Authors of a new study claim that playing complex scenarios in StarCraft, a popular real-time strategy (RTS) game, can enhance cognitive flexibility. The reason the study focused on StarCraft specifically is because 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 about the opponent. It's a lot to juggle and requires fast thinking.
To test their theory, researchers Brian D. Glass of the University of London, W. Todd Maddox of the University of Texas at Austin, and Bradley C. Love of University College London rounded up non-gaming undergraduate students from the University of Austin. All of the participants ended up being female due to the small number of non-gaming males.
Each participant logged 40 hours of game time, playing roughly one hour per day. They were put into groups consisting of people who played The Sims, StarCraft, and StarCraft with certain settings disabled to make it more difficult to play.
"The present study finds that cognitive flexibility is a trainable skill. Forty hours of training within an RTS game that stresses rapid and simultaneous maintenance, assessment, and coordination between multiple information and action sources was sufficient to affect change," the authors concluded. "As a result of RTS game experience, an underlying dimension of cognitive flexibility emerged and characterized individual differences in performance on a variety of laboratory tasks."
The study didn't focus on other factors, such as the effect that 40 hours or more of gaming per week might have on a person's overall health, nor did it touch the topic of violence in video games. While those debates rage on, teens at least have another excuse to toss at their parents when asked why they spend so much time playing games. "I'm exercising my brain, pops!"