If I had a warning label, it might read: "Warning! Means well, but doesn't know when to shut up."
I have two big decisions I've facing at the moment.
Firstly, GDC doesn't want me as a speaker next year, so I am weighing up whether to attend. I don't particularly want to go to San Francisco in February, but on the other hand it's still the most important networking engagement in my calender.
While I don't mind not being chosen as a speaker this year - GDC favours those in the direct employ of the big corporations, those connected to the big videogame brand names that draw in the punters - I was offended last year that certain people on the advisory board awarded themselves sessions that in my opinion offered very little of interest, while they themselves could claim no better "name draw" than I myself can offer.
Secondly, I'm very honoured to have been asked to join a newly established IEEE Task Force on Player Satisfaction Modelling. It's a voluntary gig, so I have to weigh up the commitment against the benefits of accepting (and also think ahead to what my next contribution to the IGDA will be...)
I'm swaying towards accepting at the moment. It's a field that I have become well established within - or alternatively, that has established itself around where I happened to be working - and anything that draws attention to it has benefit.
The new poll question is for players of computer role-playing games: How long do you like to spend on character generation?
Just tidying and warming up this week, but I hope to be ready to begin in earnest next Tuesday. Now is a good time for random questions and comments!
Once again, I am taking a few weeks off from blogging in November. In the meantime, let me leave you with some alternative blogs you might chance to explore, and look at the differences between the blogs I read based upon the number of RSS subscribers they have. Have fun!
Greater than 1,000
Blogs change considerably as they grow in size. The blog I read with the highest number of readers is Seth Godin’s, which has some 9,000 subscribers, and presumably therefore perhaps 20,000 readers. (I only know the figure for RSS feeds, and am guessing roughly the same number visit the website as well). I rarely read the content, which is about marketing, but it’s good stuff, if a tad repetitive. At this size there are too many people for comments to be viable. Even disabling comments doesn’t stop the traffic though; Neil Gaiman’s Journal is frequently interrupted with posts containing nothing but answers to questions – not surprising given that he is a popular niche author with a firm fanbase.
- Seth’s Blog (9,023) http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/
- Neil Gaiman’s Journal (3,248) http://www.neilgaiman.com/journal/
300 to 1000
The threshold of reasonable exchange in comments appears to be around a thousand readers or so. All the blogs I read that are in this range are accompanied by vast volume of comments, too much that it is impossible for one person to respond. Greg Costikyan’s Games * Design * Art * Culture pulls in so much traffic that Greg himself can only read it, and rarely replies, while Terra Nova (the essential forum for online worlds) only manages conversation by having a troupe of authors. Dan’s astonishing Lost Garden seems to get by posting only rarely, but often posts rich, detailed discussions about the videogames industry or game design, which are justly celebrated.
- Wonderland (885) http://www.wonderlandblog.com/wonderland/
- Terra Nova (576) http://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/
- Games * Design * Art * Culture (528) http://www.costik.com/weblog/
- Game Girl Advance (410) http://www.gamegirladvance.com/
- Lost Garden (378) http://lostgarden.com/
101 to 300
Between one and three hundred subscribers is an odd middle ground. There seems little pattern here; there is lively discussion at Raph Koster’s blog (covering online worlds from his personal perspective), with about 200 subscribers, but my friend Matt Mower’s technical and political blog, Curiouser and Curiouser! has only 25 fewer subscribers and generates almost no comment traffic at all!
- Collision Detection (206) http://www.collisiondetection.net/
- Raph’s Website (202) http://www.raphkoster.com/
- Curiouser & Curiouser! (175) http://matt.blogs.it/
- Grumpy Gamer (143) http://grumpygamer.com/
- Purse Lip Square Jaw (132) http://www.purselipsquarejaw.org/index.php
51 to 100
And now to my own weight class. The scale is set for me by Slashdot: games with its 81 subscribers. I’m right behind it on 59, occasionally gaining subscribers and – every now and then – scaring some away. If I pass Slashdot: games, I go into the century-class blogs, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to maintain the conversations I like at this “weight”, although I have a lot of lurkers, so perhaps like Matt’s blog I will get by.
