My genre of choice is FPS, and I play them quite a lot. However I find that no matter how many hours I put into a game, I never get past average at it and that’s at the very best generally I am pretty poor, no mater what the game. So I scoured the internet looking for answers as to why I and many others are just so damn awful at playing games and it turns out that it may well not be our fault that we flounder at the depths of the bottom of the table all the time.
Research published way back in 2010 found a correlation between the size of a trio of structures in the human brain and their owner’s ability to learn and play video games. Animal studies had focused the authors’ attention on three distinct structures deep within the brain: the caudate nucleus and the putamen in the dorsal striatum, and the nucleus accumbens in the ventral striatum. It was known that the striatum was used in habit forming and skill acquisition, so a role in video games skills makes sense.
39 healthy adults (10 men, 29 women) took part in the study, they had played fewer than three hours of video games each week during the previous two years. They then examined their brains with the aid of an MRI machine. The volume of each of the structures of interest was compared to the total volume of their brain. Each participant then trained with the video game “Space Fortress”—a game developed at the University of Illinois that can be used to measure performance on various cognitive tasks.
Half of the participants were tasked with simply getting the highest score possible, while the other half was given a series of tasks that forced them to improve their skills in different areas. The researchers found that those with a larger nucleus accumbens learned faster and excelled at the early stages of the game regardless of which group they were in. Participants with larger caudate nucleus and putamen did best on the variable priority training exercises, where they had to focus on different aspects at various times throughout the training.
Both of these results make sense, according to the study’s lead author Kirk Erickson. The nucleus accumbens is linked to the brain’s reward center and would aid a participant’s motivation following early successes. According to Erikson, “The putamen and the caudate have been implicated in learning procedures, learning new skills, and those nuclei predicted learning throughout the 20-hour period. [The players with the largest of these structures] learned more quickly and learned more over the training period.” He also suggested that games tell us about learning in general: “This study tells us a lot about how the brain works when it is trying to learn a complex task.”
So next time you finish another game at the bottom of the table having failed at completing the objective and have a death rate three times higher than your kill rate. Take heart and consider this, it isn’t your fault, its damn biology.