Social Evolution
R.C. Hoetzlein (c) 2006-2008
Version Beta. Geneve, Switzerland. Oct 31-Dec 15th, 2008.

Social Evolution is an experiment in simulated societies. As we become increasingly attracted to scientific theories and philosophies about social dynamics, Social Evolution asks: What are the consequences of biological evolution and competition when applied to societies of people? Is it possible, or even desirable, to reduce the richness of human behavior to basic instinctual states? Can simulations of social dynamics ever paint an accurate picture of reality?


Character agents are programmatically introduced that engage in a range of activities. These actions including standing, sitting, eating, sleeping, killing, mating, walking, raking (harvesting) and seeding (planting). Each character performs these actions in differing proportions, some walking more, some sleeping more. Certain basic survival mechanisms are wired in, such as the need to find food when one is hungry. When personal health is good, the individuals have the ability to genetically adapt different proprotions of daily activities which are carried on to their offspring. Social Evolution is thus a simulation of personal time management, teaching, and survival in a simplified virtual world. Individuals record their wealth as food, which they may harvest from the ground or steal from others.


Suprising outcomes of the project - which were not preprogrammed - include the group ability of the characters to cluster into towns to conserve energy, local sharing of resources, patterns in which individuals chase one another in circles, and social hierarchies such as caste systems. The last phenomenon is particularly suprising considering that all characters begin as equals. It was found that simulations in which land ownership is included (30% of the people owned 95% of the land), there are discrete, but increasingly wealthy numbers of indivudals who are engaged in second and third orders of killing, stealing from those who steal. In addition, the poorer individuals are always found to cluster in groups around the wealthy. However, overall, it is also suprising that to maintain a stable population which does not simply die out over 95% of the individuals are engaged in simply raking and harvesting the ground. Killing must be less than 1% overall or the population simply dies out. While reality is much more complex, this suggestions that our preceptions of social dynamics are often very much out of proption with the actual reality.
Also suprising are the brief moments in time captured by the cameras of Social Evolution. Sweeping over the rapidly moving population, there are fleeting instants which are particularly shocking. One character shooting another while, just next to this, another is sleeping. Groups of three or four are found eating together (see images below). The simulation itself is unaware of these juxtopositions, but as humans we notice these situations almost immediately. The hand-sketched nature of the characters, the lack of a sun cycle, and the asexuality of the characters were intentionally designed to emphasize the non-realism of digital simulations. While simulations allow us to mimic the real world, they are far from being able to represent social reality in all its complexity. The characters of Social Evolution incorporate basic elements of human life, but they raise many more questions about humanity than they answer.

Social Evolution was also exhibited at the Digital Days Festival at the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara (2005), an interactive version at the 2nd Beijing International Arts & Science Exhibition (2006), Tsinghua Univ, China, and at the 25th Dorkbot So. Cal (2007).
Created using C++ and GameX.