There are two other blogs I read in my own weight scale. The first is Tea Leaves, which I rate as about the best blog by gamers that I read (that also happens to cover food and photography), and remains a recurring delight. The other, The Mahablog is a fiercely political blog from an entrenched left-wing perspective (anyone suggest a good entrenched right-wing blog for counter-point?) I skim it, mostly, but her Wisdom of Doubt series is must reading for people interesting in religious politics. Both are home to brisk dialogues, much like the ones here at Only a Game, although far livelier and less preposterous.
- Slashdot: games (81) http://games.slashdot.org/
- Only a Game (59) http://onlyagame.typepad.com/
- The Mahablog (57) http://www.mahablog.com/
- Tea Leaves (53) http://tleaves.com/
21 to 50
In the weight class I left behind not long ago, we find my old target – Daily Dilbert. It was a milestone for me when I passed this in subscriber numbers! Also noteworthy is Mildly Diverting, which is the blog of someone who came to one of my lectures in London, and posts only intermittently, and Design Synthesis, which is the largest of the “Blogs of the Round Table” (which I’ll explain in the next size group); its content is mostly about games, but often rambles further afield.
- Daily Dilbert (48) http://www.dilbert.com/
- Mildly Diverting (37) http://mildlydiverting.blogspot.com/
- Design Synthesis (28) http://designsynthesis.blogspot.com/
6 to 20
Below twenty subscribers, and we are getting to the point
where the numbers don’t mean so much – many blogs at this scale have more people
coming to visit the website than subscribing, so a blog with low numbers isn’t
necessarily unread, it just doesn't have many RSS subscribers.
The two largest blogs in this block have 20 subscribers each. The first, and a consistent gem, is the photography posted at Always Curious, which is often close-ups of plants , or urban black and white still life. The other is Good Neighbours, which is attempting to foster dialogue between Israeli’s and Palestinians. One of its authors, Yehuda, writes another blog in this size, which is the only tabletop games blog I read. I’d like to find more like this one, but I haven’t found the time.
Also in this size are the “Blogs of the Round Table”, such as King Lud IC, Mile Zero, and The Dust Forms Words. These are so named because they participate regularly in the Round Table discussions about videogames which are hosted by Corvus Elrod’s delightful oddity Man Bytes Blog. Any of these blogs will be of interest to gamers, although the content is often wider.
There are also a few random blogs, such as Steve Ince’s Writing & Design, the rarely updated Casual Game Design, and The Rodeo (a personal blog from a Christian perspective). Last, but by no means least, is Chico’s Nongames, which is a touch intermittent but focused on a subject of great interest to me. It used to be the only blog I read from South America (and also my news source for the last world cup!) but now that Patrick Dugan has switched continent, King Lud IC is coming from Buenos Aires!
- Always Curious (20) http://www.alwayscurious.com/photos/
- Good Neighbours (20) http://gnblog.com/
- King Lud IC (19) http://kingludic.blogspot.com/
- Writing & Design [Steve Ince] (18) http://www.steve-ince.co.uk/blog/blog.html
- Mile Zero (14) http://www.milezero.org/index.cgi
- The Dust Forms Words (11) http://amongthedust.blogspot.com/
- The Rodeo (11) http://www.the-rodeo.com/blog
- Casual Game Design (12) http://www.casualgamedesign.com/
- Yehuda (14) http://jergames.blogspot.com/
- Man Bytes Blog (6) http://blog.pjsattic.com/corvus
- Nongames (6) http://nongames.blogspot.com/
Next, those blogs on the fringes of the blogosphere. Some are read by people on a website and just have low subscriber counts because no-one uses the RSS feed; some are genuinely obscure. The (marginal) king is zenBen Land, which could easily have more content if its proprietor wasn’t so monstrously busy writing comments here! Also of note, fellow Game Writers’ Special Interest Group demigod Rich Dansky’s personal blog, and SIG stalwart James Swallow’s Red Flag. Jim is a game and TV screenwriter and also writes an astonishing number of novelisations on all the top science fiction brands, including the various Star Treks, Blake’s 7 and Doctor Who. As for Ghosts in the Game – like it’s name, it is largely but a phantom...
