I'm enjoying my free development economics course at Mr. University that started this week. One of the videos in the course covers Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel," a book I placed on my list of top intellectual influences.
Classmate Bo Bayles posed an interesting question about a massive multiplayer online game to act as a computer model to demonstrate Diamond's biological determinism theory of why some nations develop and others stagnate:
Suppose I created and successfully marketed a large online video game that randomly assigned players to geographic areas that had features associated with Eurasia and then watched as the game evolved. Would these observations carry much weight in academia? Should universities be doing this sort of thing?
What would such a game look like if it wanted to accurately represent Diamond's model?
It would require players to start in different areas with different environments. However, it would not be as simple as providing one group more items to harvest, monsters to fight or quests to complete. That would simply show that ownership of natural resources leads to growth, which Diamond has made clear was never his point.
Instead, diamond spoke about sometimes the plants and animals around a civilization required fewer people to work to achieve subsistence levels. It took five people to feed five people in ancient Papua New Guinea while only four ancient people were needed feed five in the Fertile Crescent. That freed up one fifth of the workforce to accomplish other tasks, which lead to progress and civilization.
For the Guns, Germs and Steel online game players would need to have some kind of ticking time bomb that needs to be kept in check daily, such as hordes of enemies that try to overrun the village but provide no experience points when killed or an ancient well that requires constant sacrifices of materials mined from nearby resource nodes.
One starting village would have an easier time meeting that daily upkeep because of their surrounding environments, such as nodes that produce raw materials at a faster rate or materials for weapons that make warriors more powerful and allow a smaller group of players to hold off the ravaging hordes. This would allow some players from the gifted village to go on quests or craft better items for his faction.
The only problem would be that this game wouldn't be fun for most players, as farming or grinding all day merely to keep from dying is not a rewarding experience. Perhaps that's why Sim Subsistence Farmer or Civilization: Bushman never took off.