Games Humans Play

The most useful way to think about human evolution is to treat it as a series of games that our ancestors had to get really good at playing, or else get weeded out of the gene pool (whether by natural selection, sexual selection, or otherwise).

We can start at the largest level and zoom in to see progressively more and more detail.

At the widest lens, the game humans are playing is the game all life forms are playing:

  • The Have Lots of Grandkids game.

Zooming in just slightly, we see that this singular game resolves itself into:

  • The Survival game.
  • The Reproduction game.

These games include:

  • The Staying Alive game, sub-games of which include:
    • Don't Get Eaten (predators).
    • Don't Get Sick.
    • Don't Fall or Drown. Primarily a solitary, everyone-for-themselves game. Some cooperative elements, e.g., saving someone from drowning.
  • The Getting Enough To Eat game. The Foraging game. The Competitive Scavenging game. The Big-Game Hunting game. The Sharing Food game.
  • The Mating game. The Short-Term Mating game. The Long-Term Mating game. The Cheating game. The Don't Let Your Mate Cheat game.
  • The Honing One's Skills game, AKA "games," AKA playing. Positive-sum, ripe for cooperation.
  • The Parenting game. Ripe for cooperation between mothers and fathers. Mildly cooperative among sets of parents, e.g., babysitting, collaborative child-rearing. Wisps of competition, e.g., one child's success may have to come at the expense of another child's (from a different set of parents).
  • The Political game. Survivor. Machiavelli.
  • The Get Stuff game. The Earn Stuff game. The Take Stuff game.

Now survival, mating, and politics are three very different games. Physical survival is "played" against a blind, dumb opponent (i.e., Nature), whereas mating and politics are played against (and with) other intelligent, adaptive agents, replete with their own recursive theory-of-mind modules (i.e., other humans). And this makes a world of difference.

Last updated March 17, 2015.