- zenBen Land (4) http://zenben.net/blog/
- Red Flag (3) http://jmswallow.livejournal.com/
- Rich Dansky (3) http://rdansky.livejournal.com/
- Ghosts in the Game (2) http://ghostsinthegame.blogspot.com/
Just me (on RSS at least)
Finally, there are a great many excellent blogs with just a single subscriber – namely me! These are oddities that have become caught in my net, some of which rely on web traffic for their visitors, while others are barely in existence (such as The World Cave), or are waiting to be discovered. There’s also some personal blogs belonging to SIG folks here, such as Christy Marx (who has an extraordinary collection of cats) and Lucien Soulban's Garbage Dump (from which I learned about the latest “gay Mario” scandal).
My personal pick of the bunch is Shoshanna Baeur’s blog, which showcases her artwork, some of which draw from Jewish themes. I used one of her images on a post; I find her watercolours especially beautiful. Two other favourites are Science is a Method Not a Position – a fiercely anti-Skeptic fringe science newsfeed – and Sinistre & Destre’s noumenal realm, which is a delightfully whimsical philosophy blog with purposefully ambiguous authorship, and a place I go often to ramble incoherently in someone else’s backyard for a change.
I will close with those blogs which are new to the scene and perhaps looking for readers. On the subject of games, I recommend Ophelia’s “Out There” (game journalism), and James Lillis’ The Kryptonite Cafe (game design) – both recently launched, and definitely worth a look if you’re into games. Ophelia is still finding her feet, while James has landed with both feet running.
I remember when Only a Game first launched, and I had no idea what I was doing, what I should talk about, or how often. Now, years later, I still have no idea what I’m doing, but at least I have some idea of when I’m doing it. I wish the newcomers all the best!
- Shoshanna Bauer (1) http://shoshannabauer.com/blog
- Sinistre & Destre’s noumenal realm (1) http://sinistredestre.wordpress.com/
- Ophelia “Out There” (1) http://www.gamersinfo.net/staff_blogs/ophelea
- The Kryptonite Cafe (1) http://kryptonitecafe.typepad.com/kryptonitecafe/
- The World Cave (1) http://antronympharum.blogspot.com/
- Science is a Method Not a Position (1) http://amnap.blogspot.com/
- Christy Marx (1) http://christymarx.livejournal.com/
- Garbage Dump (1) http://lucien-soulban.livejournal.com/
Addendum: it transpires the numbers listed are for RSS subscribers using just one specific blog reader (bloglines) - therefore, all the numbers given should be taken with a giant grain of salt. If your blog is listed, feel free to quote alternative subscriber values in the comments. I apologise for any misrepresentation!
Only a Game will return in December.
Since the beginning of the home videogame industry, there have been battles for market share - console wars. These wars have begun anew every four years or so because of a recurring cycle bringing new hardware into circulation to take advantage of advances in technology and manufacturing, thus bringing more and more power into the homes of game players.
But now, the playing field is changing. On the one hand, the power consoles - such as Sony's PS3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360 - have a great amount of graphics processing power, and for all that industry programmers may complain, graphics power is the greatest proven commercial contribution from a console's design. The pressure to continue to upgrade graphics power has been lessened in this generation of consoles in part because of Nintendo's bold decision not to significantly improve the graphics power of the Wii over their previous GameCube console - which has in no way hurt their sales, thanks principally to the Wii's innovative input device.
Part of the reason that the Wii has been able to get by without a huge step up in graphics is that mass market consumers are not so game-literate as to be able to truly appreciate the graphical step up between (say) the Xbox and the Xbox 360. Gamer hobbyists, who live and breathe videogames, have a highly refined judgement that can appreciate the extra shiny graphics - but they also know that for the shiniest graphics, the PC remains the horse to back, as its graphics power continues to increase every year as a result of the ever-upgraded graphics cards technologies.
Nintendo's CEO Satoru Iwata recently stated that the four-year console cycle is over, stating he was "doubtful that such a notion of platform cycles can be applied in the future". Iwata-sans view is that the technology curve that consoles were following has peaked - there is no longer a significant market advantage to be gained from constant replacement of consoles. Rather, platform licensors should examine the technology and consider when the "sweet spot" for a new console would be.
