Scientists Use StarCraft II To Prove How Scary Ageing Is

Scientists Use StarCraft II To Prove How Scary Ageing Is

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.

via Motherboard


  • I really wouldn’t say Starcraft is one of the most popular eSports anymore. Even World of Tanks has surpassed it in viewership, and it comes no where close to LoL or dota nowadays.

  • I always did hate this about Starcraft. Feeling like it was more important to click real fast and be hyper than to make solid strategic decisions kind of blows.

    I get that it’s a specific skill set that some people like to work on, but being twitchier isn’t a good reason for winning a strategy game.

    I really want to see macros or some form of scripting, such that someone can choose to automate various tasks (I’d love to see an upgrade to make roaches auto-burrow when on low health) at the cost of in game resources.

  • Nope, I don’t buy this ‘study’.
    I propose that that the real reason 20+ people start to decline in video game performance is that after 20, people generally start to have real world responsibilities and video games are no longer the centre of their lives and they cannot afford to spend endless hours playing games.

  • Candy tastes less sweet.

    Nah. Candy tastes more sweet. I don’t know how I used to handle it.

    • Yeah, I got no idea how that works. I’m thinking that it just depends on where in your taste buds things are decaying. I’m pretty sure that for me, spicy foods are starting to taste less spicy as time goes on.

  • @25 sweet is still sweet. Sour is still sour. 12 hours of play time is no different to 12 hours in Photoshop, 3DS Max or UDK.

    Arguably you can achieve more during 12 hours of gaming though. Far less procrastination.

  • I really hate this notion the general public has that if you don’t have your entire life and career figured out before you turn 25, you’re life is as good as over.

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