Sports, Board Games, and Video Games May Reveal How Cooperative or Competitive You Are, According to Research

The games you play are influenced by the culture you're in.

Games are an integral part of many cultures, from a simple round of capture the flag to something more high stakes like the World Cup, games are everywhere. However, the specific activities you choose to partake in reveal more about you and your culture than you might have originally thought. According to a new study conducted by researchers from Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, the types of sports, board games, and video games you play—cooperative or competitive—may be indicative of your cultural background. "We think that games might reflect aspects of human cultures, such as how competitive and cooperative the cultures are," says Sarah Leisterer-Peoples, a researcher at the institute.

Previous research on this topic has been conducted and it's revealed that in cultures where a difference in status and wealth is present, competitive games are played more frequently. However, in egalitarian societies, games tend to be more cooperative. The key to this study is that it investigates this relationship in only a small group of cultures. To begin their research, the team sorted through a database on historical games played by cultures in the Pacific. "The cultures in our study lived in a broad geographic range, spanning the Pacific Ocean. The cultures were very diverse, but also shared similarities, which allow for a comparison on several aspects of the cultures," says Leisterer-Peoples.

group of children sitting on floor playing board game
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The researchers were able to identify 25 cultures in the Pacific that kept records of the games they played as they evolved. Next, scientists identified characteristics of cultures that indicate how cooperative they might be including, how often members of a culture had conflicts with each other, how often cultures had conflicts with other cultures, and how often group members hunted and fished in groups. "These are real-world proxies for cooperative behavior", says Leisterer-Peoples.

Leisterer-Peoples and her team found that the cultures that frequently engage in conflicts with other cultures play more cooperative games than competitive ones. On the other hand, cultures with frequent conflicts within their own community have more competitive games. The scientists believe this human behavior relates to the modern day sports, board games, and video games we play today and how well we handle conflict and cooperation. Leisterer-Peoples explains that when we consider the evolution of cooperation in cultural groups, "these findings suggest that the games we play reflect the socio-ecological characteristics of the culture that we are in," says Leisterer-Peoples.

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