Meanwhile, EA's head of international publishing, Gerhard Florin, has stated that they want an end to format wars altogether. "We want an open, standard platform which is much easier than having five which are not compatible," he told the BBC. No surprising - EA could make a vast saving on development costs if they didn't have to foot the bill for their multiformat commitments. Florin
suspects that the growing power of set-top boxes and so forth will eventually usurp the dedicated platforms, noting "the consumer won't even realise the platform it is being played on."
While a single open-format is a nice fantasy for EA executives, we are a long way from such a place. As long as platform licensors like Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are making a fortune from their proprietory formats, they will not give them up - and while powerful and generic home entertainment boxes are certainly on their way, the idea of a single open standard is ridiculous while there is no clear agreement on what such a standard should be.
Consider this: every advance in home console design (with the single exception of internet connectivity) has come from Nintendo. Sony's policy, as I've noted before, is to copy Nintendo's new ideas. Nintendo are to the console space what Apple are to the home computer space - and dispite yielding a considerable share of the home console market to Sony after abusing their power in the 1980s, they never lost their domination in the handheld space, nor their genuine power to innovate - as both the DS and the Wii demonstrate.
Florin is probably imagining that the high degree of similarity between the PS3 and the 360 is evidence that an open standard is a possibility - why couldn't an open standard have been formed on this basis? Firstly, there's too much money to be made in proprietory standards,
and secondly the common elements of the Ps3 and the 360 (internet functionality excluded) all originated in Nintendo. A single open standard requires sufficient risk in competition to force an agreement on a common standard, and it requires the design problems relating to that standard to have been substantially solved. This is practically a given in (say) data storage, or video display - but it is far from the case with game consoles, where the design issues are still being explored.
We are still learning about the diverse needs of game players - Florin's comments demonstrate EA's general ignorance of the design problems the games industry faces, perhaps mistaking the centre of the current gaming audience for the whole of the audience. (They are by no means alone: almost every publisher in videogames is monstrously naïve about the videogame audience, habitually assuming its employees are examples of the audience at large). An open standard may indeed happen in the future - but only when the videogames consoles have an optimal control device (such as the mouse for PC) which is entirely resistant to improvement. The twin stick controller (Sony's refinement of an idea originating with Nintendo, of course) is certainly not it.
However, Iwata-san is almost certainly correct that the four-year cycle is over. This is principally a tribute to Sony's achievements with the PS2, the most successful console system to date (since recently passing the 120 million record set by the GameBoy), which effortlessly supported a much longer sales window, closer to a decade. But the console wars themselves are far from over. The battle to place an multi-purpose entertainment device into the home - the war between Sony and Microsoft - will continue, with Nintendo meanwhile profiting from their decision not to compete in this struggle. The only possibility for an open standard platform is if Sony and Microsoft can reach some kind of agreement - and right now, with Microsoft stealing the crown from its rival, the war is very much ongoing.
Help us study how people play games - take part in our Ultimate Game Player Survey and win the game of your choice! Thanks for your assistance!
It's a great honour to report that Play with Fire was chosen as part of the IndieCade showcase, who recently put on a display of unusual and innovative independent games at GameCity in Sheffield, UK, along with many other fine works including our friends at Tale of Tales with The Endless Forest, who were picked as an example of the event by the BBC.
I was unable to make the event, but shared in some of the excitement the organisers had in trying to make the software chosen for the event run on the machines that had been rented. In the end, it all worked out for the best.
It's great that there are festivals like this showcasing and celebrating interesting projects from outside the high profile world of corporate -made videogames. Long may they continue.
This month’s Round Table is on the subject of Age and Games, with the usual invitation to riff on this idea and push it as wide as possible. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on the tangential topic of Time and Games.
Time is the most important aspect of any game. No time, no game. Partly, this is a trivial consequence of the role of time in sentience (no time, no mind), but mostly this is simply the admission that it takes time to play a game. Is there more to time and games than casual philosophical truisms? Let us explore...
