Nature Versus Nurture – Are Amazing Gamers Made, or Are They Born?

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There are some incredible gamers out there who take what is supposed to be an accessible hobby to olympian heights – case in point, eSporting is now recognized as an official sport (and profession) in many countries, and the Guinness Book of Records have even created a sideline record book solely to categorize game-related world record achievements.

All well and good, but what actually distinguishes a good gamer from a great one?


We’re probably all familiar with the abilities one needs to possess in order to be a skilled player of video games: good hand/eye coordination, spatial awareness, problem solving, and not to mention a fair amount of patience. At the same time, some games require different sets of skills to others – for example, while you may be able to unlock every single achievement in GTA V within two days of it having been released, your kid sister might totally wipe the floor with you at Super Mario Kart.

Yet all gamers require a common set of basic skills, even if they do vary in importance depending on the game. But why is it that some of us have to repeat the same level again and again before we complete it, while others seem to naturally race through? Why is it that when you hand the controller to a friend, telling them that ‘This one’s really tough’, they then hardly bat an eyelid whilst your palms are perspiring profusely?

In short, is gaming something we can learn, i.e. do we all have a potential gaming champion within us, Or are some of us simply natural-born gamers?

Let’s look at the science!

The Argument from Genetics

In the gaming community, a somewhat clichéd stereotype exists of gamers being obsessive creatures who will happily stare at a screen for hours without so much as a blink. This is a particularly prevalent stereotype amongst Asian gamers, a subset of which are infamous for spending obsessive levels of time playing Judi online, both in the form of online RPGs and large scale casino sites such as

So is this a genetic thing? Far from it, and gaming stereotypes like these are sweeping generalizations. The correlation, in fact, is more closely linked to personality.

Studies have shown that some people are more naturally drawn to computer games than others, depending on their personality traits. For example, online gamers typically show higher levels of openness, diligence and extroversion than non-players, and because of these traits they are more willing to undergo trial-and-error type training in order to master a particular task. Interest levels do naturally factor into this as well; we know almost immediately whether we’re interested in a particular thing or topic; our brain starts to buzz and we want to know more. Likewise, we know when our interest hasn’t been peaked because there’s a kind of nothingness in the mind and we have no desire to explore or discover anything further about it. We can certainly feign interest, but it’s nigh impossible to force the real thing into existence.

This would suggest that people who get into gaming in the first place have certain characteristics which make them want to explore and persevere with those games, and that people without those pre-established characteristics would never become skilled gamers anyway because they have no motivation to try.

Nature 1 – Nurture 0.

Brain Programming

Whilst the initial attraction to video games may be down to nature, once you’re actually immersed in playing there is undoubtedly a lot of brain programming occurring. If there wasn’t, you would never become any better at it.


In a study conducted by the University of Rochester, researchers found that participants who wouldn’t normally play video games became quicker at making decisions and solving problems after 50 hours of gaming time. The participants were spilt into two groups: one group trained with Call of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament – both fast-paced action games – while the other group played the slower strategy game The Sims 2.

The action gamers improved the most, becoming, on average, 25% faster at answering questions and problem solving. And their greater speed had no effect on their accuracy, as report author Daphne Bavelier explains: “It’s not the case that the action game players are trigger-happy and less accurate: they are just as accurate and also faster. Action game players make more correct decisions per unit time [sic].”

The human brain is constantly calculating probabilities so that we can make decisions, in a process which is called probabilistic inference. To do this, the brain accumulates visual and auditory information from our surroundings so that we can accurately judge our situation well enough to make decisions. Bavelier gives an example: “As you drive, for instance, you may see a movement on your right, estimate whether you are on a collision course, and based on that probability make a binary decision: brake or don’t brake.”

Playing action games help train the brain to collect information more efficiently, which means that the gamer gathers the relevant info more quickly and thus is able to make accurate decisions faster. So Nurture must surely earn a point here, as the more you play, the more you train your brain and the greater your chances of becoming a champion must be.

Nature_versus_Nurture pic
So the Winner Is?

Like with many things in anthropology, we’ll have to call this one a draw between genetics and behavioral development. There seems to be no overall winner here: nature will give you the motivation to persevere with learning to play a game skilfully, yet practice leads to a better gaming brain. In other words, to be a champion you’ll need a little of column A and a little of column B. However, scientists still have scope to delve more deeply into the minds of video game players, and who knows what new information is waiting to be found?

This area of psychology is still relatively new, but with further research into how game playing affects our biochemistry, and how our biochemistry affects the type of games we’re drawn to, scientists are bound to discover more fascinating secrets of the mind.


One Comment

  1. It’s nice to see brand new material on this site. Though I’ve only found it about a month ago, via your youtube channel, I thought you had abandoned updating the site. I have to say I really enjoyed the Let’s Plays and have read quite a number of them. Keep up the very entertaining work you do!

    Interesting article. I have tried to get good in the competitive sense in the past with fighting games, but its takes a tremendous amount of perseverance to learn all the…combos and whatnot. Anywho, I’m not very good at competitive gaming. I prefer a warm cup of tea and a good platformer.

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