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Researchers Turn To StarCraft II For Cognitive Study

In a new study meant to examine the neurological processes behind human multitasking, researchers are examining replay data from StarCraft II to learn how the human brain responds to complex demands.
In a new study meant to examine the neurological processes behind human multitasking, researchers are examining replay data from Blizzard's StarCraft II to learn how the human brain responds to complex, and often simultaneous demands. The "SkillCraft" project, led by cognitive scientist Mark Blair of Simon Fraser University, gathered more than 4,500 StarCraft II replay files from players of all skill levels, and will use 3,500 of these files to pick apart the myriad cognitive abilities involved in playing the game. "I can’t think of a cognitive process that’s not involved in StarCraft," Blair told Scientific American. "It’s working memory. It’s decision making. It involves very precise motor skills. Everything is important and everything needs to work together." According to Blair, the various nuances of a StarCraft II match work together to provide a very clear picture of how the brain handles multitasking. For instance, players need to rely on memory to keep track of the battlefield, they need to use attention systems to formulate strategies, and they need motor skills to nimbly click their way around the map. By studying the data recorded in StarCraft II replay files, Blair hopes to examine how the brain deals with stressful situations, when multiple demands require attention at once. He believes this research could illuminate how human beings can best remain focused in emergency situations. Previous research from University of California, San Diego's Joshua Lewis also analyzed player actions in StarCraft II, and found a noted correlation between player skill and the ability to distribute attention. "If there is some methodology for building up multitasking skills, we might be able to figure out a way to train people to better distribute their attention," Lewis said.

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