The role of time in gameplay is crucial. There are dozens of simple aspects to this claim – the distinction between real time and turn-based play, for instance, or the essentially logistical structure of computer role-playing games with their focus, not on role, but on accumulating a time-based resource (which Tea Leaves calls “R” but which there is a compelling argument for calling “t” – not coincidentally, the basis of experience in my latest cRPG project, Reluctant Hero).
We can look at time spent in play and derive discrete but abstracted values – durations – with consequences for how we think about the nature of game design and gameplay.
Let us call the time the player spends learning to play a game the tutorial duration (ttutorial), the typical length of a single play session (the shortest comfortable duration of play – a level or other atomic chunk of play) the play session duration (tplay) and the total length of a game (how long it takes to complete) the total duration (ttotal).What can we say about these values?
Firstly, we can say a lot about the play style of a particular player by examining the comparative values of these time values. (We're going to use inequalities here, so if your not familiar with these you might want to brush up; however, I will also put them into words for the mathematically impaired).
What is conventionally called a “casual player” requires:
ttutorial <= tplay
That is to say, such a player must be able to learn to play the game in less than or the same amount of time as it takes to enjoy a typical play session. Indeed, the secret of most casual games is actually:
ttutorial << tplay
Which is to say: you can pick it up in a fraction of the time it takes to complete a typical play session. Another aspect of Casual games with respect to time is that they are rarely built around a framing progress structure, or to put this in temporal terms:
ttotal = ∞ (infinite)
We see this in studies of players who play few games, but play them with astonishing dedication. Some Tetris players have racked up literally hundreds, perhaps thousands of hours of play.
Compare, for instance, a strategy game – something requiring much greater game literacy, and having quite a different temporal identity. In the case of many strategy games we might observe:
ttutorial > tplay
ttotal >> tplay
Many role-playing games have the same kind of relationship with time. Note the important distinction that it takes longer (in general) to learn to play these kinds of games than the length of a typical play session. In fact, tutorial content may be spread throughout the length of the game in order to apportion out the required learning.
In fact, it is possible that – in terms of the nature of games enjoyed – these temporal identities express the essential difference between casual games and “hardcore” (gamer hobbyist) games. We can express the inequalities informally as follows:
- Casual-style games can be learned rapidly, and played indefinitely. This indefinite length of play may be very short, very long or anywhere in between.
- Gamer hobbyist-style games take longer to learn than a typical play session of such a game, and can be played for a very long time (sufficient to justify the “expenditure” of time in learning the game).
Are these the only temporal identities? Certainly not. Many art-house games (such as Façade, for instance), have the following time relations:
ttotal ≈ tplay
The interesting thing about this ‘shape’ of game is that (barring replay) the play session and the total play time are the same, and whilst it is possible to play Façade multiple times, this is not a game that most people come back to often or repeatedly. The experience of play has been delivered in an efficient manner – too efficient for commercial games, but ideal for a game with artistic goals. The nature of art house games may well be expressed by this idea:
- Art house-style games can be learned very rapidly, but may only be as long as their typical play session.
Since constraining total game length in this way saves significantly on development costs, an argument can be construed that art house games effectively waste their development time by making themselves longer than an hour in length.
Now what of the games we have ignored in the middle ground – first person shooters, driving games and other such staples of the games industry. For these something interesting happens – by depending on conventions that occur across many games there is a sharp difference in the nature of the tutorial duration. Let us focus on the FPS (first person shooter) because of its ubiquity.
For game-literate players facing such a game:
ttutorial << tplay
ttotal > tplay
(Or if network play is enjoyed:
ttotal >> tplay
since playing with other players radically extends the duration of interest in the game).
But for players coming to this style of game for the first time, it is often the case that:
ttutorial > ttotal > tplay
This is not at all like the other inequalities we have looked at!
Putting this informally:
- Game-literate players approaching an FPS learn to play quickly, but exhaust the main gameplay faster than with more complex games (extended play only happening as a result of multiplayer).
- Players coming to an FPS for the first time may not master all the nuances of the control skills before completing the game – the tutorial duration effectively exceeds the total game length.
