Let’s face it, video games are becoming dull. Save for virtual reality, it seems like the excitement that used to come from video games is all but dead.
The intensity, complexity and thrill of a video game still comes from one genre, a genre which has historically been underappreciated and swept under the rug. A genre we need to keep alive: real-time strategy.
In layman’s terms, a classic real-time strategy game takes the complexities of military strategy, typically molded with mythology or science fiction, and compresses it into a video game.
According to a peer-reviewed study in 2013, to be successful in a real-time strategy game, “the player must cope with simultaneous and rapidly evolving game situations.”
You must rely on your memory and more importantly your critical thinking skills to be successful in such a game. The study found a direct correlation between real-time strategy gaming and higher cognitive flexibility as well as overall psychological well-being. Cognitive flexibility is the ability to direct your brain’s resources under changing circumstances. In the same study, they say “earlier studies involving first-person kill-or-be-killed games have shown video gaming benefits only with lower-level aspects of thinking such as visual information processing.” Not only are real-time strategy games extremely fun, but they also have psychological benefits.
Sadly, the genre does not receive nearly as much media as other games. I believe it is crucial that we revive this genre and revive the hype it had in the ’90s.
In most real-time strategy games the goal is to eliminate the enemy. While playing, you may have to take account of your economy, technological progression, military defense, diplomacy and population management. You might begin with only a small settlement and few peasants with the goal to build a mighty empire. Players must rapidly switch between contexts while maintaining memory for them.
Every real-time strategy game is a completely different experience from the last. You make your own story, and you devise your own strategies. Perhaps you decided you want to “turtle,” otherwise known as staying back and building defenses. Perhaps you want to focus more so on your economy or your rate of technological development. Or maybe you want to be more aggressive and harass your enemy early on to prevent their progression.
If you decide micro-level base building and troop management isn’t for you, games like Sins of a Solar Empire exist on a macro scale, where your goal is to assimilate and conquer entire solar systems. In games like Total War, which has real-time and turn-based elements, you literally control tens of thousands of individual troops at a time. Just make sure your PC can take the load!
If you are interested in trying a real-time strategy game without pulling out your wallet, Starcraft 2 is completely free and has a comprehensive tutorial to get you started.
According to the same study, “40 hours of training within a [real-time strategy game] that stresses rapid and simultaneous maintenance, assessment and coordination between multiple information and action sources was sufficient to affect change.” What does this mean? You will see a noticeable difference after playing these games.
Once you get started, there is no stopping. Real-time strategy games combine the best of both worlds between simplicity and complexity, and it is up to you to determine how to complete goals and objectives. I would say the sky’s the limit, but I would be wrong. In a real-time strategy game, you are the hero of your own story, and it is up to you to decide how your story starts and ends.