Girl Power

Girl Power
Women in Games

Chris Crawford | 1 Nov 2005 11:00
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Human babies are truly pathetic creatures: They can't walk, they can't care for themselves, and they are completely dependent upon their mothers for the first two or three years of their lives. A mother carrying a fifteen-pound squalling baby is not going to be as successful stalking prey as a man. If the mother puts the baby down to stalk prey, the baby will get eaten by something else.

Another problem is women can't run as well as men. This has nothing to do with cultural upbringing and everything to do with the female pelvis. The male pelvis is well-structured for the efficient operation of the leg muscles. But the female pelvis has been subject to a more powerful selection effect: death in childbirth. Men don't die in childbirth; women do, and over the millennia lots of women have. Women die in childbirth because the birth canal is too narrow for the head of the baby. Women with a narrow pelvis had a greater chance of dying in childbirth, but women with a wide pelvis had a higher survival rate. Thus, over millions of years, the female pelvis spread wide, which is good for childbirth but lousy for running.

At this point, there's always some twit who points out that there are some women who can run faster than some men. Indeed so, but noting an exception to a generalization does not disprove the generalization; it establishes only that the generalization is not an absolute law. There are a handful of genetically odd women who lack breasts, but we don't quibble about them when discussing the role of breasts in female function, do we?

Running fast and long is an important factor in successful hunting. Since human females couldn't do this, they weren't well-suited for hunting. Instead, females specialized in gathering and child-rearing. Thus, the overall hunter-gatherer lifestyle worked like this: Hominids operated in troops of 20 to 50 individuals. They would set up a temporary camp near a source of water. The old, the infirm and the young would remain at the camp. The fit females would spread over the immediate vicinity, gathering nuts, berries, grain, roots, fruit; anything edible. Most of the food they would find was low in nutritional value, but they made up for it in volume.

The men would set out on long hunts. For most of human history, hunting was not carried out with bows and arrows or even spears; it was done with rocks. The hunter would creep up on his prey and hurl a rock at it. Of course, rocks seldom kill an animal outright. Most of the time, the best the hunter could hope for was a hit that might slightly injure the prey, who would run off. Then the hunter would set out in pursuit, which might take several hours. With luck, the hunter would get a second opportunity to bean the prey, which would result in further injury and another flight. The process would be repeated for hours - or, in the case of larger prey, days - and often failed. But when it succeeded, the hunter hit the jackpot. The meat in a 40 pound gazelle would provide a feast for everybody. If he failed, the hunter would return home for a meal of roots and berries.

Let us now consider the specializations required of the hunter to succeed in his efforts. Three talents are needed:

  1. The ability to throw rocks powerfully and with accuracy.
  2. The ability to pursue the prey over long distances.
  3. The wit to figure out where the prey went.

If we were to whisk a young hunter-gatherer male out of the remote past into the present, dress him up in whatever the current uniform of youth happens to be and plunk him down in front of a videogame console, what kind of entertainment would he prefer? Something that he is optimized for, of course. It would be something in which he throws rocks powerfully and accurately at prey. Guns do that very well. He would also want to track his prey over a large spatial map, involving all manner of interesting problems in spatial analysis. Lastly, he'd want something challenging his ability to analyze and anticipate prey behavior. Golly gee, sounds just like a shooter, doesn't it?

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