In fact, some players coming to an FPS for the first time simply give up – they are not willing to make that sort of commitment to learning a game. Hence the sharp divide between quick and easy Casual games (with their trivial tutorial duration) and gamer hobbyist standard genres like FPS (with their implicitly long tutorial duration ameliorated by players learning to play over multiple different games in the same genre).
This, in many respects, is the hole that the games industry dug for itself by making more and more of the games it likes – those who are part of the gaming culture carry their tacit knowledge (their game literacy) from game to game, allowing easy access to more games made in a similar style. But when a new player without that game-literacy tries to play, they frequently struggle. The complexity of the standard controller design hasn’t helped this matter at all.
Nor is the Wii miraculously immune from such problems: the Wii remote may have the potential to be simple and intuitive, but specific games can ask the player to conduct actions with the remote which they perhaps never truly master. Simply having the Wii remote as an input device isn’t enough to guarantee accessibility to the non-game literate: some care must be taken in ensuring that the tutorial duration is not effectively longer than the length of the game, just as with new players coming to the FPS genre.
Looking at the relationship between time and play is a different perspective on games, one that can reveal much about the diversity of players and their different approaches to play. Why not use it to look at your own play? How long a tutorial duration will you tolerate? Do you bore of a game with indefinite total play (like Tetris) because it has no structured goals? Or do you bore of a game with fixed total play (like most FPS games) because your interest in them becomes exhausted?
In short: what is the relationship between time and your play?
An unfinished journey through time.
13.7 billion years ago... The Big Bang. Although far from a certainty that this singular event was
the stepping point for our universe, the evidence in terms of cosmic background
radiation and so forth is sufficiently strong that it is at least the leading contender. (Of
course the cause of the Big Bang is
unknown to us, since we cannot see beyond the beginning of time – it is one of
the many metaphysical gaps in science that can be filled only with
our own beliefs, religious or otherwise).
1,000 years later, and the universe is cool enough for atoms to form. We have our first differentiation of matter, although nothing that one would conventionally call life.
100,000 years later,
and the universe ceases to be opaque, and light can finally escape. There is no
better point in the history of time to say “Let there be light!”
Around this time, we have stars (astrophysicists call them Population III stars) which by virtue of their various nuclear fusion reactions created all the elements up to iron in the periodic table. Not long after, we have new stars (astrophysicists call them Population II stars) which were responsible for fashioning all the other elements.
We have nothing yet that corresponds to what people call ‘life’, although with poetic license the distant suns may be seen as a primitive form of life, or at least a dynamic process with a cycle of life, birth and death, stardust to stardust.
5 billion years ago... The youngest stars (astrophysicists call them Population I stars) form,
creating systems with matter comprised of all the many elements made by those
stars that came before them. More than eight billion years of stellar ‘life’
has passed – I for one am not willing to rule out the possibility of something
life-like (although quite unlike what we tend to call life) might have existed
in this period... likely, we would never know if it had.
Half a billion years later, and our own solar system is formed. A spinning disk of stardust, all comprised of the exploded remains of older suns, gradually accretes into the collection of worlds and failed stars that we all know so well.
4 billion years ago... Replicating chemicals begin to emerge. These are the basis for what we call life – DNA is one possible replicating chemical, but by no means the only conceivable configuration. We often limit our notion of life to the DNA substrate, but this could be wholly misleading – even chemical life could have other replicating chemicals at their base, and life in its larger sense could exist in substrates that are not chemical. About such possible lifeforms we can only speculate.
300 million years
later, finally we have life as we know it! Bacteria. Single cell organisms. Everything that we know as life today has
come from these amazing creatures, but the path between then and us has been
absurdly long. It has taken the universe some ten billion years to forge this
basic unit of biological life on our planet – perhaps it took just as long to form elsewhere, although we are
in no position to know one way or another.
4 billion years ago, life in one cell.
1.6 to 2.1 billion years ago... After some two billion years of bacterial, single-celled life, now something new emerges. Bacteria, probably (as Lynn Margulis hypothesised) as a result of failed attempts at digestion of one another, finds itself in a whole new state of affairs – multiple single celled organisms embedded within each other. This turns out to be a supremely valuable biological state, as it allows for specialised components (biologists call them organelles) in the cells. This is the beginning of the eukaryotic cells from which all our complex biological life forms are comprised. There is nothing like that degree of complexity at this point, but there is red algae and the like: organisms comprised of multiple cells, but without the specialisation of cells required for life as we normally imagine it.
