of course, video games get harder.
That last point might seem like common knowledge to anyone over the age of, say, 15, who’s suddenly discovered that mainlining Grand Theft Auto V or Diablo III for twelve hours straight isn’t as easy as it used to be. But a group of researchers from Simon Fraser University recently put this theory to the test by monitoring players of StarCraft II, one of the fastest-paced and twitchiest games around.
The results, published this week in PLOS One, suggest that cognitive decline begins at the ripe old age of 24. They found this by tracking the “looking-doing latencies”, the amount of time it took a player to respond to something on-screen after he or she had first seen it.
As one of the most popular eSports out there today, StarCraft II is something of a caricature when it comes to speed. Professional players have to train themselves not just to be able to move their fingers across the keyboard at a blinding speed, but also to do so in a way that remains hyper focused and accurate for the tactical and strategic situation at hand.
The requires an impressive degree of physical prowess, no doubt. But there’s a cognitive element at play here as well. In a game where every millisecond counts, the human brain can’t keep up the same dizzying pace year after year and game after game. I remember being struck by this when I attended my first StarCraft II competition and spoke to a 23 year old player who sounded worried about running out of steam. I was 24 at the time, so the thought of someone a year younger than me lamenting that his career was almost over seemed, well, terrifying, to say the least.
Reading this new study, however, I see what he meant. Just take this description of a 39-year-old player:
A typical Bronze player at the age of 39, equal in all other respects to a 24 year-old adversary, can be expected to be around 150 milliseconds slower in their typical looking-doing latencies, costing about 30 seconds over a typical 15 minute Bronze game containing 200 looking-doing cycles.
Obviously as players age they also accrue valuable things like experience which can give them the upper hand when it comes to competitive gameplay. But the article helps shed light on why many video games — and eSports in particular — remain such a young man’s (and woman’s) game.