The Artificial Ape a.k.a. Once You Start Seeing Parallels in Virtual Environments, You Can't Stop

There may, in fact, be a choice to be made. Although Robin Torrence is right to contrast the flexible responses of people in resource-rich, unpredictable environments with the highly logistical survival routines of those in high-latitude, harsh environments, the correlation is only general. As the archaeologist Everett Bassett has pointed out, the farther north or south you get, the more risk-reduction strategies are forced to diverge. The orthodox strategy is to become ever more specialized, going big on sleds, kayaks, harpoons, fall-traps, summer gear, winter gear, big-game gear, small trapping gear, and so on. As things become harder to find and hunt, water and wind get colder, and light and dark shift from a twenty-four-hour cycle to a twelve-month alternation. Investment in the insulating, adaptive technology is attractive. This is the "life-pod" approach, where getting food and staying warm are guaranteed by technological fixes at every point. The alternative strategy is a dramatic opposite and involves extreme opportunism. It is unorthodox, because in such demanding environments you need to be really good, divesting yourself of every encumbrance for maximum flexibility, weighing energy costs with potential risks at every moment. In the orthodox case it can be fatal if the gear fails, in the unorthodox case, if you do.


Perhaps this explains the expedient technology of the Tasmanians. Instead of sitting down for a long time to make a complex tool that you might lose or damage, you hardly break stride to knap a sandstone blade edge and deal with that seal. The Tasmanians were highly skilled land hunters, yet they used neither spear thrower nor stone-tipped projectiles. They did not have ground stone tools because grinding stone is very laborious, whereas efficient knapping can be a matter of a few highly skilled strikes. Everything was quick, and replicable. If a blade was lost, you made another one, or picked up an old one and refreshed the edge. Being without clothes reduced your other possessions, so that what you owned was yourself. Entailment was minimized. This was Hermann Buhl's logic on Nanga Parbat: not naked, but with an absolute minimum of gear. It could be described as reverse entailment.

The Artificial Ape
Timothy Taylor

The basic premise of The Artificial Ape is that technology has evolved us, as much as we've evolved it. The technologies we've come up with present a third force, together with environmental/natural selection, and culture, that are even now changing how humans evolve. We're smaller and weaker than our ancestors, simply because with the technologies we have at hand now, we don't need to be larger, or stronger, or even the same as they were. It's a fascinating book, and very persuasively argued.

However, as nuggets are wont to do, this is where I tangent off from what Taylor talks about. Reading the two quoted paragraphs above, I couldn't help but feel as if he were describing World of Warcraft (orthodox) and Guild Wars (unorthodox) in anthropological terms, with going big on specialised technologies being the veritable smorgasboard of add-ons available for WoW, vs GW's very, very minimalist, pared-down system. The statement, 'In the orthodox case it can be fatal if the gear fails, in the unorthodox case, if you do.' was the nail in the coffin - or the icing on the cake, if you prefer.

The second paragraph also rings very true for me when juxtaposing these two MMOs. Many's the WoW-player I've heard lament in GW that 'there's nothing to DO at 20!' There is - but it's all about yourself. What you own is... yourself. There's no sense of, 'Oh I should be raiding now, I need more stuff so I can get more stuff...' GW gives you an immense amount of freedom in terms of deciding what you want your endgame to be about - and it's that exact freedom that can lead to people not knowing what to do, just like how it's easier to create a project if you're told the goal and purpose, rather than being just told to go and do whatever you like.

I'm not trying to say that one type of design is necessarily better than the other - just that they're different, and work along different lines.

I hope ArenaNet remembers that, while they develop Guild Wars 2.