2 billion years ago, life in many cells.
542 million years ago... The Cambrian explosion – and life bursts onto the stage in
tremendous variety. The eukaryotic cells, having learned to co-operate
internally forming tiny symbiotic communities now take this trick one step further,
finding a means to encode DNA (or so it is presumed) that permits
differentiation of cells into discrete roles. It becomes a huge success – life in
abundant and bizarre variation comes into existence. The largest creature of
this time is Anomalocaris, between 60 cm and 2 metres in length.
Half a billion years ago, trillions of cells co-operating in one organism.
70 million years ago... the early mammals – our ancestors – appear. These creatures express new behaviours – they have more emotions than their predecessors, they form family groups and so forth in different, arguably stronger, ways than before. Not to mention, life as a whole has fallen into a recurrent pattern of global symbiosis – even when an extinction event (such as the one that ended the reign of the dinosaurs at this point in time) clears the playing field, life can and does find new balance points between myriad species, capable of sustaining life over the long term. While competition between species is rife, the biome as a whole falls into co-operative patterns which regulate the environment (Gaia theory). Co-operation is spreading!
Hundreds of million years ago, direct and indirect co-operation between organisms continues to expand.
130,000 years ago... the first anatomically modern
humans appear. Humanity has finally made it onto the scene; a mere thirteen billion
years after the universe began. The human body is comprised of between fifty
and a hundred trillion cells (1014) – each of which co-operates
internally with its constituent organelles, and externally with the other cells
of the same body. Furthermore,
humanity fosters co-operation of various kinds between other species –
domesticating dogs, horses, cats and cattle – not to mention co-operation with other early humans.
Despite the original anthropological view of humanity living in constant war, many anthropologists believe war did not exert itself on a significant scale until much later.
Hundreds of thousand years ago, conscious co-operation between species expands.
5,500 years ago... written language develops in a number of places throughout the world. This allows for the development of early bureacracies which provide means for co-operation on a far larger scale than before. While large tribal groups existed before this point, there were no cities and nothing quite like the nations of modern times. But with writing, and hence bureacracy, larger scale projects could be undertaken – giant constructions like the pyramids of Egypt or the ziggurats of South America. With the rise of nations, the possibilities for conflict and competition are also increased - bureacracy also allows for larger fighting forces, such as million-man armies in early China.
A few thousand years ago, humans co-operate to form super-organisms – nations.
550 years ago... the invention of the printing press. As written language allowed for early nations, so the printing press allowed for something akin to modern nations. The capacity to produce written communications on such a grand scale allowed for co-operation between individuals in ways previously impossible because it was only possible to copy text manually (a slow and time consuming process). Now, instructions could be given to a great many people quickly, and ideas could be shared between many more people than ever before - accelerating (amongst other things) scientific development. The printing press also allowed people to co-operate against the established powers, as with Martin Luther's opposition to the abuse of authority in the Catholic Church.
A few centuries ago, new ways to co-operate emerge.
200 years ago... The industrial revolution. Now the human super-organism, the nation,
has the resources it needs to grow even larger. Vast conglomerations of
people form – China with 1.3 billion people, India with 1.1 billion,
the United states with 300 million people, not to mention different kinds of
super-organisms such as corporations and other organisations – the Chinese army
with 2.3 million people, the Indian State Railways with 1.5 million people, the
British National Health Service with 1.3 million people.
Two centuries ago, up to 1023 cells co-operating hierarchically.
30 years ago... The Internet. The possibilities for communication are expanded to their current horizon. Six and a half billion people able to co-operate, if they so choose. The whole planet – in human terms, at least – held together in ties of competition and co-operation... a hyper-organism unlike anything that came before.
Not long ago, up to 1023 cells cooperating non-hierarchically as a vast hyper-organism (humanity) formed of many super-organisms (nations).
Now... what next?
The opening image is Cosmic Dark Age by Don Dixon, which I found here. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended and I will take the image down if asked.