Having a bigger brain might help real-time strategy gamers get a grip on their favorite titles faster, according to an article in press for the journal Brain and Cognition. In an experiment that had 20 participants each playing nearly 24 hours' worth of the 2003 RTS game Rise of Nations, Dr. Chandramallika Basak of Rice University found that those with larger specific regions of the brain were better able to master the complex game.
Dr. Basak's study involved 20 adults between the ages of 65 and 75 who had no familiarity with strategy games. Before participants started playing the game, the researchers took high-resolution MRI images of their brains. Over a month and a half, Dr. Basak had the participants rack up 23.5 hours of Rise of Nations playtime split into 90-minute sessions. All games were played on the easiest difficulty, and the participants' ability was judged based on how quickly they were able to win each game.
Rise of Nations was chosen because the game's complexity insists on a diverse skill set from players. Specifically, Dr. Basak noted that it requires players "to continually assess his or her available resources, plan and expend those resources, monitor expanding territories and multiple cities, and introduce methods to generate revenues and improve technology." And because the game is played in real time, it also calls upon players to exhibit fine motor control to execute on their strategies.
"We found that grey matter volumes of five regions were correlated with complex skill acquisition, as measured by improvements in time spent to successfully play the video game," Dr. Basak concluded in the paper. The relevant areas are typically associated with a number of functions, including motor control, detecting errors, self regulation, planning, and dual tasking.
This is not the first time Dr. Basak has drawn insights from research using Rise of Nations. In 2008, Psychology and Aging published a paper of hers that determined older adults who played the Big Huge Games RTS title improved in a variety of cognitive abilities, including working memory, visual short-term memory, and reasoning.
For more on Rise of Nations, check out GameSpot's review.