Game Development Reference
Interview with Dallas Snell: Social Networks
and the Power of Tribes—cont'd
In 1986, Richard and I left the New Hampshire office, moved to Austin,
and started the Austin studio. The rest is history, with the success over
the next decade of the Ultima and Wing Commander series.
Then I was burned out on the whole business and took a ten-year
sabbatical. I left three years after EA bought us. I had accomplished
everything I thought there was to accomplish. Everything that west-
ern civilization said was in the formula for happiness and well being. In
America, it is “Life, Liberty, and the Purchase of Happiness.” And I didn't
have any, so I went off to study human happiness and well-being for the
Q: What did you study during this time that relates to social networks?
A: I learned from research in many different disciplines—psychology, soci-
ology, evolution, biology, and especially neurobiology—that human hap-
piness and well-being are almost entirely tied to the interactions we have
in our relationships on a daily basis. The people we interact with on a
daily basis and the way we interact with them is where a majority of our
happiness or our lack of happiness comes from.
Around 2003 or 2004, I was beginning to see the explosion of
MySpace. It was following a pattern that was predicted by all the
research. People are primarily social creatures, and we're tribal creatures.
We were designed to be born into a tribe, live our whole life in the tribe
and die in that tribe, but western civilization has come along and ripped
all that apart and turned us into a species of tribe-hoppers. Things like
MySpace, and later Facebook, allowed people to rebuild what civiliza-
tion has taken away from them, which was their persistent tribe. When
someone joins Facebook, the first half of the friends list comes from old
tribe-mates, people they knew in grade school, high school, college, or
earlier jobs. The other half of their friends list comes from whoever is in
their current tribe. Where they work right now, where they go to church,
and any other groups they belong to.
There's another interesting phenomenon, that the average size of
a friends list is about 130 or 140 on Facebook, which approaches the
Dunbar number. This number keeps cropping up in human social dynam-
ics as the maximum size of a human tribe. Even neurobiologists have
confirmed this number based on the brain's ability to store the necessary
quantity of social interactions, allowing people to form an emotional map
of each other that provides the basis of caring, empathy, and compassion.