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Real Time Strategy (Games) Games Science

How a Computer Game Is Reinventing the Science of Expertise 60

An anonymous reader writes "Cognitive scientists at Simon Fraser University and UCSD are beginning to use StarCraft 2 replays to study the development of expertise and the cognitive mechanisms of multitasking. Unlike similar expertise studies in chess that consider roughly a dozen players, these studies include thousands of players of all skill levels — providing an unprecedented amount of data on how players move from 'chumps to champions.'"
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How a Computer Game Is Reinventing the Science of Expertise

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  • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Friday December 02, 2011 @05:59PM (#38244074)

    Like a study on the mass exodus of players doing ladder play after the koreans find the tournament?

  • this is really cool. that is all.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 02, 2011 @06:15PM (#38244384)

    Ninety percent of the players in this tournament are not superhuman multitaskers. After watching enough of their first-person video streams, you see that most players can't react to novel situations. They just learn "build an army before the X minute mark", or "counterattack with fast ground units when his army moves out," executing the same limited skill set game after game. What this study will probably show is the rapid development of mechanical skills from low-to-mid level play, followed by the gradual acquisition of timings and strategic instincts.

    • by wisnoskij ( 1206448 ) on Friday December 02, 2011 @06:40PM (#38244742) Homepage

      Well of course a novel play would slow them down. The reason they are so fast is because they no longer thing about the normal stuff, it is ingrained like a champion chess player. But that does not mean that they are unable to cope with the never seen before.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I'll reply to you.

        Seems to me this is a severely flawed discussion, well into Apples & Oranges territory.

        Let me talk from a modest knowledge of the chess side. Chess does not normally reward "actions per minute" except the subset of Blitz events. Yes, GMs have higher "throughput of variations" than amateurs, but generally so I've heard is that a "mere master calculates, the GM 'knows'." The GM simply doesn't even look at the weak moves. Then all that analytic firepower gets focused on grade A moves.


    • by khallow ( 566160 )
      And that would be good to know. It's worth noting here that the basic learning curve model is that in a doubling of the time that someone does an activity, then their efficient gets a certain fraction better. This was used to describe improvements in manufacture.

      For example, one such rule of thumb is that doubling the number of widgets produced in a manufacturing process, results in a 5-15% reduction in the marginal cost per widget. I gather this was used like Moore's Law as a sort of self-fulfilling pre
    • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

      Yeah, these C&C-type RTSes are about micromanagement, not strategy.

    • This is similar to chess in that players learn to identify certain counter strategies to other strategies. Another analogy would be like card counting in black jack, in that rather than do a full calculation of probabilities in your head, you've abstracted that process to a set of techniques. Of course these techniques are not as accurate or reliable, but in a realtime game like Starcraft, you don't have time for formulating a detailed war plan.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 02, 2011 @06:26PM (#38244546)

    Let me be the first to explain "why Starcraft 2?"

    The answer lies in the oft-cited measure of player skill at the game: actions per minute. This is an unprecedented numerical measure of expertise that lends itself well to the study of "expertise" -- a term which means something different in the study of the brain than it does to the everyday person. Expertise is nothing less than a figurative rewiring of your brain in order to better excel at a chosen repetitive task. You can check out Wikipedia [] if you want to read more about it.

    • by ahabswhale ( 1189519 ) on Friday December 02, 2011 @06:48PM (#38244870)

      As a daily SC2 ladder player, I can definitely state that APM has little to do with skill. It's a useful metric to determine how well a skilled player can execute his strategy but that's it. It doesn't, in any way, indicate whether a player can dynamically adjust his play to beat his opponent. It just means that if he can come up with a sufficient strategy, that he will probably be able to make it happen (assuming, of course, his opponent doesn't throw a wrench into the works). So, it scares me that anyone doing research in this field would put so much weight into APM.

      • Yeh, I've watched videos where a player during any kind of idle time will click on and off things just to keep their APM up...

        • it's about warming the hands up and keeping the intensity high, so you can easily pull off these 300apm with no filler in decisive moments of the game. Some spam apm to enlarge the e-peen but they are not pros and more often than not it makes them play much worse. It's not a measure of skill but more like a measure of physical potential, what you do with that potential is an entirely different story.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Actually, APM has a lot to do with skill. But it's important to differentiate between raw APM and effective APM.

        Raw APM is literally how many clicks and keystrokes you execute per minute. Effective APM is how many of those keystrokes were meaningful (repeatedly clicking the same move command over and over has no effect on the game and is thus not meaningful). The trick here is that the game obviously measures raw APM, and it's difficult for the game to discern exactly what separates meaningful clicks from m

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Actually, if you RTFA, you'd see that from analyzing 3500 replay files the study has established that players who make more actions per minute, and whose actions are more widely distributed across the map, do tend to win.

        • All really good players have a high APM but not all people with high APM are really good players. Thus, it's a shit statistic.

        • by Derkec ( 463377 )

          I think the "distributed across the map" part is key. In beginner / intermediate play, a really key ability is to actually remember to keep building stuff while scouting or fighting. Can you throw down that building on time while also looking at your opponent's base and gleaning useful information there in an early scout? In an early skirmish, can you micro well enough to gain a minor advantage while also still building workers for the long term economy that actually matters? In the midgame, it's worse, you

    • by perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Friday December 02, 2011 @07:22PM (#38245276)

      As a fellow cognitive scientist let me be the first to explain "why Starcraft 2?" The answer lies in the oft-cited measure of player skill at the game: actions per minute. This is an unprecedented numerical measure of expertise that lends itself well to the study of "expertise" -- a term which means something different in the study of the brain than it does to the everyday person. Expertise is nothing less than a figurative rewiring of your brain in order to better excel at a chosen repetitive task.

