Game design and human evolution

Evolution has provided life on Earth with advantageous behaviors. Sometimes these behaviors that are beneficial in most situations can lead to certain death in others. For example, earthworms sense vibrations in the soil around them and quickly head towards this surface. This allows them to evade their most deadly predators, moles. However, when it rains earthworms cannot distinguish vibrations caused by raindrops and vibrations caused by moles, so they dig for the surface en masse and get squished by schoolchilden’s galoshes.

Game designers are like the rain. A game designer must recognize and exploit leverage behaviors humans are hard-wired to perform. I believe the most effective game design blocks can be tied to these behaviors. A careful study of these behaviors could lead to a greater understanding of what is “fun,” the difference between game styles for men & women and maybe even reveal a whole new category of game design we are overlooking.

(If this has already been covered somewhere I would love to read a in-depth study of game design as it relates to early human survival behaviors. I Googled and couldn’t really find anything. I am no expert on the subject, this is just my thoughts about the subject formed in the shower and in the car.)


Accuracy has to best most prevalent human behavior necessary for survival. During the hunt, if you couldn’t hit a mammoth with a spear you were going to starve to death. In our polite society accuracy was transformed into throwing balls into hoops. Games give us the ability to practice our accuracy against anyone and anything.


Remember that mammoth? If you got to it before the other guy, he starved to death instead of you. Now you guys can just shoot each other on Xbox Live.


Exploring your surrounding led to shelter, food and new hunting grounds, good places to find firewood, resources for tools and all the things needed for survival.

Resource management

All those goodies you have killed or found need to be managed during the times you cannot kill or find anything.

Performing mundane, repetitive tasks for delayed gratification

HAHA! This was the whole point! Why grinding works as a game design tool. Building complex items, such as a tool or even a house, is not rewarding from day-to-day. You are consuming materials and you don’t see results for a long time but all the early humans had the trait to stick it out through repetitive tasks at the end came out ahead. As a result, grinding is powerful tool to hook players. I often equate people’s complains about grinding to getting married and having kids, everyone complains about it, yet no one will stop doing it.

I am sure there are other hard-wired behaviors game designers can leverage and though you can leverage these behaviors for game design, they are not equal. No one ever complains about too many headshots in a FPS. People complain about grinding constantly yet they cannot stop doing it.

Maybe those earthworms are complaining about the rain?

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