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Gaming reaction times - At what age should you give up on PvP?

Published: 09:51, 04 April 2019
Updated: 12:09, 04 April 2019
Bluehole
Player is walking towards a bike while looking at the sunset in PUBG
PUBG

Over the past few decades, the age at which a person is considered 'old' has increased. However, a wider perception remains that gaming is primarily an activity for young adults. It isn't - but how do you age and stay competitive?

Over the past few decades, the age at which a person is considered “old” has increased considerably. There are many sociological reasons for this, however a wider perception remains that gaming is primarily an activity for young adults. If you’re here reading this you know that isn’t true.

So how old is too old for PvP?

I’m 46 and I like fighting against other players online. I also like winning. Or at least not letting myself or my team down.

So the question is - how much does my age affect my ability to a) beat other players reliably and b) actually do it in a way that is effective for a decent win-to-loss ratio.

And is there any way to mitigate the effect of befuddled middle-aged neurons occasionally having to go back to check why they got fired off in the first place?

Brain: "Shoot that guy!"

Neuron: “On it boss.”

*Puts on running shoes.*

Neuron: "Shoot that guy!"

Reflexes: "Which guy?"

Neuron: "Let me get back to you on that."

Epic Games picture showing a character flying Fortnite

While there are a vast variety of PvP games out there, there are some basic mechanics in common to all - and those are human mechanics. The mechanics of our nervous systems and its corresponding responses.

The Truth

The simple fact is that, with the exception of a few genetic outliers, the vast majority of us see a slow decline in our motor response times from the age of around 24. That is to say, in gaming terms, our ability to understand what is happening on screen and the ability to respond appropriately gets more laggardly with age.

This is why the career of most pro-gamers is so short. You're pretty much over the hill at 28.

This is not simply an anecdotal assertion. It is backed up by academic research from Canada’s Simon Fraser University. The most interesting thing about this study is that it wasn’t research conducted for the gaming industry. It was research that the authors decided could be best conducted through the medium of video games.

That is to say, games - in this case StarCraft 2 - were not the reason for the study, simply the best tool that researchers deemed fit to help understand age-related decline. More, they decided that a game was the best solution to measure their chosen parameter of Looking-Doing-Latency, which is a more sophisticated measure than a simple response time test .

Blizzard Entertainment various characters from starcraft sitting around a table StarCraft 20th Anniversary

For those with better things to do than wade into an academic paper on a gaming site, we’ll summarise: Your Looking-Doing-Latency - your responses to the number of elements you are required to see, mentally process and then act on in a game - all decline from around the age of 24. And moreover, even if you are an experienced older player, and a good one at that, you are still at a significant processing speed disadvantage to younger players.

Hard truth time: According to the study, a 39-year-old player loses around 30 seconds of reaction time over a 15 minute game of SC2 versus a 24-year-old. That’s a long while for any real-time game.

Let’s be clear here - the game itself doesn’t matter. SC2 is a great fit for such testing - it’s not a one-dimensional twitch shooter. However, it’s certain that the age-related decline in speed is applicable to whichever competitive game butters your muffin - and that the decline is also applicable to console controllers - not just keyboard and mouse.

Mitigation

So is there anything you can do as Spring turns Summer, and slowly Autumn casts its gentle shades on you? We are assuming you’re not blessed with the inherent genetic edge of a Valentino Rossi or Tom Brady.

Riot Games A blind Shaolin monk is showing his kicking abilities as well as his six pack and pecs. League of Legends

1) Git gud. Oh yes, that old chestnut. Well we've a piece of advice concerning that - set your own parameters for what your "good" is. If you're interested in improving, you probably do have access to personal stats for your PvP poison of choice. Don't judge yourself against the very best players, do judge yourself against yourself. Got a 46 per cent win ratio? Work on getting it to 47 or even 46.5 - improve incrementally. K/D in the negative? Get it to neutral and stop being a liability for your team.

2) Tutor yourself. There's a wealth of video guides and streams out there, so copy the homework of more successful players. You might not be as fast - but you can learn map strategies, concealment spots, when to move and when to camp, or how to read the flow of a match. None of this is amazing knowledge, but a good two-thirds of players never bother to learn. And as the phrase goes "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got".

3) Keep a positive attitude. Don't go salty. And if you are going salty, walk away, go paint a fence, wash your racoon, whatever. Take a damned break. This is a huge thing as even your mood can influence your play, and it affects the youngblood pros equally, if not more.

4) Chew gum and drink water. Yeah, we'll not be getting sponsored by companies selling caffeine in splashy cans just yet. Water is better if you want cognitive enhancement. Except on Fridays. Then, beer. We're not joking about gum though. There is quality research that backs its use.

Wargaming world of tanks screenchot of a tank destroyer waiting to ruin someone's day World of Tanks - The Hetzer in the Rye

What are you trying to get out of it?

Of course, all of this is working on the assumption you want to win, or at least play tolerably well and not get steamrolled like a geriatric rabbit with a premium ticket for the flattest show in town.

If you don't care, and are just playing to enjoy the experience, that's ok. Well, at least it's ok you don't happen to be playing as part of a team. If there is a group effort required for a win and your unique playstyle amounts to little more than being a pixelated burden, then we have little love to give.

It won't stop people from diligently practising what is, in essence, a highly stylish method of griefing, but we don't approve, in our sternest palette of disapproval. God, we hate losing and we don't want to be the guy that lets other people down. Or ourselves. Again, decide what your realistic improvement metric is, and aim for that.

The future

Age-based match-making. Ultimately, we expect the natural evolution of PvP will see the use of age verification technology of one kind or another in the nearish future - such as is already being implemented in China .

GrindingGear Path of Exile - In Chinese Path of Exile - In Chinese

The reasons for this are manifold, and outside the scope of this article. However, the fact is that if you game regularly and spend any money, then accurate identification of you is hardly the work of Sherlock Holmes.

Clearly, this doesn't work for eSports - and that's fine. The best of the best in competitive screen-gazing will always be in the younger age bracket and they are the athletes people might even pay money to see.

However, for match-making, age categories do make sense. Yes, there are flaws in this, like the arbitrary nature of such categories being an issue. But the chance of getting an ass-whopping in the 39-50 age bracket when you're 44 is much less than if you're consistently up against 24-year-olds. And let's not even talk about etiquette in the lobbies, or even worse - voice chat.

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