      APM is a distorted metric. It does not distinguish between a meaningful action, a redundant action, a nervous "twitch" (i.e. multiple clicks rather than one), etc.

      Furthermore it contains an additional distortion. Since it is a metric that players are evaluated by, and/or used in silly "pissing contests", it can be intentionally distorted. Why click on that point on the ground once when you can click on it five time rapidly? APM focused players often are manically clicking on empty ground issuing no unit orders when they have nothing to do for a second or two, they have rewired their brain to have them do "something" even if there is nothing useful to be done.

      For the programmers reading along, Think of APM as the LOC (Lines of Code) of the Starcraft world. Both metrics can be meaningful in an idealized setting, but such is not the setting of most real world events.

      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You're half-right. Many of those "useless" actions actually do have a purpose: to keep up your pacing. It's easier to keep up clicking maniacally the entire game than to repeatedly accelerate and decelerate as the demands in the game go up and down. That's why you see people spamming clicks at the beginning of the game. Sure, by themselves clicking on the minerals a whole bunch is pointless, but it acts as a warm-up for the rest of the game.

  • So that you can scan all kinds of brain functions while this happens. It would help with brain function mapping as well, which we seriously need to know and understand. Brain surgery needs to go beyond just cutting hunks of meat, it needs to be about helping reroute neural networks in organic units, to include humans.

    There is so much that we still don't understand and frankly it's annoying.

    • The problem is the number of cells in the brain. It took years to map the brain of a damn worm, your brain is orders of magnitude larger and has even more orders of magnitude in connections. Besides, I don't think we have a scanner that can read activity on such a small scale yet. You'd only be able to map their brain after killing them and putting them under a scope.
      • We need general information, not microscopic at the moment. That's like shooting a mosquito with a bazooka. I am sure we can monitor plenty of brain activity and map some data. With large numbers like this and them all in the same type of brain function format, it's ideal for extrapolating observational data.

        Think of it as watching brain functions like one would watch car traffic from above. We hope we could be tree top level, but we are doing good to just watch from orbit. If we can bring it down closer we

      • by Alsee ( 515537 )

        You'd only be able to map their brain after killing them and putting them under a scope.

        Obviously that's phase two. We couldn't exactly gather the two data sets the other way around, now could we?


    • I saw a documentary where a brain surgeon was scanning a musicians brain while they were doing brain surgery and had the musician hum tunes while they mapped general locations so that they'd avoid hacking out those pieces while removing a tumor. They literally just had letters written on little pieces of paper and were just letting the wetness of his exposed brain hold them on :O

      • Amazing, if I do say so. I see we need to engineer some better tools for our scientists to use to study brains with. I guess I need more biology classes as well. I should have started this 40 years ago.

        Here's what I think of, an array set about the skull to pick up any kinds of RF, something sensitive, then some IR to check any kinds of thermal levels. What other kind of stuff could we monitor and use to project a mathematical graphing of this? Break out the fancy graphing calculator for that.

        We need someon

  • I like how they describe the Protoss as 'Photosynthetic Aliens' compared to the Terran as 'Humans' and the Zerg as 'Insectoid Aliens'
    I mean, I guess that is part of the lore that Protoss photosynthesize, but definitely not the first thing that comes to mind.
    More like 'Super Advanced Aliens' vs 'Super Primal Hive Insect Aliens"
  • RTS games are the most applicable to a wide range of real world systems & strategies than say FPS games or any other type of game. It's not only emergency systems that it compares to, but also at a high level to many different business types & strategies as well. Techniques such as knowing when to scout, expand, and attack all require precise timing just like in the business world, maybe even for the day trader. I wonder if successful day traders have a high APM?
  • When the lizard guy comes to recruit you, don't go. It's not Hollywood out there.
  • It's awesome that there are potentially millions of SC2 replays available for data mining. They're surprisingly tiny files. And I think the really cool research project would be to data mine those files for strategies that the AI could master on its own. Because I suck at SC2, I don't really want to go out and embarrass myself in games against other people, so I often play against the game's AI. I also - reflexively - pause the game sometimes, which would be really impolite against a human opponent. But the
    • While I'm probably out of my depth here, surely in SC2 an AIs performance could be measured in some fashion. I don't know if theres such a concept as a score in SC2, but an evolutionary algorithm pitted against humans, with the aforementioned score as a health function may breed an ai algorithm which is almost ideal. Could the SC2 playing residents here shed some insight into this?
    • I don't have it to hand to refer to, but didn't Galactic Civilizations (or maybe it was GC 2) do something like this? Use records of players' gameplay to update the AI and then send out updates?
  • The title is confusing. Expertise is not a science. You (hopefully) get expertise when you do research, as the article explains.

    • The title is confusing. Expertise is not a science.

      Right. But when you talk about how the scientific investigation of X is done, you can refer to that subject as 'the science of X'. Not a common way to phrase it, but it is correct. Would you rather they called it 'expertisology'?

      • Would you rather they called it 'expertisology'?

        Oh yes, please. Can we?

      • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

        maybe it's re-inventing pedagogy. maybe. but doing something to learn to do it is hardly revolutionary, except if you compare it to "humans as robots" way of teaching people to do things, which was hot shit at beginning of last century(for industry jobs where you just repeated the same task, then it made sense to see how the best one doing it did it and then copy those movements and teach them to everyone..).

  • I saw a programme on the American chess master who died in Iceland who played chess games. I forget his name.. But he seemd to be preoccupied with real world events that shaped his belief system ... too much. I think that keeping it Virtual allows for people to engage on a fun level without the need for revealing one's self. It seems to overcome the O.C.D. anyway.
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