Defining Mental Performance for Gaming
We often throw around the term performance when it comes to gaming, and at MaddCog specifically, we talk about mental performance, but it is about time we paused and looked at what this actually means.
The more time you spend learning or studying a specific topic, the more complicated you realize it is. Most things are often more complex than you initially thought, and the best answer is often ‘it depends’.
I often think of a quote by Bruce Lee:
“Before I learned the art, a punch was just a punch, and a kick, just a kick. After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick, no longer a kick. Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch, and a kick is just a kick.”
I don’t profess to be the expert or have Bruce Lee’s level of enlightenment, but after three years of studying the mental performance of gamers, I think we are now at a point where it is a pretty simple approach for most gamers. We are back to the ‘punch is just a punch’ philosophy.
So on the back of that lengthy introduction, I want to discuss four terms that we use when working with gamers: game performance, flow, fatigue, and mental performance.
This is easy, right? Actions that lead to winning a game are good performance, while actions that lead to losing are poor.
If only it were so simple. You know those moments in a game when you do something and think it was awesome only for a teammate to abuse you in chat for that exact action? The best action is often not black and white. Some actions are great for an individual player but not great for the team, or vice versa.
This is very subjective, so being scientists, we opted to use data to quantify performance. I have written a whole article on the game grade we developed. In short, we looked at 40,000 games of League of Legends to detect the impact specific game stats have on your chance of winning. We then grade an individual player’s performance out of 10. A score of 5 means that looking at this player’s stats, their chance of winning was 50%.
We call this the game grade and use it as our measure of game performance. We know it isn’t perfect but on the whole, it is a good overall indicator of how well a player performed.
Our research has led to us zooming in on two specific attributes of mental performance for gaming: flow and fatigue. We have looked at many different metrics, but these are the two that matter when it comes to the game outcome.
Flow is the key to good mental performance for gaming. Flow, or being in the zone, is a relaxed, focused state where you are absorbed in the game yet able to consume everything on the screen and react quickly and without thought.
In League of Legends, we have found that the average win rate is 13% higher when you are in a high flow state, and it has a strong relationship with your game grade. This is quite a substantial difference and can be even higher for experienced players.
Getting into this high flow is always a challenge, but this article may help.
Flow is the key to good mental performance for most players, but mental fatigue is also an important consideration.
Endless research has shown that high levels of mental fatigue can reduce reaction time and decision-making ability. We found that high mental fatigue means a player struggles to get into that high flow state. Low or even medium levels of fatigue are ideal, but when high levels of fatigue are evident, flow state is more elusive.
This research shows that most players had a substantial reduction in win rate when they started a game in a fatigued state. If you are playing to perform at your best, avoid playing in this state. You can limit fatigue with well-timed breaks, and undertaking specific activities during these breaks as described here.
Players also have an individual level of mental fitness, which dictates how susceptible they are to fatigue. Just like one individual might have greater physical fitness than another, mental fitness varies between players. In practical terms, this means one player might be able to play more consecutive games than another without a negative impact.
We use this term to describe the overall impact that mental attributes have on gaming performance. For gaming, high mental performance means high levels of flow without the impairing impact of high fatigue.
In our research, we initially considered an overall mental performance score which was created for each individual based on the impact mental attributes had on their game grade and win rate. We looked at attributes such as focus, intensity, consistency, as well as flow, and fatigue. Using Bruce Lee’s analogy, this was the stage when a punch was no longer just a punch. There were jabs, hooks, uppercuts, etc. and they were all different.
However, what we found was that for the majority of gamers the dominating factors were flow and fatigue. The other attributes had little or no impact in most cases. So we returned to a punch just being a punch. The key to good mental performance for gaming is high flow and low fatigue.