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World of Warcraft as evolutionary model

This must be the time of year for zany social theories about videogames. First, we heard that World of Warcraft might quality as being a religion. Then we heard that it might make for better citizens. And now, in an essay over at Gamasutra on the event of Charles Darwin's birthday, Noah Falstein suggests that games like World of Warcraft are actually models for evolution -- as we level up with experience points, our characters get stronger and more evolved, and we feel comfortable with that because that's exactly what we see happening in the world around us.

Technically, of course, you can't model Darwin's theory of evolution with a single character -- evolution isn't about one individual getting better, it's about a process of natural selection in a species over a period of time. To really model evolution, you'd have to play hundreds of alts, and quit them each time you ran into a problem, leaving you with just a few characters that worked really well. Wait -- maybe some of you are already doing that.

But Falstein makes good points in saying that certain elements of what Darwin described as evolution have shown up in game design as well -- the idea of specialization for certain character classes, tribal and national allegiances, and even the idea of memes (which are certainly widespread in WoW -- anyone ever heard of Chuck Norris or Leroy Jenkins?) are all drawn from Darwin's thinking and definitely embodied in the game we play.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Virtual selves, Odds and ends, Blizzard

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