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Games. Tech. Musings.

Games offline and online. Technology. Random stuff.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Numbers next to names, part 2

I asked the smartest person I know (my wife) on her thoughts on why a number next to your name could give a "reward" feeling. Her theory was that it's a prestige mechanic.

That certainly makes a lot of sense - you're generally perceived as more "able" if your number is higher. In a hunter-gatherer society, being a more valued member of the tribe would pay off because the rest of the tribe would make greater efforts to help you if you needed it. Given that, it would make sense that your brain would reward you for increasing your perceived prestige. Of course, your World of Warcraft character's level isn't quite the same as impressing your tribe with your amazing ability to find wild mushrooms, but brain wirings haven't updated a whole lot in the meantime.

Note the separation here between dominance, usually defined as group superiority due to force or threat of force, and prestige, defined as group esteem.

It's fairly scary how many human behaviours boil down to basic hunter-gatherer survival mechanisms. There was an interesting series of articles on evolution over Christmas in the Economist, some of which were relevant to this. I particularly enjoyed this quote:
Students of animal behaviour refer to the top male in a group as the “alpha”. Such dominant animals keep the others under control and father a large proportion, if not all, of the group's offspring. One of the curiosities of modern life is that voters tend to elect alpha males to high office, and then affect surprise when they behave like alphas outside politics too.
Here's the article (ad view required unless you're a subscriber, I'm afraid).

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