Games reflect the culture in which they are played •

Humans of all cultures play games in order to learn and practice group norms. Through games, cultural knowledge is often stored and taught to community members. New research from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig found that different cultures play different types of games. So, if a culture is cooperative, the games people play tend to be more cooperative, while if a culture is competitive, the activities will be more competitive in nature.

“If you live in Germany, chances are you’ve been playing a competitive game,” said study lead author Sarah Leisterer-Peoples, a PhD student at the Max Planck Institute. “We believe that games could reflect aspects of human cultures, such as competitiveness and cooperation of cultures.”

Previous research has suggested that in socially hierarchical cultures or those with large differences in wealth or status, competitive games are most often played, while in egalitarian cultures, with few differences in status and wealth, traditional activities are generally more cooperative. However, this relationship has only been studied in a few cultures, thus problematizing attempts at generalization.

In their new study, Leisterer-Peoples and colleagues used an extensive historical database of games played by cultures located in the Pacific.

“The cultures in our study lived in a wide geographic range, spanning the Pacific Ocean. The cultures were very diverse, but also shared similarities, which allowed for comparison across multiple aspects of the cultures,” Leisterer-Peoples said.

Scientists found that cultures frequently engaged in conflict with other cultures had more cooperative than competitive games, while cultures with frequent internal conflict had the opposite.

“These results might be non-intuitive at first glance, but they make sense in light of theories about the evolution of cooperation in cultural groups. In times of conflict with other cultures, group members should cooperate with each other. with each other and compete with their opponents. This is reflected in the types of games that are played – games with competing groups. And when there is a lot of conflict between members of a group, they tend to play to competitive games. These results suggest that the games we play reflect the socio-ecological characteristics of the culture we find ourselves in,” explained Leisterer-Peoples.

By mimicking real-world behavior, games are an important way in which group norms are learned and practiced during childhood. Further research is needed to determine if this is also the case in modern cultures, where video games have largely replaced traditional activities.

The study is published in the journal PLoS One.

By Andrei Ionescu, Personal editor

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