Research on the habits of gamers has found what separates the winners from the “noobs”.
Practice makes perfect, but not just any kind of practice will do. Jeff Huang, a computer science professor at Brown University, is the lead author of two studies detailing how gamers develop their skills. With the help of TrueSkill ratings, Huang was able to gain accurate and well-measured data on gamers and their in-game progress. The researchers analyzed data from thousands of matches in two video games, Halo: Reach and StarCraft 2. Each game revealed something remarkable about what builds a gamer's skills.
The study on Halo: Reach highlighted the need for spacing game matches out evenly. The researchers found that playing these games in moderation is a better way to build the necessary skills to play well. Gamers who played four to eight matches a week showed the most progress in their initial 200 matches. “You actually want to space out your activity a little bit and not play so intensively,” said Huang.
What's important to note, however, is that taking long breaks in between matches can negatively impact a player's skill progress. Taking a break that lasts one to two days in between gaming won't be a problem. However, longer breaks can make it difficult for players to regain the skills they have previously built.
The study on StarCraft 2, meanwhile, revealed that gamers who developed a set of game-playing habits became more skilled. Skilled gamers were marked by their extensive use of keyboard shortcuts, or “hotkeys”. These hotkeys enabled players to input commands and actions more quickly and efficiently. Hotkeys made it possible for players to multi-task and to input over 200 commands per minute.
Skilled gamers not only used hotkeys more frequently, they also built gaming habits on these shortcuts. Specific players in the study were even identifiable by the unique pattern of hotkeys they used. The secret to the efficiency of skilled gamers lies in how ingrained these habits and patterns are. In complicated multi-tasking games, players can stay calm and think strategically if issuing game commands becomes almost like second nature.
Much like in physical sports, warming up is crucial in playing video games. “They’re getting their minds and bodies into the routines that they’ll need when they’re at peak performance later in the game,” says Huang. Pacing oneself and building a routine are vital for gamers to perform well and develop their skills. Therein lies the difference between great gamers and those who still have a long way to go.
Huang hopes that the research will contribute to other studies on how people can perform more efficiently in tasks other than gaming. The findings in the study can be true in other areas of human activity. It seems that people can best achieve efficiency when they pace themselves and take short, frequent breaks. It's also important to be consistent, build routines, and somehow “automate” one's own actions to multi-task efficiently.
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