Starcraft and Neuroplasticity

Prior experimental investigation of the cognitive consequences of video gaming provides evidence that cognitive and perceptual changes occur in those who transition from non-gamers to gamers. Specifically, training on action games (e.g., first-person, fast paced, kill-or-be-killed situations) has been linked to enhanced core perceptual processing [10], [11]. Action video game novices assigned to action video game training experience a number of benefits, including higher contrast sensitivity [12], faster visual information processing [13], expanded useful field of view [14], and logical comprehension [15].


In the present study, we add to an emerging body of literature suggesting video gaming can alter higher-level competencies by devising a gaming intervention and specifying diagnostic measures that are optimized to assess the effects of gaming on cognitive flexibility. Cognitive flexibility is the essential ability to assess and adapt ongoing psychological operations and to coordinate the allocation of cognitive processes appropriately in dynamic decision making environments [23]. Cognitive flexibility is a core aspect of cognition that involves the coordination of cognitive resources in both lower-level perceptual switching and higher-level rule switching [24], and has been associated with fluid intelligence [25] and overall psychological well-being [26]. Cognitive flexibility is likely not subserved by a single neural area, but rather is representative of a broad functional network involving the prefrontal cortex and right superior parietal cortex [27]. One possibility is that broad-based training that engages multiple processes related to cognitive flexibility is required to tune this distributed network. Certain types of video game experience, as opposed to narrow training on a laboratory task, may be well suited for inducing plasticity in the neural systems supporting cognitive flexibility.

Real-time strategy (RTS) game training is an excellent candidate for tuning these cortical networks due to sustained maintenance and rapid switching across multiple information sources at a high workload for long periods of time over several weeks. Our main prediction is that our RTS gaming manipulation will complement previous work in action video games by promoting “fast thinking”, while not strongly affecting “fast perception.” To assess whether video game training can alter cognitive flexibility, the current study utilizes an RTS game, StarCraft (published by Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. in 1998). RTS gaming involves the creation, organization, and command of an army against an enemy army in a real-time map-based setting (see Text S1 for more information on the game). To be successful, the player must cope with simultaneous and rapidly evolving game situations and sub-situations occurring in real-time while managing funds, resources, and information regarding the opponent. Furthermore, we altered the stock StarCraft game program by disabling mini-map alerts, requiring the player to rely on memory for events occurring outside the screen window. In short, while previous work relied on action video games which highlight “fast perception”, RTS gaming highlights “fast thinking” and has been used previously as a successful training regimen. Thus, we predict RTS game training to enhance cognitive flexibility in a general manner.

To further elucidate the role of video gaming on cognitive flexibility, gaming is examined with a within-game and between-game comparison. A life-simulator game is used as a control gaming condition against two versions of the RTS game: a full-map version and a half-map version. The full-map version (SC-2) involves two friendly bases and two enemy bases, whereas the half-map version (SC-1) involves one friendly and one enemy base and half the available gaming space. In the SC-2 version, the player is commanding and controlling two separate bases in multiple battles against two separate opponent bases. For this reason, the SC-2 subcondition promotes more switching and coordination of cognitive resources, hallmarks of cognitive flexibility. Both versions were also modified with a reactive difficulty level in order to maintain a win rate near 50%. Thus, the SC-1 version was designed to be as engrossing and difficult as the SC-2 version, but did not emphasize maintaining awareness of and switching between two spatially separated (out of view) bases. Importantly, game feature and behavior recording within the RTS game allowed for verification of the amount of attended information between the two versions. The life-simulator video game, The Sims 2 (published by Electronic Arts, Inc. in 2004), has been shown to be a useful control for experimental video game research [12]. Together, this is an effort to delineate not only the behavioral characteristics that change in the course of initial video game training, but also the characteristics of the games themselves that lead to change.

To determine changes in cognitive flexibility that occurred as a result of video gaming, participants completed a battery of psychological tasks at pre-test and post-test (at 40 hours of gaming). The battery included measures that address cognitive flexibility as well as measures of unrelated constructs. Measures of flexibility included the Attention Network Test (ANT) [28], Stroop task [29], task switching [30], a novel multi-location memory task, and test of Operating Span (Ospan; distinct from simple counting memory span) [31], [32]. These are classic measures of cognitive flexibility in that they require the switching or coordination of cognitive processes in order to successfully navigate the task at hand. For example, the task switching paradigm involves switching between two different stimulus identification tasks. All the measures in the cognitive flexibility task group assess the ability to coordinate attentional processes between two or more concurrent or alternating operations. Measures of predicted unrelated constructs included the balloon analogue risk task (BART) [33], visual search task [14], information filtering task [34], and WAIS-IV digit span memory task [35], [36]. These tasks were chosen to help delineate the specific hypothesis that RTS training would lead specifically to cognitive flexibility enhancements given that RTS game play stresses fast-paced switching and coordination of decisional processing. The visual search task and the information filtering task were chosen due to their use in previous action video game research [12], in order to differentiate RTS training from action video game training. BART and the digit span memory task were chosen due to further delineate cognitive flexibility from the broad domains of risk sensitivity and general memory. Participant groups were equated on the Multimedia Multitasking Index (MMI), a measure of the amount of time an individual spends simultaneously engaged in more than one form of media [37]. Consistent with best scientific practices and openness, the task grouping and analysis strategy were determined and publically disclosed [38] prior to data collection.


Design of an experiment to determine if the realtime strategy game improves cognition.

Folksonomies: video games neuroplasticity cognitive plasticity

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Video game genres (0.952073): dbpedia
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StarCraft (0.404477): website | dbpedia | freebase | yago
Cognition (0.399525): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Action game (0.372681): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Perception (0.368971): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc

 Real-Time Strategy Game Training: Emergence of a Cognitive Flexibility Trait
Periodicals>Journal Article:  Glass, Maddox, Love (2013), Real-Time Strategy Game Training: Emergence of a Cognitive Flexibility Trait, Public Library of Science, Retrieved on 2013-08-26
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  • Folksonomies: video games neuroplasticity