Home > Human Nature, Learning Games > Altruism and Games (theory)

Altruism and Games (theory)

The RSA says, on its website, this about itself: an enlightenment organisation committed to finding innovative practical solutions to today’s social challenges. Through its ideas, research and 27,000-strong Fellowship it seeks to understand and enhance human capability so we can close the gap between today’s reality and people’s hopes for a better world.

Understanding human capability and putting that understanding to work out solutions for a better world is the fundamental challenge of education and all educators.

One of the challenges that I find particularly important now is regarding altruism. As global warming and overpopulation strain the ability of our societies to provide for all without suffering, it seems that some forms of altruism are the only resource that we can call upon from individuals to engender the activities that support others and ensure a higher likelihood of success for all. But many people challenge the notion that altruism is natural to human behavior. They believe that natural selection depends on the survival of the fittest; requiring, unfortunately, the demise of the unfit.

I am neither a historian nor a genetic scientist, so I am only vaguely familiar with George R. Price and The Price Equation. I am somewhat more familiar with one of the areas of math in which George Price made a significant contribution, Game Theory. In math, game theory represents calculated circumstances in which a person’s success is based upon the choices of others. Game Theory is applied in economics, political science, psychology, and biology, where, as a genetic biologist, George Price made his most significant scientific contributions.

I am also – separately – interested in Game Studies, a discipline in which people study games, their design, players, and their broad role in society and culture. In particular, I am interested in how important and challenging interpersonal relationships can be taught through games. Interestingly, this approach creates a unique convergence of Game Theory and Game Studies; the design and application of useful, practical, and compelling communication-based games requires a social context and an understanding of how an individual’s success is dependent upon the choices of others.

Engendering altruism is one of the challenges of social learning games. Of course, games are only a means to achieve the desirable result. But games can provide a robust environment in which children – and adults – can develop meaningful role models in a virtual setting, thereby increasing their aptitude to engage in successful practices in real life.

I found this video about George Price by the RSA to be very stimulating and thought provoking. I, too, believe that the human capacity for altruism is enough evidence to support its frequent application. There are few more important capabilities that we have psychologically and culturally. There seems, to me, little excuse to utilize it as a means of ensuring greater fairness and justice in our world.


The Price of Altruism – George Price

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