Sunday, May 25, 2008

A couple of anachronisms

I was just thinking, how odd is it that Games Workshop is still in business in the age of PS3 and Wii? I used to work for these people once upon a time, and, dress it up all you want - it's playing with toy soldiers.

This isn't to diss it or anything, I like the little universes they've created for themselves, especially the dark future of Warhammer 40,000. It just strikes me as singularly amazing that, in an age where gaming instantly conjures up words like mouse, keyboard, gamepad, l33t sk1llz, FPS, RTS, MMORPG, UT, CS and stfunoob, these people have kept the flag flying with tabletop wargaming for about as long as I've been alive. That they've managed to keep large numbers of people rolling dice, painting miniatures, writing bad fan fiction* and poring over whopping huge rulebooks strikes me as one of the most amazing feats of marketing of our time. Personally, I've always had a soft spot for their painting competitions. If this isn't art, I don't know what is. If you've not seen these before, bear in mind that many of these miniatures are just a bit smaller than your thumb.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. I checked out their annual report for FYE 30 June 2007 and was a little disheartened to find their after-tax results drop from a profit of ~GBP2 mil in FY2006 to a loss of ~GBP3.5 mil in FY2007. Given that the bulk of their income is still from the sale of their tabletop wargames in the age of the pixel, I've no idea how they'll ever recover their former glory in FY2004 (PAT of ~GBP6.6 mil). So good luck to them. I likes WH40k. In the strictest, Asimov-Clarke-Heinlein sense of the word, WH40k is actually pretty crap science fiction, but I likes reading about it the same way anyone else escapes into Harry Potter, trashy romance novels or Jerry Springer. It's like M&M's for the brain.

Another thought that hit me earlier today was the future of marriage. Most of us are familiar with 1 man + 1 woman marriage. Others go with 1 man + 4 women (alive, at the same time) marriage. Others still go with 1 man + as many women/ underage girls as they want, which in any age is fucking barbaric**. But seriously, from the evolutionary point of view, in sexual relations, I recall from Selfish Gene that there are two main strategies for a female to accept a male mate, and most other strategies lie on a spectrum between, and I think it fits pretty well for humans. The two strategies are:

Marital bliss - The female forces the male into spending time and effort into courtship in order to make sure the male is committed to helping raise the offspring, thus increasing the chances of her genes surviving. Here we settle on a pattern of 1 male + 1 female partnerships.

He-man - The female boinks the biggest, meanest, toughest badass male she can find with the objective of pairing her genes with the biggest, meanest, toughest badass genes she can find. With any luck, that badass-ness will rub off on her offspring and increase her gene's chances of survival. This leads to a society of 1 male + many females and a whole bunch of other males dearly wishing they were that 1 male.

Both of these strategies and damn near everything in between have been observed in Nature. Humans, being subject to memes as much as genes, have managed to establish stable societies all around the world utilising ALL the strategies. Bear in mind that the gene and meme know no right or wrong, just survival.

Now what I was thinking, pertaining to marriage, was this: If humans completely conquer genes, that is, we can manipulate genes at a whim (a la Gattaca), or we can achieve physical immortality through cybernetics (a la Ghost in the Shell) or nanotechnology (a la Battle Angel Alita), what does that mean for marriage? Will the entire concept of marriage lose all meaning for humans? Will our undying, perfect grandchildren read of marriage as something animals and primitive humans got into? Will sex be a purely recreational (woohoo!), as opposed to reproductive activity?

I think so. And I can't wait for the day humanity shrugs off marriage and finds better things to do with their time. I suppose there's a little bit of a bias here, seeing as I'm Chinese, and I've soon got to attend the wedding dinner of some cousin I've never met in my life and endure the company of shallow-minded idiots whom I really wish wouldn't have children. But that's just me. :-)

*The production of abominably bad fan fiction is not necessarily a negative thing, from the Games Workshop point of view. This means they've managed to capture young impressionable minds that could just as easily have been taken by some console or CCG or some such.

**Yeah, you know who I'm talking about.


Juliette said...

The point you're missing about marriage is that it's not just about reproducing the human species. Although I agree that primitively mating was purely for the sake of disseminating ones genes, since man has been able to show emotions such as love, caring, empathy, jealousy (yes that also fits in!) or even possessiveness marriage has also been a way to show one's commitment to the other half (or four fifths ;-P).
I don't believe that in this day and age everybody who ties the knot does so for the sake of breeding a large flock in order to preserve their genes! Although some people might do it for selfish reasons (Heather McCartney anyone?), to go with the flow (being Chinese you get loads of that example!) or even to get a green card or it's equivalent, I'd like to believe that a lot of people get married because they actually like each other and want to commit into spending the rest of their lives together.

I'm not a particularly big advocate for marriage mind you, I personally think it's overrated. But what I want to point out is that although women can have kids without requiring the male specimen (although why on earth would anyone want to do that without having someone to share the pain/dirty nappies/wailing/responsibility I haven't got a clue!)or even if we do get to the stage of Battle Angel Alita or Ghost in the Shell, marriage will still exist in some form.

清, just 清 said...

Oh, definitely not! No doubt the institution of marriage carries with it a whole heap of memetic (that is, cultural) baggage that, for the most part, is kinda nice. But when you cut past all the meaningless frills, the politics and the social dicking around, marriage is ultimately a matter of 2+ people staking out a sexual claim on each other, thus insuring that they have exclusive rights to perpetuate their genes with the chosen partner(s). When that becomes irrelevant, I believe marriage will lose the core of it's meaning. But this is all speculation. Until humanity is liberated from the tyranny of genetic prerogative, we won't know for sure, but my money is on marriage being superseded by more practical forms of social contract.