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Steam is Becoming Darwinian by Design

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By Nelson Schneider - 03/25/18 at 03:31 PM CT

Recently, I took some time away from videogames to do something I haven’t done since college: Read non-fiction. Among the several books I read between the Holiday Season of 2017 and now was “The God Delusion” by evolutionary biologist and prominent anti-religion advocate, Richard Dawkins. One of the shortcomings in the American education system – and at the very root of the whole Evolution vs. Creation faux-debate – is that Darwinist systems are never explained particularly well to our Public School students. At least it wasn’t explained particularly well to me… or Chris or Nick, as we all attended the same high school with a Biology teacher who actively promoted Creationism, disbelieved Evolution, and gladly handed out laughable-in-hindsight videocassettes promoting a religious worldview.

“WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH VIDEOGAMES?!” I can hear raging forth from the less enlightened.

It turns out that our digital gaming storefronts are currently in the midst of a Darwinism vs. Design conflict themselves. With the gaming news recently cluttered up with numerous articles about how Steam’s new hands-off approach to curation is drowning PC gaming beneath a tidal wave of garbage and how unknown Indie developers are needing to rely on Nintendo’s E-Shop, of all things, to stave off bankruptcy, the analogy is quite clear and simple. While Steam originally began as Lord Gaben’s (a true god among men) personally curated scripture of all games good and righteous on PC, recent changes, passing through the late Greenlight system to the current Direct system, has seen Steam transform in short order from a system governed by an all-powerful, benevolent deity to a Darwinist system governed entirely by selective pressure.

Order, reason, and purpose are things humans inherently desire. Evolution selected these traits in us early on, and we crave them so badly that we will invent entire pantheons of gods and elaborate mythologies in order to apply a sense of purpose and reason to the meaningless, uncaring natural systems that are at work in the world around us. It’s why every region of the world has a plethora of religions to choose from. Only the modern scientific method has provided us with a worldview in which the perceived chaos around us is really just the ordered, predictable outcomes of numerous natural systems operating in spite of – not because or, or in service of – us. Many, especially in the last bastion of Christianity that is the United States, find this system impossible to accept, and continue to search for meaning where there is none simply because that’s what human brains were selected to do.


Oh, but it does. With Direct, Steam has become a 100% Darwinist system. Games exist on Steam in every conceivable form and mutation, many of which are so congenitally deformed and worthless that they should naturally go extinct. On the other hand, the recent overweening praise for highly curated storefronts such as the Nintendo E-Shop or PlayStation Network ties directly into our human desire for reason, order, and purpose. Nintendo and Sony are doing “good” because they are acting like an interfering deity in keeping the “evil” of asset flips, achievement hunts, and other objectively bad/worthless games out of their stores (except when they don’t).

Continuing the analogy, Steam’s Darwinism will allow for a near complete fossil record of failed games to build up beneath those that are successful, whereas the walled gardens of console e-shops are prone to be wiped out by the apocalyptic fury of a new hardware release, ending the previous world and ushering in a new one in which previous games either don’t exist or are hand-picked to be “saved” by the deities in charge, miraculously appearing on the new platform (with the same old price tag).

In essence, Lord Gaben has transformed from an active theos into the demiurge of Platonic tradition. He created the “world” of Steam, and is now content to leave it unattended to do its own thing, confident that it won’t fall apart under the strain of its self-contained operation. The E-Shop and PSN are competing “religious” systems whose adherents will proselytize until they’re hoarse about the “true,” “pure” experience their active, interfering gods offer. New adherents to a console digital store are a captive audience that can be fed any line of nonsense and accept is because they have already accepted the premise that their chosen platform/religion will never steer them wrong. Conversely, the Darwinist Steam expects users to figure things out for themselves, search for positive traits in games, and promote those traits via increased sales, which often leads to strange situations with wholly deplorable games, like “PUBG,” receiving disproportionate amounts of selective momentum (but hey, weeds, viruses, and cancers are by-products of Natural Selection, and have never gone away).

Ultimately, neither system is particularly desirable. The Designed systems all suffer from a built-in expiration date, inflated prices, and the occasional missing title that really deserves to be there but isn’t. The Darwinist system suffers from an unfathomable amount of crap and failures (that’s what happens over the billions of years of geologic time, we’re just seeing in compressed), as well as a propensity for allowing undesirable (from our human perspective) traits to flourish while leaving desirable (again, from our human perspective) traits to languish and die-out.

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