Three years ago today, StarCraft 2 officially came out. Happy birthday!
For those who don’t know, StarCraft 2 is a real-time strategy (RTS) computer game. Each player commands a military force, starting from a small main base and gathering resources to spend on training units and researching technologies, which are in turn used to secure more resource-rich locations and establish bases there. You win when all opposing players have been defeated, either because you destroy all their structures or because they surrender, departing with a “gg” (for “good game”). Although as many as eight players can participate in a game, and games can be created to feature everything from even teams (4v4, 3v3, etc) to insane “outmatched” scenarios (1v7, etc) to chaotic free-for-alls (omnium contra omnes), the game is designed and balanced around the good old-fashioned 1v1 two-player combat experience. Two players enter; only one can emerge victorious.*
I love RTS games. I grew up with them; they have had an immeasurable influence on my patterns of thought, and have been invaluable in honing my strategic thinking. Ever since I first sat down in front of a computer to play Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, my first RTS game, I was completely hooked. I soon found my way to StarCraft—not StarCraft 2, mind you, not the one that was released three years ago, but StarCraft 1, the original, released in 1998. Yeah, that’s right, fifteen years ago. Back then, playing computer games was far more of a challenge than it is today. The real battle wasn’t against your human opponent, but against the programmed-in limitations of the game’s interface and the suicidal insanity of your own units’ AI. Despite the fact that you could only select twelve of your units at a time (though you could have well over 100 military units at a time in an average game), could only select one structure at a time (though you could have dozens and dozens at a time in an average game), and that sort of thing, it was an immensely fun and competitive experience. In fact, StarCraft was so competitive that it became a professional e-sport, and quickly became, effectively, the national sport of South Korea. Seriously. It was only last year that StarCraft 2 replaced StarCraft on South Korea’s televised e-sports channels. Yes, you read that correctly.
StarCraft 2 is a lot easier to play well than StarCraft was, largely because it doesn’t require at least 120 actions per minute (in other words, two clicks each second, every second of the game) just to keep your own units under control and prevent them from spazzing out. This means that the skill cap is a lot lower, but it also means that the game is more accessible to folks who aren’t particularly familiar with RTS games already. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone who likes any kind of strategy games, competitive games, or just computer games in general. For that matter, I pretty much recommend it to everyone.
See, StarCraft 2, like StarCraft, isn’t just a game that you play and enjoy and then forget about. It’s a game that you get invested in, a game that you strive to be better at. I honestly feel that over the last three years, playing StarCraft 2 has made me a better student, a better writer, and a better person. I’m coming on strong with the rhetoric, I know, but hear me out. First off, anything that inspires you to strive for improvement, in any medium, has the potential to make you better at everything else. It sounds weird to say it, but learning is a skill. There are better and worse ways to learn, and you can teach yourself to be a better learner. Learning isn’t just any old skill, either; it’s the single most useful skill there is. In a way, it’s really the only skill there is. If you can teach yourself to become a good learner, then whatever else you want to learn to be, you’re halfway there already.
Playing StarCraft 2 has helped me learn how to critically evaluate my own work in any medium. It has helped me get into the habit of comparing myself to the best, and always holding myself to a higher standard, because when you play the same game you watch professional gamers play, that habit simply emerges. And it has taught me the kind of lessons you can apply to every aspect of life—that consistent and directed practice are the road to success; that the best strategy isn’t the one that has the most, but the one that does the most with the least; that flashy moves and the element of surprise might make you win more in the short term, but in the long run, nothing beats mastery of the fundamental, less exciting aspects of the game. Maintaining consistent worker and army production, spending your resources on useful things rather than accumulating a useless surplus, constantly scouting the map to maintain an awareness of your surroundings—these things aren’t as cool-looking as mastering a single early surprise attack strategy, but they will make you a better player.
So, on StarCraft 2’s third birthday, I just want to express my gratitude and appreciation for that amazing game. Happy birthday, StarCraft 2! And thank you.