Video game research reveals path to advanced gaming skills

We have all heard that practice makes perfect. But for players, too much practice could actually hamper improvement.

Moderation is the key to improving online video game skills, and those who play four to eight games per week tend to gain the most skills per game in their first 200 games, according to to a pair of new studies by researchers at Brown University.

The researchers analyzed data generated from thousands of online matches of two video games: the sci-fi war game “Halo: Reach” and the sci-fi military strategy game “StarCraft 2”. They tracked the trends of 3.2 million online gamers over seven months.

Now, to pay tribute to all the credit, those who played the most games per week – over 64 – showed the greatest skill increase over time. But when looking at incremental improvements per game, they lag behind players who have been in fewer games. In fact, those who played between eight and 16 games per game also improved more per game than those who clocked the most hours of play.

Best plan to get better: play every other day, suggested Jeff Huang, a computer professor at Brown and lead author of the study.

“My guess is that when you play intensely and repeatedly, you can get stuck in some suboptimal habits,” Huang said. “If you come back to the game every other day, you’re more likely to discover something new or have time to think about strategies between games.”

This finding, Huang explained, contradicts the belief many people subscribe to: that getting better comes down to the number of hours played.

In other words: players, you might want to put that long-standing 10,000-hour practice rule aside.

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Researchers also looked at whether breaks between games improved a player’s skills. They found that the short breaks were great, and when players took a one to two day break between games, they would regain any skills that were lost in the next game they were playing.

However, the longer breaks had a bigger impact. For example, players who took a 30-day break had to play about 10 games when they returned in order to reach the skill level they were at before their leave.

And when it comes to shortcut skills, in which players use custom keyboard shortcuts to activate commands that are quickly sent to unit groups, high-level players used them very frequently, issuing up to 200 actions per minute during a typical match. Some gamers have demonstrated an impressive 90% accuracy rate in their hotkey models, suggesting that this skill can become almost second nature and that gamers tend to step up hotkey commands when the pressure is on.

Huang believes that gaming data could provide a window to better understand people’s habits, because this kind of data is measured so well and there is so much at hand.

In the near future, he plans to transfer some of the methods learned in his gambling studies into the study of our daily life “as a game,” he said. He and his team recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop tools that allow people to perform experiments on themselves to optimize their own habits and behaviors.

This concept shares similarities with Brown’s ongoing sleep study, in which researchers investigate how people can improve their sleep using a data-driven approach.

In the future, said Huang, we will see more projects that involve examining the data that researchers collect in our lifetime.

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