Evolution: The Ultimate Game

I’ve been reading a lot of Stephen Jay Gould and Matt Ridley lately, two noted experts on evolution. And since I’m obsessed with games, I couldn’t help but notice how much the language of evolution is similar to the language of games. “Strategy,” “alliances, “competition,” it’s all the stuff of games. And so, it would seem, that evolution is the ultimate game.

Indeed, it seems that successful strategizing is the most common salient feature among living creatures. The fact that you exist means that you are the product of more than a billion years of successful strategizing.

Of course, none of this was conscious. Evolutionary strategy happens at the genetic level, not at the conscious level. But genes are agents, too. Natural selection is caused by random mutations and variations. But sexual selection, the cause of the success of certain mutations and variations, is not random. It stems from the fact that certain phenotypes are better suited to their environment than others.

Stated more simply: Good strategies are a basic survival mechanism.

To say that we enjoy games because of the successful adaptation of our genes might be to anthropomorphize our genes. But to say that humans are hardwired to enjoy and revel in strategy games is probably a safe and uncontroversial statement.

And that those who succeed in real-life strategy games are the most likely to pass their lessons on to the next generation, is the most fundamental statement of all.