Monday, February 7, 2011

My tumultuous relationship with Starcraft

Not a postdoc or Canada-oriented post, but still something near and dear to my heart: gaming.  This particular installation is about the real-time strategy (RTS) Starcraft.

Picture, if you will, a pre-Ph.D. me at a small Starcraft LAN party consisting of me and 3 of my best Penn State friends.  They knew how to play; I didn't, but I wanted to join in the fun.  They set me up with them on a 4v4 money map versus computers.  I was playing as Protoss, the race with the strongest (and most expensive) units of the three races available.  I made some probes at my nexus, ran around with them a bit, and started to set up a couple of pylons.  Then, I got rushed with zerglings and thoroughly taken out, leaving my 3 allies to battle the comps (which, as I recall, they destroyed).

How fascinating this game, with all of its crazy structures, units, and strategies!  How annoying that I got taken out so quickly without much of a chance to learn!  I then immersed myself in the campaign to get a bit more familiar with the concept of RTSs in general.  With the help of one of my best friends, to whom I refer playfully as my coach, I've gotten much better and have ventured into the fantastic world of the recently-released Starcraft II, which is much more amenable to new players. 

Sidenote: My coach is a huge basket of brilliant with regard to Starcraft and other RTS games in general.  He's been playing since he was relatively young and is currently ranked in SC2 as 4th out of 100 in his diamond league, a league that only allows the top 20% of players.  He's also ranked as gold (2 step under) in 3 other classifications.  He's GOOD.  He rescues me when I get rushed, though I'm getting better at that....

I don't know my actions per minute (APM).  I'll never be in highly ranked leagues, and I am certainly not the next ToSsGirL, a.k.a. the best female Starcraft player.  I simply came too late in life to the game; 25 is over-the-hill for most professional players.  There's no way my mind can adapt as quickly as a 13-year-old's.  I can still only play proficiently as the Terran race, though I'd love to branch out at some point.  But all of this is ok.  I play because it's fun!

Playing has also revealed an interesting social phenomenon.  The coach is a male Starcraft player.  He's humble, but if he was to reveal how good he was, he'd be regarded by other players probably with respect.  I am a female Starcraft player.  I'm not great, but I am regarded with automatic surprise and awe (I have a good number of data points on this now).  That's because the gender ratio in Starcraft is especially skewed, with a vast majority of players being male.  I have been hit on because I play Starcraft and other games.  I have also discussed races and strategies in bars, university offices, and even on social outings.  It's astounding how much Starcraft gets you nerd street cred.  Group it with a homebuilt computer and a science Ph.D., and it's a nerd girl hat trick. 

The girl thing is an interesting observation, but I'm more into getting better and learning the other races so I can participate more actively in discussions.  And of course also so that I can kick around some computer AI!


  1. I simply cannot bring myself to play SCII online. I just can't invest the required amount of time into a single game to be competitive. If you're interested in a good single-player RTS, you should check out Dawn of War II. Really nice tactical feel and a blend of RTS and Diablo style elements.

  2. Interesting rec. I've heard Dawn of War II is quite tactical, and I know it's got a new expansion coming out soon. I liked Diablo for its RPG-ness. I should really look into it. That's what I need, right? Another game! :)